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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

10 reasons why there'll now be a before Sandy and a post-sandy in SMEM

There has already been a few solid analyses of the use of social media in emergency management (SMEM) as it applies to the response and early recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Few have been more to the point than this one from Gisli Olafsson of NetHope. We knew this was going to be different even as the exact extent of damages were unknown and as preparations were being made, as my good friend Kim Stephens points out

Whereas I had plenty of time in the fall of 2011 to undertake a full review of the use of social media for Hurricane Irene, I don't have that kind of time now. So, very quickly, here are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why I believe this storm marks a turning point for the SMEM movement.


  1. Yes, they are right! New York (and the surrounding area) is the centre of the universe. (at least in a legacy media sense). What was bound to happen was endless scrutiny of the preparation and the response. But also, many media outlets brought the use of social media during the storm to the front page. How people created their own networks to stay informed, ask for and receive help and much more. It's New York kind of thing now (SMEM) and one that won't go away! 
  2. Crowdsourcing the truth. From collectively identifying fake pictures on Instagram and other visually-oriented social networks, to debunking false rumours on Twitter and outing people purposefully spreading misinformation, the online truth squad was on duty. Social networks are at once the hotbed of all sorts of crappy things and the canvas on which the truth can begin to emerge. More on this from Patrick Meier.
  3. Crisis Mapping hits the big time. Media outlets, countless agencies, corporations and hundreds of digital volunteers produced a variety of maps on many topics: power outages, communications outages, availability of gas and many more. Here's a pretty good list. Volunteers gathered at crisis camps, hackathons and in many darkened living room to do some fabulous work. Whether all these maps made a valid contribution or not, the phenomenon cannot be overlooked.
  4. Some requests for crowdsourcing situational awareness enhancements, aggregating existing databases and mapping incidents on maps came from "high-level official sources". More on that later but this adds to the legitimacy of expanding the emergency management family to digital volunteers.
  5. Many governments, at all levels, used social media to communicate with their constituents before, during and after the passage of Sandy. Again, social networks (particularly Twitter) proved to be effective emergency information tools.
  6. Social networks became a true lifeline for many. Calls for help, offers to assist, or messages to let friends and family know "I'm OK!" ... were abundant. What's clear is that people turn to social media to share their experiences during a disaster. More then ever they do so through their mobile devices ...especially when power is out. Individuals, businesses, anyone with some sort of power, became an invaluable resource if they could let you charge your phone
7. Volunteer organizations with expertise in SMEM really made a difference. Whether they were officially requested (such as the NY Virtual Operations Support Team or NY VOST), or turned themselves into portals for all sorts of emergency and preparedness info (such as Humanity Road did) or remained the stalwart provider of life-saving, up-to-the-minute info (such as the New York City Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Service or NY ARECS), their presence on Twitter and other social networks was essential to the safety of many residents of the impacted areas. 
8. First responders and local emergency managers were very active. A new SMEM hero was born and she managed to help make the FDNY a beacon of hope for many New York residents in very difficult times. Dave Statter, from Satter 9-1-1 blog fame identified others who were active:
I know I am will be missing some, but here are few in my region I followed that seemed to be doing a very good job of keeping the public informed via Twitter: Alexandria, VA (@AFDCHIEF200), Arlington County, VA (@ARLINGTONVA), Fairfax County, VA (@FAIRFAXCOUNTY), Howard County, MD (@HCDFRS,@HCDFRS_CHIEF@KENULMAN), Montgomery County, MD (@MCFRS@MONTGOMERYCOMD), Prince George’s County, MD (@PGFDPIO@PGPDJULIE@COUNTYEXECBAKER ), Washington, DC (@MAYORVINCEGRAY@IAFF36).



9. the Red Cross Digital Operations Centre proved that organizations who dedicate resources to SMEM (especially social media monitoring) are best placed to play a role and fulfil their mandates during a disaster. 







10. Finally, FEMA's decision to highlight its social media rumour control activities brought to the fore, this absolute necessity for the operations of any emergency info centre or JIC. Countering rumours and misinformation, is now more critical then even, when news moves at the speed of social networks. False information can not only damage the reputation of any response organization, but it can also put lives in danger. 

There, you have it. Still not convinced that we've reach a critical moment in the evolution of SMEM? Read this post from my buddy Jim Garrow. So, it's time for us who work in EM and crisis comms to catch up with our public and the pioneers in SMEM. We need to adjust our posture to be able to deal with a flood of information that comes with any disaster.

Are you ready for the age of social convergence in emergency management? 

1 comment:

  1. Great post, thank you! Hurricane Sandy was the greatest test we could have anticipated when designing our FEMA sponsored "Social Media for Emergency Management" Training for the Borough of Manasquan back in June 2012. In reviewing the data, there is no doubt that the Borough’s online presence was a critical portal of real-time information pre, during, and post Sandy. The analytics below demonstrate how the Borough utilized the power of social media for natural hazard risk communication as part of FEMA’s larger Coastal Outreach Program for New Jersey and New York City. Not only did the Borough serve its residents, but also it filled a void in a lack of information generated from neighboring boroughs and communities across FEMA Region II. You can see the full results here: http://www.international-media.net/blog.html

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