Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another example why social media as an emergency info tool is critical

This is taken from the same document I mentioned in my previous post.

Again, this brings up something I've discussed here in many occasions: the old ways of communicating at the onset of a disaster are no longer sufficient. We now have millions of stakeholders, clients and citizens who walk around with mobile devices on their hips and in their bags.

They have the world at their fingertips. Their expectations (and more and more, the traditional media's too) is that authorities will communicate about a crisis, disaster or business disruption within MINUTES.

No longer do we have the luxury of waiting even an hour to have a news release approved or some messaging posted on a website. Immediacy in the response, alongside accuracy, is now the most important factor that should guide emergency information planning and delivery.

Here's the excerpt:

In November 2007, a freighter hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, dumping 55,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay. Although the event was very visible and might have appeared to be a serious incident, bunker fuel floats and is relatively easy to clean up. However, because official information was not made available to the public promptly, emergency management officials quickly “lost the public information battle.” 

Blogs and other media began reporting inaccurate information—but these media were not being tracked by officials. Soon the reports led to unsanctioned cleanup efforts and the formation of protest rallies. Further complicating the situation, the San Francisco city government lacked the authority to close the city’s beaches even though the bunker fuel was toxic. The upshot of the situation was
that the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management found itself dealing with the repercussions of a nondisaster that, despite a very successful clean-up effort, was being viewed as a disaster by the public.

This event highlights the challenges of traditional crisis communications capabilities. Traditional tools such as the Emergency Alert System, which provide for notification of emergencies via broadcast radio and television, as well as newer technologies such as satellite radio and cable television, do not appear to be useful during such events because the events themselves are generally viewed as not being serious enough to warrant the use of the traditional
alert and warning tools. 

As far as working through the media, it can take PIOs a long time to
prepare, get approval for, and deliver news releases and briefings. The city of San Francisco did have a short message service (SMS)-based alerting tool available, but here too, it would have taken a while to get a message composed and approved. More-rapid dissemination tools, including the use of social media, are being looked to as additional tools for providing more timely information in future events.


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