Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene's social media aftermath

I've probably bitten off more than I can chew but I'm working on an after action report on the use of social media, crowdsourcing and crisis mapping related to Hurricane Irene. Primarily, I'll be looking for any interface between official agencies and volunteer/citizen-driven initiatives.

I'll be working with a few people to gather data and examples and provide a basic analysis and humbly suggest some improvements. It's probably impossible to catch everything but we hope to get a pretty illustrative and meaningful cross-section of what was accomplished in the last week or so.

Here's a broad outline: 

The use of SM tools, crowdsourcing, crisis mapping and mobile technology by emergency management officials and other organizations. volunteers and citizens. We'll include:
  • overview and purpose
  • general observations
  • geographic/jurisdiction specific info
  • volunteer and citizen participation
  • Adoption (or not) of crowdsourcing/volunteer efforts by official agencies
  • recommendations for future coordination ... task assignments 
  • invitation for comments
A few personal observations follow:
  1. Hurricane Irene seemed to mark a turning point for the acceptance of social media by emergency management officials, certainly as an information tool. The use of key social networks was widespread. Combined with the alerts and notifications blasted across legacy media and other means, its was a pretty thorough blanketing of emergency information and preparedness messaging.  They even moved into the realm of crowdsourcing damage assessments.
  2. I'm grateful social networks played such a key role because the coverage of legacy media (particularly from major TV networks) was for the most pathetic and alarmist (to my shame as a former reporter ....) I've seen in a long time ... with reporters often seemingly thinking that their "valiant" efforts to show the impact of the storm were the story ... and when New York City wasn't devastated, it became about the storm that wasn't ...well, Irene left her mark. The people of Vt, NC, NJ and other states are sure feeling her wrath ... Here's a piece by Gerald Baron on the media issue ...
  3. There were lots of crowdsourcing and crisis mapping efforts underway. One key objective of our after action report will be to look at coordination efforts in that regard. Another aspect of our work will be to help assess the validity of these efforts and their usefulness. More on this topic in this blog post.
I think Hurricane Irene helped moved the yardstick in terms of integrating social media in emergency management program. The American Red Cross, pioneer in this field, seems to think so. 

Irene was no "dud". It was a deadly storm and its impact is going to be felt for a while longer. But we should learn all we can from the last few days ... I'm encouraged that the emergency management community seems more inclined to finally moved at the speed of its audiences and adopt the tools they use ... to communicate but also to gather vital information to assess the situation and allocate resources.

I believe this is an opinion that is validated by our after action report. We hope that you will share your experiences and comments with us.

More to follow in the next few days!

1 comment:

  1. I live in Bastrop County, Texas. I'm an avid user of social media. However, there still must be a central control of the information to maintain up-to-date status. Using Twitter, and Facebook to guide people to "official" status reports is great, but when Facebook is used as the Emergency Management's primary information center (like in the Labor Day wildfires) it is chaotic to many, especially in a rural town where many do not have access to regular electronic updates. They used facebook as a regular page, open to comments. Updates were inconsistent, and were buried within minutes. Subscribers were getting hundreds of text messages, many unrelated to the status updates, which were useless in many cases ("If you live in Hobbs Creek, evacuate immediately" - no info regarding where to go, where the fire was, etc. And no related updates for hours.