Social media and emergency management

June 13, 2012

I had the great pleasure speaking to a group of emergency management folks in Southern California a few weeks ago. The topic was the use of social media in emergency management.

Emergency planners do yeoman’s work in terms of developing scenarios and potential responses. And, they spend a lot of time making sure that during emergencies they can communicate with each other.

Traditionally, emergency managers have relied on traditional media in terms of outreach to the general public. Those communications channels will remain valuable, but social media can and should have a place in an emergency communications strategy.

For example, social media can be used simply as another monitoring tool to augment traditional channels. A person trapped in their basement during an emergency might not be able to get through jammed 911 lines, but could post a tweet or update their Facebook page from their mobile phone to call for help.

Social media could also be used before emergencies to build grassroots networks of secondary responders. One of the things the folks in California talked about was transporting large numbers of people away from problem areas or to medical services. Being able to tap into organizations with transportation fleets that could lend a hand would be invaluable.

Just getting the word out about emergencies and instructions to the public using social media is especially critical for younger people who rely almost exclusively on Facebook and Twitter for their news.

As always, the key to developing any social media strategy is determining first how you want to use it, what specific audiences you are targeting and how it fits into your overall communications plan.


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