Thursday, January 9, 2014

14 issues that could shape 2014 for #smem and crisis comms

In the last couple of years, I've posted blogs early in January to set out what I believe will mark the coming 12 months for emergency management and crisis communications professionals. Before we get into 2014, let's look back! 

In 2013, common themes were the effects of climate change and the changes in governments' approaches to mitigation and preparedness. While I was right on the money for some key aspects, I did miss the boat on others: large-scale cyber-terrorism still has to materialize. 

For crisis communicators though ... my thoughts on how 2013 would be marked by the prevalent use of social networks were on target for the most part.

My outlook for 2012 was also heavily skewed towards cyber threats and our critical infrastructure. But I also took a broader look at some key geo-strategic/geo-political issues that are still relevant in many cases.

Okay, then. What's in store in 2014? Well, in no particular order are 14 trends/topics/issues that will pop up:
  • Social listening (social media monitoring) will become an integral part of crisis/emergency response ... the issue of how to operationalize this in your planning will be a critical challenge.
  • Social media command centres will become more common ... a direct result of the point above ...        
    They'll vary in size and sophistication (starts from my basement set up with a laptop and two monitors .... all the way up to expansive rooms with large-screen displays) but they'll have a common element: info will flow, be crunched and analyzed to support command/decision-making or to support online engagement.
  • Organizations will become broadcasters during a crisis as a  means to ensure THEIR story is heard. And they'll use social channels (Twitter in particular ... but also actual audio/video too) to reach their audiences and get into conversations.
    In other words: the news release is DEAD.
  • Social media will become more widely recognized as a community resilience
    enhancer. From Australia to South East Asia (and across the world), the power of social networks before, during and after a disaster will empower whole communities. A sure fire sign of the power of social convergence.
  • Alerting will become even more social and more mobile. From the WEA system expansion in the US to apps sprouting up across the world, mobile and social notification harness the power of social convergence to reach people wherever they are and on the tools they use. That's staying relevant!
  • More emergency management organizations will realize that to deal with the flood of social data, they'll need the help of digital volunteers ...
    VOSTs (Virtual Operations Support Teams) will multiply and be more frequently involved in emergencies.
  • Securing funding for emergency preparedness and mitigation activities is going to remain a challenge for emergency managers in Canada, the USA and across the world where government are facing fiscal crises. This poses particular problems in public health preparedness where the pandemic threat (H7N9, MERS) is lurking on the horizon.
  • Cyber threats are going to become an almost daily fact of life for critical infrastructure owners/operators. The risk of a near-fatal, civilization-destroying cyber assault is not to be discounted as pure science fiction ... our systems are vulnerable and one day, some hacker or a rogue nation might come close to bringing us to our knees. From bringing down an airliner to undermining our financial system ... the risks are high ... the likelihood ? Nobody knows ...
  • Attacks on soft targets will be the order of the day for terrorists groups everywhere. Why lose men attacking a heavily defended airport or high-security area when you can paralyze a whole city by storming a shopping mall? In the US and elsewhere, there's a new threat assessment matrix being worked on. Where to put anti/counter-terrorism assets/efforts? Oh, and these groups use social media too. To recruit, to coordinate and then boost about their "exploits" ....

  • Drones will become a more familiar tool. Helping to fight fires, assessing damages and for law enforcement, the age of civilian use of drones is upon us. And according to Amazon, drones could power the next UPS ...
  • The adoption of mobile technology is going to continue unabated. The power of mobile will increase and organizations won't have a choice but to ensure their info can be accessed from a mobile device in a crisis if they want to stay relevant.
  • News will be crowdsourced more than ever before. We've already seen some examples of this phenomenon. In the future, news will break even faster than before. Putting additional pressure on organizations to have effective, flexible and quickly implementable crisis comms plan in place. All of this is closely linked to how people get their news.
  • Climate change will continue to make headlines (by the way ... when it's minus godawful out there ... don't call it global warming ! ). The impact on emergency management is becoming more tangible every day.  The costs and other impacts are rising well beyond the rise of sea levels.  That won't change soon.
  • Drought ... the most visible effect of climate change for manyDrought is particularly worrisome concern in the western part of the US. The whole sustainability of key regions/cities in now in doubt in the long-term. Mass migrations possible? 
So ... the new year will bring us some challenges ... but as always, the most important quality of an emergency manager is flexibility ... It will certainly come in handy ... 

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