In the event of an emergency, many individuals are immediately drawn to knowing what the status is of the infrastructure that they rely on day-to-day. They may phone these establishments: energy companies, public works, schools, places of business and work, or if lines are down, explore the web at every chance. Today, social media has changed the face of updates in an emergency. We work together to inform our communities and interested members, often in 140 characters or less, which is the limit for single-box text messages and Twitter. It is important to remember that the internet provides information at a rate from multiple resources and therefore, may be difficult to separate what is true from what is false.
That said, our urgency in requiring and acquiring information is only as reliable as the source and that source’s ability to report accurate information. In order to acquire the most accurate information, social media can be used effectively by “friending” the source (Facebook) or “following” the Twitter account of your frequently-utilized businesses and critical infrastructure providers. These should include your city or county office, emergency operations center, school district, public works offices (especially energy and water companies) should they have media accounts. If you belong in one of these categories, please consider creating these pages to also participate in active community sharing and creating a space where you are able to control the true and pertinent information regarding your place of business.
Emergency preparedness and the corresponding ability to efficiently respond, requires quick communication and targets the individual. In a technological age, it seems that many may oversee the fact that certain persons may not be familiar with texting or other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and therefore are not as adept at managing the information being transferred from person to person. As a prerequisite, emergency management systems may consider mandating that all crisis teams know how to use text messaging since these can be sent out in a mass-text and information can be communicated faster than by telephone. If each crisis team member learns how to utilize these systems, they should also be trained to look for them in the event of an emergency. Granted, these messages are only useful if your phone is fully charged and cell service is available, but in most emergencies and even in some disasters, this may still be readily available to your population. Having a contingency plan in case this is not available is also pertinent to your response efficiency.
Social Media and Web Outlets to Consider:
Twitter: See if your company or organization has a Twitter account. If you are a member of critical infrastructure in your town or city, having a one-stop feed for outgoing information during an emergency allows your members and patrons to know the updated status of business without having to call your call center or office.
Many will experience a considerable cut in calls, which can result in long hours and money spent while trying to deal with a response if they implement this strategy. They must not forget—and this is important—to let patrons know about the Twitter and/or Facebook accounts, and how it would be used during an emergency.
Facebook: Facebook can also serve as an outlet in the same regard. Some may prefer Facebook over Twitter, and accounts can be joined easily so that you post to one, and it shows up on the other: http://www.wikihow.com/Link-Facebook-to-Twitter
FEMA’s Rumor Control: For large-scale emergencies that would fall under FEMA’s jurisdiction, FEMA created a fact-checking site and it posts the fallacies from the correct information being spread about the status of the event and its aftermath: http://www.fema.gov/hurricane-sandy-rumor-control
The more people who are able to improve crisis communications through social media and texting from the source avoids the avid speculation and false claims that only add to anxiety within our communities during emergencies. Emergency responders can create a better sense of certainty and help soothe worry through frequent updates (so long as they do not impede the response process) and work together better through sharing information at a quick, individual level, eliminating the middle man’s interpretation.
REM4ed Plug: REM4ed’s Emergency Management software has a text messaging feature and Twitter account link-up to the system for crisis teams to communicate through the Mobile Command App on their phones. http://www.appdemostore.com/demo?id=6721012