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Emergency Management Planning and Social Media

Posted on Mon, Jul 15, 2013

Emergency management in a mobile communications world requires a basic understanding of social media and the potential positive and negative implications it can have on a company. Response preparedness and these collaborative communications applications are merging to create a new outlet within emergency management. This synergy has already proven to be critical components of preparedness, response, and recovery

The accelerated development of mapping tools, ease of information sharing, and limitless public awareness through social media raises concern for emergency managers regarding liability, standards of operations, and integration of these tools into an efficient crisis management program. Companies should develop standard procedures for sharing corporate information and analyzing public comments regarding the company.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) utilizes social media as a means of communication to provide information to the public before, during, and after a disaster. The lines of communication are rapidly expanding, allowing average citizens to provide useful information used to initiate the response, provide feedback on response measures, and share insights regarding the recovery efforts.

To properly determine the severity of an emergency situation and appropriate level of response, information has to be gathered, organized, and confirmed. One of the greatest challenges with social media is assessing the accuracy and validity of the information. However, a case can also be made for the positive aspects of social media.  FEMA’s 2013 National Preparedness report stated that during and immediately following Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, “users sent more than 20 million Sandy-related Twitter posts, or “tweets,” despite the loss of cell phone service during the peak of the storm.”  The report highlighted an example of how social media provided solutions in the midst of a crisis situation.

“Students at Franklin High School in New Brunswick, NJ used an online mapping service to publish information on gas stations in the area, noting whether they were open, had power, had available fuel, and/or served as charging stations. Students gathered information from personal observations, direct contact with gas stations, media reports, and updates from social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. The students created a map outlining the status of fuel resources in the community. The information then fed directly into an open, online crisis response platform, allowing thousands of people to access the information. This updated information reduced wait times for drivers seeking to refuel and helped government and commercial partners to direct power and fuel resources to the most affected areas.”

Incident Commanders can utilize social media to gain an understanding of a situation in a timely manner. This information can range from high-level observations, to location-specific incident details. Companies should develop processes for monitoring social media during an incident in order to collect accurate, real-time intelligence, as well as to obtain a basic consensus of public opinion. The following concepts can be used to evaluate social media information and formulate an appropriate response.

Initial Information:
Confirm the source
What specific event occurred?
Where and when did this occur?
Were there any injuries or fatalities?
Where were these victims injured?
Was there a rescue? By whom?
Is the information widespread, or limited to a few individuals/locations?
Do we know why it happened? (Rely on facts. Restrict opinions and assumptions, yet be aware of rumors)
Who is, or can become, affected?
Should the employees/public be taking immediate action?
What is public opinion?  

Initial Response Actions
What is being done to control the situation?
Has the crisis management team been activated?
Have all the proper authorities been notified including emergency responders and regulatory authorities?
What actions have those authorities taken or plan to take?
Can the incident escalate? How?
If necessary, has the area been properly secured?
Are there any continuing dangers to human health?
Are evacuations necessary?
How can the company take a proactive stance?
What is the public interest level (media and community)?
Is any media on-site? Is a designated company spokesperson available to manage the media?
What methods can be used to inform the community, employees, and public regarding response developments?

Facility Impact
What operations were initially impacted?
How long will the facility be impacted?
What is the function of the facility and the specific equipment involved?
What caused the event?
Were the operations impacted and for how long?
What stakeholders/clients could be affected by this event?
What is the cost of this event?
What is the potential lost revenue?
What is the potential clean-up cost including environmental remediation?

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Tags: Crisis Mapping, Emergency Management, Incident Management, Emergency Management Program, Social Media, Notification Systems