Sunday, March 27, 2011

Learnings from the Social Media and Emergency Management Camp 2011

The SMEM11 was a key achievement in furthering our collective agenda of integrating social media in all aspects of emergency management and business continuity planning. The very fact that the FEMA Administor (Craig Fugate) and his deputy ( Richard Serina) both attended is a revealing indication that people at the very top share our views. I was also heartened to see representatives from the BCP side of things who are interested in social media as continuity of operations tools.

On a personal note, I must say that I have rarely met a group of such dedicated and committed individuals as the main players and apostles behind the SMEM community and who meet via twitter chat every Friday at smemchat.

Some of them met on the eve of the camp in Alexandria, VA.

From the left: Heather Blanchard, Joel Arnwine, Christine Thompson, Sara Estes Cohen, Jeff Phillips, Kim Stevens and         Pascal Schuback

These people put the social into social media. They were friendly, informed and more importantly, willing to share. And share we did.

Over a 100 participants attended the camp and many of those had been at the NEMA meeting and wanted to find out more about this "social media thing" or just desired to learn how to enhance their own emergency management practices using SM.

This post by Kim Stephens gives a great summary of the day's key lessons learned. For my part, the camp's activities provided a good opportunity to learned about how social media is integrated into emergency management practices across the US and what obstacles remain from experienced EM practitioners. 

Some observations/lessons then:

  1. Those of us who are self-professed "champions" of SMEM ... should always be careful not too appear to be preaching. We need to convince EM officials based on solid empirical evidence, case studies and lessons learned from recent disasters: Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the Boulder fires, for examples.
  2. The increasing use of social media in emergency management, first as an emergency information tool, and then as sources of actionable info for situational awareness/common operating picture purposes is synonymous with community participation in all aspects of EM: from preparedness to recovery. 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 and volunteer participation in emergencies.
  3. Finally, I will be revising my equation to define the "age of social convergence" and what it means for emergency managers 
from this version: mobile devices and tech + social media platforms = empowered citizenry + volunteers 
to this new version: mobile devices and tech + social media = mobilization tools for empowered citizens and data acquisition.

Let me explain this a bit further. It's time that the SMEM community push the acceptance of data supplied through social media and volunteer-based platforms (crisis mapping in particular) to get better SitA/COP. There have been enough instances of extremely valuable information shared to first responders and emergency managers in this fashion, to promote its inclusion in the EM process.

So, events such as the SMEM camp at NEMA are key forums for the spreading of this new outlook on EM. The more we can showcase the benefits of social media, the more generalized its acceptance from EM will follow. And since, this seems to be the case with the most senior people from FEMA, the path should be straightforward. 

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