Posts Tagged ‘social networking


What’s the internet?

It’s amazing to think how far we have come, notice at the end where the host on the right describes how people used the internet to report being okay. The birth of #SMEM? Thanks to @disaster_guy for the find.


The two way street

One-way street in New York City.

Image via Wikipedia

An easy to understand metaphor for social media is the two way street. The two way street allows for traffic to flow in both directions fluidly. If you only have traffic flowing in one direction, there is opportunity to flow in the other direction as well. This however is not how many people are using social media. I recently consulted with a large restaurant chain on how they could implement social media into their public relations. I advised them that if they are going to use social media they must being willing to accept traffic both ways. Their concern is something many people have when dealing with communication that everyone will see. They were afraid people may say something bad about them or there would be posts that were offensive or they would get spammed. If you aren’t using social media as a two way conversation, than don’t bother. It’s a waste of your time and people will ignore the information you are issuing. Just build a website where you can control any information going out or into your company or agency and be done with it.

This attitude is very common amongst people who are stuck on the old approach of public relations; that you have to have absolute control over the information going in or out. You can’t have two way traffic on a one way street. You can’t have a conversation if one person isn’t allowed to talk. You can’t successfully implement social media if you aren’t willing to communicate both ways. If people are complaining about something then that means they are paying attention to the info you are putting out! Your getting instant feedback about an experience they are having. This is extremely valuable and ensures customer satisfaction and in emergency management you customers are tax paying citizens who you are assigned to protect! Swallow your pride and aknowledge that you will make mistakes and that people are simply going to spread their bad experience whether you are listening to them or not. If you get that information from them in a post or tweet than you have the opportunity to respond to it and provide your side of the situation and ultimately you have more control over the situation than you would in a one way system. It also looks great when you are responding to complaints because people see your concerned and willing to rectify the problem publicly. This is PR gold!


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.


Data-mining and social media

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

There is a lot of hype with social media and emergency management/disaster response.  Buzzwords mostly.  What I have found in my years of EM/response work is that when you get a trend such as social media, you have this mis-use of under utilization of new technologies.  There is a legitimate belief that new technologies are likely hype an will be replaced with newer technologies.

GIS is a prime example.  Huge potential and while I worked in GIS/remote sensing for 3 years while going to school, it seemed that emergency management never saw it as more than a cool new technology.  GIS has been around for years but couldn’t really get out of the gate with EM work.  Social media seems to be stuck in the same posititon.  The reason is that EM’s don’t really know how to use it.  They create facebook and twitter accounts and that is where it ends.  It’s the same with GIS.  EM’s use GIS to create maps.  GIS makes great maps but it’s a data management and analysis tool and EM’s are just realizing this.  Social media is a information portal.  Sure you can tweet about being safe while trick or treating on halloween, and that is a useful feature of social media, but the strength is actually in the analysis of social media traffic during a disaster.  You can gather a unbelievable amount of tactical intelligence by simply looking to see what people are talking about during the course of a disaster/emergency.

Think about what it would be like to have thousands of extra eyes working for you during an emergency.  Rather than wasting valuable resources trying to figure out what’s going on, you can data-mine social media to begin sizing up an emergency.  Now of course you can’t rely on any social media source as your sole source of information but it’s a tool for the tool box.  It’s incredible that we have the opportunity to have a system where you get two way communication during an emergency.  No longer do you have warn civilians and wonder if they get it.  They have a way to immediately interact with you.  That is if you create the opportunity.  Another problem with the use of social media is the fact that you need to believe in it.  If your going to set up all these accounts than you better be invested in it.  If you don’t tweet or post frequently than people are going to stop paying attention.  Finally, you need to take a shot gun approach to getting info out and ingesting info.  If your going to send information out to the public, send it over as many venues as you can.  Twitter, Facebook, your blog, your website, etc….and you need to search all of these sources when collecting data.

Social media has changed the way people interact and how emergency managers can interact with the public but if you don’t buy into it fully than you will never see it’s strengths.


Social networking in emergencies

I am certainly not the first to say that social networking is important to emergency services but I will say that I don’t think it’s quite ready.  Recently the National Weather Service started beta testing a new Twitter storm reporting system.  I think this bodes well for NWS and their forward thinking but the implementation is not working.  Basically anyone can report whatever they want and this leads to a lot of useless data.  The NWS deserves credit for trying but I don’t think that Twitter can be relied on for reports that could result in warnings (it’s not now but it would make sense that this is what they were testing for).  Facebook is another resource that is finding it’s way into the public safety realm.  Facebook is great for developing a web presence and generating some interest.  In fact, I created an account for the fire department I serve and we receive about 500+ views a week with around 200+ members.  I also created a twitter page for information advisory type posts in twitter.

Here is where I see the strength in social networking: data mining.  The current systems are not really reliable to count on during emergencies but immediately after disasters you can search Facebook and twitter to see what people are talking about.  After the Virginia Tech shooting there was a Facebook group started and people had accounted for their friends and colleagues before the first responders did.  People tweet about disasters as they are happening.  In closing, you can’t count on any single resource for information.  Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, talking directly to people, 911 calls, etc… You need to create a picture of what is occurring, size up basics, and to do that you need to use everything you have available.  I don’t see social networking as the future of emergency management but it’s certainly a tool and it could be a very important tool with proper use.