Social Media, Speed vs. Command Control: Australia QPS media weighs in.

Post by: Kim Stephens
Recently, a common debate occurred on the hashtag #SMEM (social media and emergency management): speed vs. command control. The article on the blog Homeland1,”Social Media have become the Elephant in the EOC” is a good overall summary of the continuous discussion. From that article:

“The application of NIMS guidelines and social media for emergency public information is currently counterproductive,” said Adam Crowe, of the Johnson County (Kan.) Office of Emergency Management.

NIMS calls for all information released to the public during an emergency to be reviewed and approved by incident commanders. But Crowe told Homeland1 that this structured review-and-approval process greatly reduces the effectiveness of social media.

“This is contradictory to the speed, pace and expectations of the social media community,” Crowe said. A paper he wrote recently appeared in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, exposing the flaw and calling for a NIMS review to see how social media use during a response can fit into that framework.

Hal Grieb also wrote about the issue on this blog last year that the NIMS framework is not necessarily the problem:
Re-writing a federal document does not make the people who fall under it framework any more educated or accepting of its use. Time, instruction and changes of specific agency procedures make social media work in incident command.
I briefly summarized these concerns and forwarded this conversation to a person in the Australian Queensland Police Service Public media shop in order to get a some understanding about how they were able to so nimbly use social media platforms during the recent crises there.
Here’s what I asked him:
“We worry about the speed of social media vs. the speed of command/control. How were you all able to react so quickly? Here, messages are approved by the incident commander to ensure “unity of command”. Also, how do you all deal with open data? Is that something you discuss at all?
Here are some of the tweets from our debate:
  • There has to be a two-fold process that includes both external affairs and operations for situational awareness (including a feedback loop)
  • Review/approval components need to be addressed. (There’s a need to be first but there’s also a need to be right.)
  • But, does the speed of social media doesn’t match the speed of command/control?
  • Here is his response:
    “Why does your organisation need a rigid vertical approval process if/when you are publishing non-controversial, factual information? Your staff does not need to be micro managed.  They professionally and efficiently communicate on behalf of your agency every day. Learning to communicate via social media is just like learning any other professional communication skill.  Every medium has different issues and potential pitfalls.  Social Media is not rocket science, it’s just new.
    Obviously anything sensitive or complex needs to get passed up the chain for approval.  Kym our director is inseparable from her iPad and she can often deal with high level issues herself on the spot.
    [I thought these were his key points.]
    • In the height of the emergency when things were chaotic and some traditional communication structures began to break down many of our officers were told to keep informed of what was going on by following our Facebook page.
    • In the critical days of the crisis we only published maybe half a dozen or so traditional media releases a day, as opposed to our Facebook updates which we were posting every 10 minutes.
    • We did not do those things because we thought they were trendy or cool.  People’s lives were at stake.  We did them because in the crisis Social Media was exponentially more effective than traditional forms of communication.

    Don’t believe me, below is just small a snippet of the public reaction we received (You have to click on the ‘View previous comments’ link 9 times to see all the comments). Facebook. [I’ve inserted some of the public feedback here.]

    Of course I’m a huge advocate for open data and certainly departmental silos made some things much, much harder than they needed to be during the crisis. We have some pretty big web 2 plans for the future, stay tuned.”

    Thank you to QPS for the response!


    2 responses to “Social Media, Speed vs. Command Control: Australia QPS media weighs in.

    1. At the speed incidents evolve today, and more importantly, the coverage through social and traditional media, the requirements to have all information approved by the IC before release on SM platforms is an impediment to an efficient response.

      The only way around that is to gain the confidence of the IC through proper planning, crisis communications planning that involves pre-approved messaging that can be distilled for use through SM platforms. It also requires a certain amount of educating the potential IC prior to any incident about the new reality of the role of social media in emergencies.

      That’s not only true for the incident commanders but also for the planning and/or intel group who can gain valuable situational awareness through two-way engagement and monitoring of social media platforms.

    2. Thanks for your comment. I also recently suggested that just training PIOs on social media is not enough. The entire emergency management community needs to understand the value added and how it fits into the response continuum. I think only education will achieve an understanding and loosing of the tight restrictions some apply to the medium.

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