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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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?