How governments can use social media to better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies

Hi All,

Thought you might be interested to see this presentation by the Emergency 2.0 Wiki project on how governments can use social media to help their agencies, employees and customers better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. We presented it at the recent Smart Government Conference in Canberra, Australia. We would be keen to hear what you think! (NB: if you haven’t used Prezi before, you’ll find the zoom button handy).

Also a shout out that the Emergency 2.0 Wiki is crowdsourcing from the global community, guidelines on how to use social media in emergencies. We’d like to adapt them to develop generic guidelines for use by everyone and, if granted permission, we’d be keen to link to them in ‘Examples’.

We’re also looking for Reference Group members, so please give us a shout if you’re keen.

If you just want to help out by adding tips and links please contact us too… it takes a global community to create a wiki and everyone’s input is welcome!

We’re aiming to have the wiki ready for government, community, business and the public to use early December for the northern hemisphere winter season of blizzards and the southern hemisphere summer season of bushfires, cyclones and floods…. so we’re in a race against time!

Thanks everyone,

Eileen, Project Leader (Voluntary)

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Pat Fiorenza

Eileen, thanks for sharing the presentation, really enjoyed it – lots of great information. It’s amazing how much of an impact social media has during a crisis – and the power citizens have to help in the recovery process. I wonder if you have found anything about how agencies vet information before acting? With situations move so fast during a crisis situation, I wonder how people decide on what information to act upon and when to move toward more pressing demands. This could be a very painful decision to have to make, but curious if there is anything out there related to decision making in a crisis with social media.

Chris Poirier

Love this topic, but always attempt to remind people that there are a lot of underlying issues that govs/orgs are still coming to terms with:

1.) “Digital self-responders” – Irene showed us that people want to help (okay..lots of things have shown us that, but this is the most recent) however citizens running off and creating facebook pages, twitter tags, wordpress sites and so forth without the input, interaction, and guidance of gov and NGOs is a disaster waiting to happen. The biggest issue I see going forward is proactive, solid volunteer management in the wake of a disaster and this now includes managing digital people just as much as people who physically show up to help.

2.) Controlling bad information – The worst thing that can happen during an emergency is people get bad information. Attempting to keep up with the stream of information coming across multiple social media channels can be difficult as much as it can be helpful. Having people available to help validate information as it comes in and then pushed back out as “official/confirmed” is really important. (setting up that official one-stop shop for citizens is key and then keeping up on it to ensure good information reaches the people is the goal.)

3.) Pre-disaster training – with so many gov and NGOs out there it’s important to align any training and implementation of social media during a disaster with existing programs. (things like CERT, Fire Corps, state emergency management, local FD/PD/EMS can be great places to grow “digital volunteers” to help support social media and digital volunteer management.) Get people in, plan, test, and repeat. The citizens will provide the input and the questions, but a solid cadre of people that know what they are looking for and how to manage lots of information is key to success.

4.) Don’t rely on social media – Had to say it. Social media is great for two-way communication with citizens and engaging people when disasters strike. However, that said, social media is a single tool in the public information officer’s tool box and should be treated as such. Given that in a lot of disasters utilities are going to be in operable, this means that having access to social media may be very limited early on. So, having a communications plan that addresses all means of getting the word out and back in is key. I have always reminded people: “If you can’t run your operation in the dark with nothing but pencil and paper, then you’re not very likely to be able to do a good job running it with everything working perfectly.” Classic, plan for the worst, hope for the best. The business processes shouldn’t change, just the tools you use to accomplish the mission change based on what’s available.

Great topic, looking forward to more discussion!

Andrew Nash

Thanks for the great post and comments.

I recently attended a conference discussing use of social media in transport. We had several excellent presentations on use of social media in emergencies (Great Britain snow crisis, Oslo bombing, Japan Earthquake), some of the take aways for me:

Lessons for using social media in crisis or disruption:

• During a crisis, those affected by events will use social media, thus turning them into essential channels … You CANNOT ignore this!

• One to one communication on emergency phone numbers will break down

• Obtain official status with social networking agencies now.

• Become power users of social media: really learn how to use them and applications designed to make them effective (e.g. tools that allow you to send the same message to different social media, e.g. hootsuite).

• Integrate agency information streams / processes and don’t neglect other media (e.g. home page)

• Communicate proper “tag” information so everyone can access and provide information in the right place

• Add “crisis banners” and/or direct social media feeds to other websites and applications helping direct users to appropriate social media for updates and information

• Use a team and distributed access approach to ensure that agency information is always available.

• Work together with other natural partners: police, fire, rescue, etc. to share information effectively with each other and with the public.

• Prepare plans for using social media in crisis situations.

• Continue to ‘nurture’ Social Media fans / followers after event.

• Be aware of the next technology consumer-product ‘leap’: consider how operational and information systems can relate to that

• Ensure that standard applications (e.g. public transport travel planning applications) communicate proper information in crisis (e.g. don’t direct people to use stations or routes that are closed). If the application can’t be changed at least be sure to place information banner with problems as specific to the particular customer request as possible.

Finally: remember user-generated information can help you operate your service effectively through the crisis!

Eileen Culleton

Thanks everyone for your valuable feedback… some great insights and tips here! I will point our Reference Group members to this post to review everyone’s tips and make sure they are incorporated into the Emergency 2.0 Wiki. You are welcome to add more ideas here as you think of them. I also invite you all to join the Emergency 2.0 Wiki LinkedIn Group to share your ideas there with the global community… thanks again everyone! Wisdom of the crowd… love it!