The dangers of only partially engaging with social media for emergency management

The Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, has signalled a growing role for social media and other communication technologies to play in helping governments manage natural disasters.

The peak co-ordinating body is really only offering cautious support for the use of social media in managing natural disasters, which is great but also a little concerning. I don’t disagree that traditional and auxiliary channels (like SMS alerts) remain essential, but those and social media really need to work in tandem. By only engaging partially with social media, we actually create more risk than if we engage fully.

This is under pinned by the concept of being social on the inside, to be social on the outside, a Lee Bryant quote you may have heard me mention before. Also see this great related post by my Dachis Group colleague, David Mastronardi. This approach in itself goes some way in dealing with issues of misinformation, but if we fully embrace social software then we have the opportunity to also bring these technologies to bear on the problem. Tools like Ushahidi’s SwiftRiver are designed to deal with this exact issue – and they work with SMS too.

For my part, this is backed up by my observations of taking part in the initiative and also my observations from a recent trip to Queensland where I had the chance to chat with different state government representatives about their experiences with using social media during the floods. The door has opened and there is no question about the value of social media in a disaster. Now we need to plan to do it properly for next time.


2 thoughts on “The dangers of only partially engaging with social media for emergency management

  1. Queensland Police have to be commended at their use of social media during recent natural disasters. Using Facebook and Twitter was a great way to get important information out quickly. They also need to be commended for using social media to crowdsource important information, such as getting very quick volunteer translations of emergency messages into multiple languages.

  2. QPS absolutely need to be commended. However, my impression from hearing about their concerns and what they learnt from this experience is that there is more work to be done behind the scenes to make it work really effectively and to minimise risks that might be introduced. Facebook and Twitter etc as pieces of technology are the easy part – they and other agencies they work with have a wide range of operational, system and policy issues to deal with to make them better prepared for next time. But one thing that is very clear, there is no going back!

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