Craig Fugate spoke at the Red Cross Social Media Summit and implored the audience not to think of social media in terms of each of the component parts (e.g. Facebook, twitter, etc) but as sources of data. You can follow him on Twitter via @ CraigatFEMA.
How we deal with situational awareness information/data coming from non-traditional-communication channels is one of the biggest challenges facing the emergency response community. Unfortunately, we are playing catch-up to public expectations.
In his talk, Fugate noted the public’s use of social media in crises is growing. One of the many challenges this presents is the ability of first responders and governments to monitor such information and act on it in a timely manner.
This point was made in the Red Cross-survey, 74% of respondents age 18-34 agreed with the statement: “Emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their websites and social media sites so they can respond promptly to any requests for help posted there.” Clearly, many younger citizens have high expectations in terms of responses and replies to their requests.
How we organize ourselves to sort, aggregate, verify and then visualize (e.g. maps or timelines) all of this information is truly yet to be determined: it’s difficult enough during run-of-the-mill events, much less during a large-scale disaster. The participants at the summit discussed these questions, you can view their collective responses on the summit’s blog. Another important paper, written by John Solomon and Dr. Roni Zeiger in anticipation of the summit, also addresses these concerns: “The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media“. Yet, even these papers leave the reader with more questions than answers.
But just having emergency managers agree that social media is data and not a disease would be a good start.