Friday, March 2, 2012

A whirlwind of thoughts on the usefulness of SMEM

March 2, 2012 ... a day that featured a thunderous outbreak of severe weather and tornadoes in many US states. Trying to follow the path of the storm systems was almost impossible ...but as I kept an eye on the Twitter feeds ...some thoughts came to mind about the useful nature of social media in emergencies (yes I know ... I'm fully drenched in the SMEM cool-aid ...).

Seems to me that one could really make a valid point about the potential, and in many cases, the daily use of SM in all aspects of EM and all sections of the EOC.

Let's look at the EM pillars .... In Ontario, we have five ...

Prevention: social networks (accompanied by supportive web and print materials) can help disseminate all sorts of risk communications and damage-avoidance products.
Mitigation: again, using SM and building on lessons learned, perhaps shared on Facebook or on Youtube, can help lessen the impact of disasters by maximizing message reach on zoning, building practices and defensive measures..
Preparedness: all I can say is: Zombies ... look at the effective mix of web and social media by the CDC or look at the campaign ... if your message reaches people on the tools they use, in the format they like and at their leisure ... greater are the chances your key messaging will stick ...or at least be heard.
Response: hey, if it's so essential to Craig Fugate's thinking, who am i to argue? It's simple, if you have a better picture of what's going on out there because you have all sorts of data coming through citizens and volunteers via social media, crisis mapping and crowdsourcing, you'll be better at allocating strategic response resources.

Recovery: well, we've seen in the recent past, phenomenal examples of communities coalescing online through social media to help speed up recovery. More than simple morale boosters, the efforts of the people behind the Christchurch Recovery Map, the Rebuild Joplin and Tuscaloosa.  Often enough, it started through a Facebook page such as the Student Volunteer Army in New Zealand and the same for Joplin.

What about in the EOC ... well, let's take a look ...

For command ... well, how about getting a better grasp of the whole situation ... looking at a mosaic of user-generated pictures (no longer common operating picture). Here's Chief Bill Boyd (@chief2b on Twitter)

For the LO: social media can provide quick and easy, constant and effective communications channels with all levels of authorities ... especially on the political side of the equation.
For the EIO/PIO: social networks provide immediate, direct access to all sorts of audiences impacted by any incident. They provide an answer to the changing requirements of the PIO's job. 
For the SO: i can imagine check-ins and mobile apps being used to monitor the well-being of on-scene responders ... 
For Ops: again, a critical element to make informed decisions on the ground depend on the availability of data and how it's visualized. Social networks, crowdsourcing and crisis mapping have changed that process ... along the ever growing presence of mobile devices. The Boulder/Four-mile Canyon Fire of a couple years ago was probably among the first field application of these emerging technologies. The future points to all responders soon wearing cameras, sporting some sort of tablet and being able to easily visualize all sort of info as they attend to an incident.
For Plans: again, it's about going well beyond mere assumptions and using the data provided via social networks, crowdsourced and often put on a map by digital volunteers:

For logistics: I think we could use QR codes for tracking needs and equipment, orders for supplies, use apps for check ins and the such. This happens organically, we saw it today on Twitter after a tornado hit Henryville in Indiana. As seen on this screenshot from Monitter with #henryvilleneed on the left and #henryvillehelp on the right.

For Fin/Admin: there are multiple mobile apps and software that support field NIMS/ICS events ... they usually have a fin/admin component ... 
now add the ability to communicate in a defined environment and with a group of designated people, using Yammer for example, and it could speed things up. Especially when other communications means could be impacted.

Okay ... a bit of a wandering post ... but in a way, it's kind of an SMEM manifesto ...

I could be completely off base ... but i think we're no longer looking forward to tomorrow regarding the use of social media in emergency management ...we are in the era of "social convergence" ... mostly for the simple reason that's where the people we serve already are ...

Comments welcome as always !


  1. Patrice, thank you again for staying on the edge and sharing "hot off the press" info and the incredible way you present this info so people can understand it, an incredible task to begin with. Keep it coming sir, you "ARE" assisting in the prevention of loss of life and property through your actions, your genius and your help, thank you again Patrice, an honor to know you. :)

  2. Patrice, I which you write this one (and lot more!)in french!!