Leverage Social Media to Encourage Community Resilience

There has been a lot of talk concerning the role of positive and effective communication to bolster community resilience. At the core of this communication is social media.

While it may go without saying that emergency managers and first responders must harness social networks to disseminate information, what remains unclear are specific strategies to do so. First and foremost disaster communication cannot be a reactionary effort.

Emergency managers need to engage their communities at all times, using existing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The key is to establish information that is consistent and reliable so that when a disaster inevitably strikes, the community can instinctually recognize the trusted, go-to source for information.

Establishing a social media presence prior to a disaster scenario is simple, if social networking has been prioritized in the workflow.  Adam Crowe of Emergency Management Magazine has identified three strategies for pre-disaster social media engagement:

  1. Pre-Identified Hash-tags– “Hash-tags are one of the primary mechanisms to search and classify information on Twitter.  Unfortunately, in most disasters hash-tags are complete organic and defined by the crowd.  However, there is a new strategy to pre-identify hash-tags for use.  For example, A few days ago, the City of Houston adopted this very strategy for impending severe weather.  They identified hash-tags like #powerout, #debris, #hail, and #wind to help filter their social media information.”
  2. Twitter Town Halls – “Public gatherings (aka Town Hall meetings) have long been the standard to engage the general public on topics of interest.  However, as the general public becomes more dependent on the availability and time-saving possibilities of technology, physical meetings have become less effective. As a result, there is a growing trend for Twitter Town Hall  meetings.  President Obama utilized this functionality in 2011 as did several emergency management offices looking to engage communities before disasters occur.”
  3. Streaming Videos –“The ability to record a video or stream activity to an online video outlet (ex: Ustream or YouTube) has become nearly ubiquitous with inexpensive technologies and integration with cell phones.  But emergency managers are often reluctant to use these technologies for anything more than traditional public service announcement videos.  These technologies can be utilized (before the disaster) to introduce local staff, highlight activities, or introduce “behind the scenes” components of emergency management.”

So far we’ve been discussing how emergency managers can use social media to broadcast information, but effective emergency management is just as much about listening as it is dictating. In a crisis situation online social hubs like Facebook and Twitter serve as excellent indicators of how effective the response effort is.

Social media is just that – social. It is an ongoing conversation, in this case between emergency management professionals and civilians, about the constant preparedness for and vigilance of disaster scenarios. In this sense social media is the key to community resilience.

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