Posts Tagged ‘Online Communities


Snowmageddon ’10

A powder snow avalanche

Image via Wikipedia

It’s happened again, it snowed (picture screaming people running away from a giant snowman)!  This has got to be one of the most under-appreciated disasters possible.  Snow is light and fluffy and fun so how could it ever do anything bad?  Well, I would bet there are thousands of people, perhaps millions who, right now, are cursing that pretty white blanket that has enveloped most of the northeastern US.  This is another example of a massive failure to prepare and plan on how to respond to a snow crisis.  The forecasting was there, people knew what was going to happen, yet cities everywhere are still struggling to return to normal.

Part of it is a failure of local government to be able to respond but civilians need to take responsibility as well.  You need to be able to function without the assistance of government for an extended period of time.  This is especially true when you have conditions that cause failure of infrastructure or make it impossible to travel.  However, this event has also proven that people are going to deal with the disaster on their own and likely in a more efficient way than the government could facilitate because of the fact that many government officials are probably stranded as well.  Social media is abuzz with reports of snow, cars stuck, road closures, etc… and people are mobilizing on this information.  The governement agencies that are paying attention are doing amazingly well considering the circumstances.  A prime example is Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ.

Mayor Booker is fully utilizing Twitter and is doing a beyond impressive job at responding to his peoples requests for help.  He is coordinating the response in a very untraditional way and it speaks volumes to his commitment to the city.  The mayor is basically cruising the streets watching his twitter and digging out cars, helping shovel driveways, helping birth babies.  He understands the power of social media, he is using it as a two way communication method, and he is out there making a difference when many other officials are cozy in their offices.


Social Media Is Here To Stay

Integrated Emergency Operations Center (IEOC)

Image via Wikipedia

It’s no longer a fad or a something you may want to start considering.  There is now quantifiable data to prove that social media is not an option, it’s a requirement.  At the Red Cross “Social data and emergency communications” summit, they discussed some startling statistics from a recent study on civilians use of social media during an emergency.  The data is clear, people consider social media a means to contact emergency responders and even more unsettling is the fact that they consider it an alternative to 911.

Why is this concerning?  To start with, we as a profession and in our volunteer roles are far behind the average citizen when it comes to social media.  As agencies and organizations, we have no resources currently in place to dedicate to deal with the influx of social media.  Here is a prime example of what I am talking about:  Citizens are expecting a response within an hour or less if they post an emergency situation to a agency facebook, twitter, or email account.  How many agencies have the means to monitor this?  It is extremely important to explicitly explain that 911 is the only way to guarantee a connection to an emergency communicator. Dispatch centers are dreading the day they have to start answering text messages!  Now they have to keep an eye on twitter, facebook, email, in addition to the normal lines of communication they have deal with regularly.

Another reason to be concerned is that many agencies, most probably, haven’t developed plans or assigned a person to ingest data.  All the public information officer course I have taken did not address how we should be dealing with the flow of information in.  There are a lot of programs out there to help track and respond to social media “trends” and incoming data but there are very few standards in place to help organize and utilize this information.

The good news is that despite the fact that we are so far behind citizens have been quick to help out during disasters.  It’s very empowering to citizens to be able to have a way to get information out during an emergency and many tech savvy people have offered their help to get that information through to responders.  So the logical next step is to find these people and develop relationships and plans so that we don’t hope that an ad hoc system will develop during a disaster.  With preplanning we can immediately begin to ingest these data streams and create two way communications during disasters.