During a media call on Sept. 10, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was asked about the recent study, Social Media in the Emergency Management Field, which found that the main reason emergency managers are not using social media is a lack of dedicated staff.

He said emergency managers, even those with no staff, should find ways to incorporate social media into their operations.

“There are emergency managers in very small shops, even one-person operations, who are using social media,” Fugate said. “Those interested in creating a two-way dialog can capitalize on its capabilities. We need to stop just using social media as a megaphone to broadcast information and instead use it to have a two-way conversation with the public.”

Under Fugate’s direction, FEMA continues to push forward with transitioning the federal agency nationally into the digital age.

There has been an emphasis on the use of technology in general; mapping and social media to advance situational awareness during disasters and better engage the public in becoming prepared for disasters. The latest advancements at FEMA are threefold.

  • There is an updated smartphone FEMA App with a disaster reporter feature that lets average citizens report on incidents and damages that they directly observe. Two key features of the app are the ability to upload a photo and geo-locate the reporting location. For this last feature to work, it’s important that users have their GPS enabled for their phone.

Many people have turned off this feature due to privacy concerns, so it will be an additional step. FEMA is not posting raw data, but items that are posted will be reviewed individually to ensure the photo and text are appropriate for public viewing and appear to be accurate. The FEMA App is available for the Apple, Android and BlackBerry phones. There is no word on when a Windows version will be available.

  • FEMA is promoting its Social Hub as a place where you can get information from a variety of trusted government partners across the spectrum of emergency management and its allied functions. These are not crowdsourced tweets, but information that is being provided by agencies themselves. When disasters occur, this will be one place you can go to that is aggregating information from agencies on an event without being tied to a specific hashtag.

When there isn’t a specific event, it will be a website where information is shared about specific topics like National Disaster Preparedness Month. The map at the site is not tied to GIS and one that you can zoom in and out of. It is more of a picture reflecting the amount of traffic coming from the different regions of the country.

  • Providing age appropriate curriculum for children of all ages is part of the preparedness push that FEMA is emphasizing. At Ready.Gov, there is a Ready Kids – Be a Hero section. There you find age-appropriate curriculum for teachers, additional information for parents and activities like games for kids. The stale tri-fold informational brochure of the past is history.

Eric E. Holdeman  |  Contributing Writer
Eric Holdeman is the former director for the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management and now blogs at www.disaster-zone.com.