Yet, there seems to still be some reluctance to adopt social media as an effective emergency management tool. While many practitioners see the value of social networks as information channels, many still ignore the potential to inform their decision-making process. Just think of the valuable contribution the crowd can make in enhancing your situational awareness.
So when the top EM person in the US says that social media is now an imperative and that speed is key, the hope is that more people will listen. Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, put it very succinctly in a recent article. When he looked back at the delays following Hurricane Katrina, because official assessments took time, he compared it to a more recent disaster where social media played a key role:
My good friend Kim Stephens recently referred to a great interview with the former Commandant of the US Coast Guard Thad Allen. The admiral made it clear where he stands on the use of emerging technologies and public participation. In a nutshell, his position is that SM brings enormous benefits to the response itself but also in terms of openness and transparency by governments and agencies:When tornadoes ripped through Joplin, Mo. in May 2011, FEMA had enough information--although imperfect--from Twitter and Facebook to suggest that the situation was dire, said Fugate."The 'official' part is overplayed," said Fugate. "If you want to make social media real you have to see [the public] as a resource rather than a liability."
" ... you need to be able to get that information out in a timely manner because if you aren't, there's generally a perception that there's information being withheld or you're not being open and honest about it. ... Here's what I tell people: it really doesn't matter what you think. It really doesn't matter what your position or your policy is in government or a company. The public can participate in these events because there's no barrier to entry on the internet.
So, there you have it, most of us can only hope that we'll get this inspired leadership and recognition that we must move at the speed of our audiences and use the tools they use to be effective. It should be an easy point to make in times of very tight fiscal constraints: social media allows you to more effectively deploy resources to respond and recover from disasters.If you're not out there and you're not interacting and you're not providing information, then the public is only going to hear what is said from people who are trying to observe it from where they are, and they may not have complete information. Each government has a responsibility to put the entire picture out there.
Here's more from Admiral Allen on social media (again, thanks to Kim Stephens)