Social Media in Emergency Management

10 09 2011


The role of social media in emergency situations has been in the news quite a lot in 2011.

In Egypt and other areas of the middle-east / northern Africa we saw social media being used to organise civil disobedience campaigns which ultimately overthrew governments.

In the London riots, we saw rioters using social media to organise. But we also saw social media being used to organise clean-ups. Discussions as to whether social media should be shut down during such incidents ultimately resulted in a no vote.

The tragic Queensland floods contained some lessons for other organisations in emergency management on many fronts. Brisbane City Council used social media – Facebook and Twitter – extensively as ways of getting messages out and responding rapidly to rumours and events as they happened.

The benefits of social media over other forms of media coverage:

1. Social media can still work even if your computers are down. These days all you need is an i-phone.

2. Social media doesn’t crash when you get millions of hits, the way a server-based website might. As well as Brisbane City residents (and this is a large council area) there were also friends and relatives of residents, expats, journalists from all over the world, and the plain curious, all hitting Brisbane City Council for information. Facebook can cope with this sort of volume.

3. Because it can be done from anywhere where you have an i-phone and phone coverage, a variety of local relevant pieces of information can be fed on quickly, complete with photographs.

4. Response to rumours can be instantaneous. At one stage during the floods there was a rumour of a tsunami coming down the Brisbane River. The Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was able to quickly and specifically quash this rumour via Twitter.

5. Other people are able to provide you with information as well. However, you can’t guarantee quality control when people are adding their own rumours and information to your feeds. You can only respond. And you need to respond quickly. Social media only works if it is monitored and responded to.

6. You can add instructional information to various channels – Brisbane City Council had a “how to” video on sandbagging up on Youtube.

7. However, not everyone is on social media. This cannot be your only communication strategy, it is a strategy that fits within your strategic emergency communications plan.

8. While people will seek you out during the crisis, and Facebook and Twitter accounts are quick and easy to put up, it helps if you already have an established channel and following. Preparation is everything. Council had already employed a digital communications team, set up Facebook, Twitter, Youtube Channel, Foursquare and Flickr accounts, and already thought through issues around their message management and use. They had four main areas they focussed on:

•Evacuation Centre Locations
•Waste Disposal Information
•Health and Safety Information
•Volunteering Information

9. Coordination and consistent messages between agencies involved is also helpful – the Queensland Premier, SES , Queensland Police etc. were also in this space.

When organisations think about using social media, they often address it from a marketing point of view. To use it effectively, it need to be seen as just one more channel in the strategic communications plan, and integrated into the business of the organisation.

Brisbane City Council’s use of social media in the flood crisis won them the Queensland AMI Award. A case study on the Brisbane City Council’s use of social media during the Queensland Floods is available here. The Brisbane City Council 2011 Flood Plan is available here.

If you liked this post, you might also like Social Media for the Risk Averse Organisation.

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4 responses

11 09 2011
Janet Devlin

spot on – from a disaster management ‘specialist’

24 09 2011
Emergency Tequila « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] you liked this post, you might like Social Media for Emergency Management Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditStumbleUponDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

24 09 2011
Update: Social Media in Emergency Situations « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] licensed under Creative Commons from Chris Violette http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisviolette/465462843/A little while ago I blogged about some of the benefits of social media in emergency management. […]

10 02 2012
and more from the bizarre world of marketing and espionage… « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] in Social Media? here are a few more you might be interested in… Social Media in Emergency Management Social Media in Emergency Situations And today’s bizarre social media news… Share […]

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