Wednesday, December 12, 2012

at #9: wildfires heat up SMEM and crisis comms debate

Helicopter Fighting The High Park FireAs I've said before, I try to learn as much as I can from a variety of sources and other people's experiences.   In June, earlier this year, as wildfires were raging across Colorado and other western states, a lot of attention was directed at the use of social media by authorities.

What first came to my attention, was the misguided notion by a local sheriff (Justin Smith, Larimer County, Colorado) to keep the media from showing images of the devastation caused by the fires. It was a noble intent in the sense that he didn't want residents who had lost their house to be further victimized.

What's the lesson here? It's entirely futile in the age of social convergence, to try to keep the media or anyone else, from sharing pictures or other information. The way the disaster story is being told has forever changed and does not depend on legacy media. So picking a fight with reporters and news outlets is totally clueless. 

Although the evolution to crowdsourced news in not fully complete and many organizations still rely on "old ways" to tell their story, we're well down the road to the overwhelming acceptance of social media as an emergency information tool.

Some very illuminating examples of that can be found from the same wildfires that had Sheriff Smith so bothered with the media. One of the more probing case studies comes out of the Waldo Canyon Fire of late June.

There, the local sheriff's department (Jefferson County), made extensive use of their web and social media properties to convey info to residents. But more importantly, people themselves created their own news networks and shared and retweeted official and unofficial information.

That's what reveals the futility to try to cordon off segments of information. With so many sources available, why pick a fight you're going to lose? 

This highlights the ultimate point I often try to make about social convergence: organizations must move at the speed of their audiences (social networks) or face irrelevance. They must also use the tools they use (mobile devices) to have any chance to reach them and possibly be heard.

The top 10 SMEM-related events of 2012 so far:

#10: the Israel-Hamas war  (Dec. 9)
#9: the wildfires in the western US (Dec. 12)

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Patrice! A lot of emergency management people have some adjusting to do. After Hurricane Sandy, I read a Facebook post by a New Jersey emergency management organization (deleted that same day) asking people to stop telephoning them to find out when they could return to their homes. Meanwhile, many people who ignored a mandatory evacuation order were posting storm damage updates on Twitter and Facebook and commanding quite a following. It would have been better if the emergency management team had not been posting "don't bother us" posts and instead had been providing updates on when people could return to their homes along with some storm damage assessments. That would help prevent people who ignore mandatory evacuation orders from becoming local social media heroes -- encouraging more people to ignore mandatory evacuation orders in the future. That is really a public safety issue--not just relevance.