Thursday, June 3, 2010

On unified command, emergency info and social media

Hello everyone! It's been insanely busy at work planning for the security around the G8 and G20 summits later this month. I'll have more to say on that after they're done. Learning lots and gaining critical experience in the meantime.

What I'd like to bring up today are the challenges brought about by the very nature of unified command in regards to providing emergency information, especially using social media.

We've seen how unified command can be totally out of the grasp of most people. How the concept seems foreign to the large electorate who want to be assured that the top guy is in charge.

First question: how do you adjust the public's perception with reality? How best explain what unified command is? As the emergency management family grows, when private sector entities play a larger role, where does the authority of government lay, particularly for elected officials?

That dynamic of a collegial decision-making and responsibility sharing is hard to comprehend for most. It might be very convenient (as we have seen in the BP Gulf oil disaster) to pretend there is a political leader or element in charge ( at the very top) whereas, in reality, public sector entities are working hand in hand with private firms that play a key role (if not the primary role).

Secondly, within unified command ... where does the approval chain for comms and emergency info products begin? Who's in charge? Do all the members of the UC have to approve everything? How does that work if you're using social media tools? Establishing protocols for doing just that is essential in the operations of the UC.

And how do you integrate different public affairs/communications teams into your crisis communication or incident communication response activities? Different organizations have different cultures. Sore are open to the wide use of social media ... others not so much ... who judges what the best comms approach may be? the best channels to use?

Finally, a third subject for some thinking. We already know the difficulties posed by the incident management system doctrine vis-à-vis social media. Where the doctrine says that all public documents have to be approved by the incident commander.

How compounded is that problem when you're involved in a unified command structure? In an environment where speed and accuracy are critical ... a unified command structure presents some risks on both fronts:

a) do you have many incident commanders that have to approve the materials? Is that going to slow things to a crawl?
b) with many organizations and agencies involved, how do you ensure consistency of messaging and the accuracy of information made available to you by ops people from many fields, in many locations?

Now, that's a lot to think about ! Hopefully, this will generate some comments.

Hope to hear from you soon.

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