Lets Talk Tools

On March 26, 2013, in Social Media, by with Altus Emergency Management

SMEMBack in the early days of social media in emergency management (SMEM), early adopters adapted based on their favorite tools. Then the tool ended, e.g., Timely.IS. Then the scramblers, especially those who lacked a plan for social media engagement, raced to find a new tool to replace the old tool.  Even others developed multiple “favorite” tools to do multiple jobs.

Is it over? No. People still are looking for tools and new tools are being developed to help with new platforms of social media.

Looking at tools today may be necessary, but only after one develops the need for using social media. This article focuses on tools that can foster and forge team building and communication. Continue reading »

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Do I need to use social media?

On January 28, 2013, in Social Media, by with Altus Emergency Management

At the recent Oklahoma Emergency Management Conference breakout session on social media, that burning question was asked.

The short answer given was “No”.  No one HAS to use social media.  Nevertheless, 69% of people surveyed by the Red Cross said they expected public safety officials to respond to questions and pleas from the public on social media. Continue reading »

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A few weeks ago, the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) published a comprehensive literature review discussing what we now know about the public’s use of social media during disasters, as well as what areas remain for further research. The report, sponsored by the Resilient Systems Division of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, raises some interesting questions that merit discussion among the homeland security and emergency management community. Continue reading »

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Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy made landfall on the eastern seaboard about two weeks ago, and in the time since, many excellent thought pieces have been published sharing observations and insights about planning and communications during this storm, and recommendations for future action. There are two retrospectives that center on social media in emergency management (SMEM) that I would bookmark in particular: Patrice Cloutier’s “10 reasons why there’ll now be a before Sandy and post-Sandy in SMEM”, and Kim Stephens’s “Five SMEM Observations and Recommendations from Hurricane Sandy.” There are broad lessons to be learned from the storm, but these pieces focus on one of the most critical trends that emergency managers must understand:

Increasingly, people are using social media during disasters as one of their primary ways of communicating with one another and with government authorities (police, fire, rescue, general information, etc.). On the flip side, online interactions among the public are becoming a rich and invaluable resource for emergency managers to understand on-the-ground realities and public needs and to engage directly with those in need. Continue reading »

Learning from Other Industries’ Social Media Blunders

On September 7, 2012, in Social Media, by with SRA International


Photo Credit: http://dvice.com/archives/2012/07/infographic-of-32.php

I have heard numerous times that paying attention to social media best practices from industries completely different than the one you operate in can be remarkably valuable.  I’ve seen this at work in several blog/opinion pieces focused on lessons emergency managers (EMs) using social media can learn from some of the epic social media fails during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.  What separates EMs from big broadcasters like NBC is that most EMs don’t have the same luxury as NBC in handling a public relations nightmare and adapting for the future.  Can EMs avoid hitches in using social media by taking a hard look at where NBC went wrong, though? Absolutely!

First, let’s explore the historical implications of the relationship between the Olympic Games and social media. The last Summer Olympic in 2008 in Beijing during which time the use of social media was not as pervasive as it is today.  As such, guidance on online behavior was not a high-priority topic and substantially fewer guidelines existed.  Social media blogging and internet guidelines were introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this year.  This serves as a testament to the exponential growth in social media use since 2008.  Social media connected Olympics fans and athletes just as it connects government and citizens in the emergency management space.  Wonderful connections, like these, though are not without complications. 

Olympic observers were asked to limit use of social media channels to “urgent updates” only.  This was a result of some technical difficulties during the initial events, where Olympic broadcasters grappled with GPS and other wireless technologies aimed to deliver information during an event (e.g., distance between bike riders).  The issue did not stem from a typical technological failure, but rather from the public overusing social media channels like Twitter and text messaging.  Olympics broadcasters were noticeably not prepared for these big social media changes.  After all, how do you balance the seemingly infinite possibilities of social media updates which may offer information that is true or false, timely or irrelevant, close hold or meant for wide dissemination?  Like many of us, I think the broadcasters are learning how their audiences use social media and how to connect back while being sensitive to the outcomes.  It is quite the new age sociology lesson, isn’t it?

How does this translate in the emergency management environment?  Picture this:  A state is facing some type of disaster, such as an impending tropical storm like the recent Hurricane Isaac.  EMs are coordinating response and recovery efforts as they typically would and citizens are heavily taking to social media channels like they did during the Olympic Games.  What could be the outcome if the citizenry were asked to ease up on social media use – posting only urgent updates?  What exactly does urgent update actually mean?  In the midst of a disaster, that guidance is extremely vague, and as such, could you really expect compliance?  The IOC developed guidelines for social media that were short-sighted and considerably restrictive given that social media offers a forum for uninhibited public voice to many people.  Social media is here to stay, so a social media strategy and objectives that address how social media is integrated before, during, and after events/incidents is a must.  Citizens will expand the reach of messages and will be empowered to work together and with government assuming a proper, well thought-out, and explicit strategy is in place.  The big takeaways here are to develop a proactive strategy and keep up with emerging trends and platforms and how your audience is using them.


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