Thursday, March 3, 2011

Emergency managers and social convergence

I often like to talk about the fact that we're now in a new age of social convergence as described in a previous post. To summarize: 
mobile devices and tech + social media platforms = empowered citizenry + volunteers (digital or on the ground).

As I've noted before, two key benefits for emergency managers in this age of social convergence are: increased situational awareness ... a much broader picture of what's going on. It's made possible by the millions of people walking about with mobile devices and how they share what they see on social media. Then digital volunteers (crisis mappers, crisiscommons, ushadidi) put that info on an interactive map. 

This works ... and official agencies are making the best of this trend already with links and info sharing on volunteer-created crisis maps such as this one.
Another examples is the USGS using date and pictures supplied by ordinary citizens to improve their disaster and damage analysis. This was followed this week by this interesting piece of news out of Europe.

The second important benefit is the use of social media, in particular Facebook, as a mobilization tool. 

If you need another piece to convince you ... this one's pretty good.

And we still haven't touched on the obvious benefit (well, to most of us anyway) of using SM platforms as emergency information tools ... which can prove very useful when all other means become unavailable.

So, how can we convince emergency managers of the benefits of engaging with digital volunteers, using social media to mobilize resources and inform citizens?

Fact is, we're still facing reactions like this from a tweet posted this week : "... ah! social media ... I don't need that crap." as succinctly put by an emergency manager.

Oh really? Some elements of this, my latest presentation which I gave to senior officials within the Canadian federal government this week, should help.

I'm convinced social media is now as invaluable for emergency managers as is the IMS doctrine itself. Long-gone are the days where only the initiated few were part of the equation.

If we're going to ask citizens to be prepared and informed ... in the age of social convergence, we should also be able to broaden public participation in emergencies.

So what are some of the obstacles to true social media integration into the emergency management process?

  1. cultural background: a lot of emergency managers still have a background in policing, fire or the military where information control is paramount.
  2. demographics: although it's changing, a lot of the "older generation" (people like me! near 50 !!!) are not very active on social media platforms and don't have that understanding of their power that only comes with familiarity. 
  3. Doctrine: the current way the IMS is written includes some limitations to the use of social media. Particularly when it comes to having the incident commander approve all communications to the public? How can you match the need for immediacy brought by SM with this requirement if approvals take hours?
  4. Lack of proper engagement and education from PIOs and social media savvy emergency managers with senior EM or elected officials. We must do a better job at demonstrating the benefits of SM for PIOs, planning and ops.
Can anyone think of more obstacles? And ways to overcome them? 

Please let me know ! 

1 comment:

  1. Research -- both vendor-funded and independent -- has demonstrated that social media use (Facebook/Twitter) is hardly limited to folks in their 20s and 30s. "Oldsters" are heavily engaged in both services at rates that are not much below the younger crowd. Twitter, especially, is more popular with people your age than with youngsters. So #2 should not be considered a true obstacle.