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Provide Disaster Recovery Information Before the Disaster

How emergency managers should use social media.

When you think about our public information messaging, it would be typical for emergency managers to focus on the disaster warning aspect of the hazard that is looming.

A recent study of Florida counties found that 70 percent of people turn to social media for information before a disaster and not as much after the disaster. You can read the details below, but it highlights some changes you should consider about how and when to use social media for your messages — and what those messages should be about.

There are also other tips there about beefing up your joint information center (JIC) staffing to handle all the communications needs, including the use of social media.

The idea of mining social media for situational awareness and then rumor control is something I’ve advocated for since 2007. I worked to get a Port Security Grant to fund an application to do just that. The project was called First to See, and when it came to having it be adopted by emergency managers it flopped! Regional leaders here in the Pacific Northwest did not value what it could do for them. As one very competent and nationally known emergency management director told me, “I don’t use social media!” Oh well!

Talking about Disasters: Social media platforms offer a common point for communication during emergencies

While social media has been the target of much criticism in recent years for its involvement in spreading hate and disinformation, it does still offer upsides as a medium for distributing critical information after an emergency, with roughly 70% of Americans turning to it during disasters.

However, a new study from the University of Central Florida finds it’s not only useful as a means of communicating for individuals, but that it also can be a powerful means of gathering real time information to assist in disaster response.

Driven by work performed by Claire Connolly Knox, Associate Professor of Public Administration, 23 Florida counties and their use of social media during Hurricane Irma were considered in the study. After Action Reports were also examined, with group sessions being held as well to gain more detailed information. Says Knox, a key finding of the study was that “While 95% of the counties who used social media discussed it in positive terms in the AARs and focus group discussions, less than half of the counties engaged in two-way communication, or pulled information for situational awareness
or rumor management.”

While the report also produced a list of challenges and opportunities for the use of social media in terms of engagement with the community during disasters, the most critical finding was related to the timing of sharing, with people being much more interested in looking for information ahead of a disaster, rather than afterward.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.