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Using Social Media Is Not Only Good, but Essential in Disasters

Social media is an orphaned technology.

The subject of social media use by emergency managers has been something that has frustrated me for many years. Usually emergency managers are quick to adapt new technologies to help them do their jobs more effectively. Social media has generally been an orphaned technology that remains “unadopted.”

Here’s a quick article that calls out one study that looked at the use of social media in a hurricane disaster: “When Hurricanes Strike, Social Media Can Save Lives.”

These challenges and opportunities come from the article.


  • Funding for enough staff to keep up with information during crisis. Some counties were creative and used mutual aid or emergency management assistance compacts for needed staffing, while others relied on digital volunteers.
  • No broad use of monitoring software to track social media
    information, which the public assumes local government is engaging in throughout the disaster.
  • Misinformation
  • Not all agencies are taking into consideration social media information to make real time decisions
  • No consistent policies or guidelines for managing multiple government social media channels
  • Technical issues (access, power)


  • More government agencies recognize social media as communication vehicle
  • General public is more familiar with many social media platforms
  • Some agencies are tailoring information beyond Facebook that allows information to be targeted to specific neighborhoods. These include Twitter, Nextdoor, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope and Flickr.
  • Sometimes, social media can be a critical tool. In one community,
    the 9-1-1 system went offline because of the storm. The local government was able to use social media to get critical information to its community.
Eric Holdeman is a nationally known emergency manager. He has worked in emergency management at the federal, state and local government levels. Today he serves as the Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR), which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). The focus for his work there is engaging the public and private sectors to work collaboratively on issues of common interest, regionally and cross jurisdictionally.