Release of a key report on how social media is changing disaster response and emergency management

By November 11, 2011
OfflinePhoto of Patrice Cloutier

Earlier this year, I attended the social media in emergency management camp which was held as part of the mid-year conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) in the US. Key findings of the discussions have be included in a report released on Nov. 10

When I went to Washington DC in March, I didn't know quite what to expect. All in knew was that I was meeting with key people leading the efforts toward integrating social media into emergency management programs. People I onliy had contact with online ... To say that I was blown away by the professionalism and commitment I encountered is an understatement. The discussions we had that day and the contacts between SM enthusiasts and veteran emergency managers (such a Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA) helped to cristalize our common agenda and push for broader adoption of SM into disaster response and other aspects of EM.

The discussions and key themes have found themselves in a report called "2011 Social Media + Emergency Management Camp: Transforming the Response Enterprise. The report includes a couple of online appendices, including one on the state (as of March 2011) of social media in the world of emergency management in Canada. That this important publication came to life is due to the hard work of Dr Clarence Wardell III and Yee San Sun, from a non-profit think thank called CNA. Support also came from the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington. The report was done at the behest of CrisisCommons, a crowdsourcing and crisis mapping group composed of digital volunteers. Here's what Heather Blanchard, co-founder of CrisisCommons wrote on the document.

The report provides a series of key findings and recommendations which have been the subject of a variety of blog posts by key leaders in the broad SMEM (social media in emergency management) movement. I'm truly impress by the brain power that has collaborated in highlighting key sections of the document:

  • on an whole-of-community approach to emergency management, we have Eric Holdeman, coming up with this great quote as part of his analysis:

"What I'd like to propose is the next stage in the development of social media is the incorporation of citizen response into that of the governmental response.  This will take the Incident Command System and change a portion of it to the Incident "Direction" System as governments and Incident Commanders tell the public what they can do to assist in the response from where they are located."

  • Cheryl Bedsoe looks at the effect of social media in broadening the data available to emergency managers:

"From the call-taker in the 9-1-1 facility to the fire fighter checking in on Twitter to assist his scene size-up, social media offers a chance for the whole community to truly be involved in all of the phases of emergency management from preparedness to recovery."

  • Gerald Baron looks at the impact of emerging technologies and citizen participation in shaping the future of emergency management:
"It is important to define the future goals for response management and it clearly is important to understand how this phenomenon of social media is transforming the way the game is played. But my answer to that question is stop thinking top-down when it comes to response management and start thinking more bottom-up."
  • Jim Garrow examines the value of social media as "message amplifier" during crises and emergencies and their effectiveness in increasing an organization's reach by being able to influence audience who then become trusted sources when relaying info agencies put out:
"As fewer and fewer people trust government messaging, hearing a message from self-selected friends and close acquaintances increases the chance that people will listen and integrate the message."
  • A fire chief and an intrepid champion of SMEM, Bill Boyd looks at the operaitonal benefits of the use of social networks and new technologies in a couple of blog posts. In his second post, Bill points out that, while there are challenges, SM brings immediate benefits for commanders:
"One aspect where speed is an unequivocal plus in is in gaining situational awareness (size up). The ability to quickly survey real-time data from observers, victims and spontaneous volunteers can be invaluable to an incident commander/management team."
  • For her part, Kim Stephens writes about the need to share information and knnowledge on the use of SM in EM to advance their use. She highlights the fantastic sharing tools that SM provide in terms of professional learning: 
"Furthermore, knowledge sharing does not necessarily have to take place in a conference or a formal setting. Hundreds of emergency management professionals engage in knowledge sharing on this topic on a daily basis on twitter via the #SMEM hashtag."

"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."

We certainly hope to hear from you as well on the report and what you see the future taking social media into the world of emergency management.


About the author

Patrice Cloutier

team leadOntario government

Patrice Cloutier is a communicator specializing in crisis communications and emergency management. Patrice was the principal strategic communications planner for the Integrated Security Unit that…


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Patrice Cloutier
November 11, 2011

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