Using Social Media to Aid Recovery

Puyallup, WA, February 9, 2009 -- Located at t...

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Social Media and Emergency Management chat last Friday, July 29 focused on SM and recovery and was moderated by Pascal Schuback, an emergency manager from a large county in Washington State. The transcript is 31 pages long–we were chatty.

My favorite question:  “Recovery is always a challenge to work prior to an event? How are we preparing tools/protocols/training & awareness before hand?” Of course this question is much broader than just the use of social media, and speaks to me about civic engagement in general. I think @tusnamisteph was correct in pointing us to the recent post by ICMA: “Can Social Media Reinvigorate Civic Participation?” Before a community has experienced a disaster it is sometimes difficult to get  in-the-flesh participation (unless, of course, the issues involves taxes–but that’s a different blog). Increasingly community leaders are turning to social networks, including online public forums, in order to gain input and insight from those they serve.

Social sites are important because most static city or county web pages provide very limited capability for engagement, e.g. “send an email” doesn’t allow for a conversation. (See this blog post by a local gov official in England-How digital tools can help connect a Mayor.) Even with these tools, however, the ICMA article points out how input is sometimes still limited to a few, very active individuals (maybe just a few more than normally show up in person).

But these same local governments need to be prepared for the marked increase in the level of input and desire to participate after a crisis.  This is where the “preparing tools” question is salient.  If your community is not using these tools before an event it will be more difficult to implement them afterwards–although not impossible.  Including citizen engagement, I see 3 ways web-enabled communications help in the recovery process.

1. Matching Needs with Resources

The town of Joplin (which recently suffered a historic tornado) provides a great example of how recovery is increasingly social. My favorite example, which I’ve mentioned before, is Rebuild Joplin. This site, which is designed as collaborative platform, lists as its partners the City of Joplin, Joplin Schools, and a multitude on non-governmental organizations. This list also reminds us that it’s really more about relationships than it is about the tool. Their stated goal: “ support the long term recovery efforts of Joplin residents and businesses. This effort is strengthened by a collaborative approach. is a central location for finding six recommended local funds that are committed to the long term recovery of Joplin.”  Affected community members are not only able to quickly find access to donated resources but the FAQ tab is a literal one-stop-shop of information. People can find links and advise about all aspects of recovery from “Do I need to sort my debris?” to “What documents will FEMA need from my insurance?”.  For those wishing to donate, a list of community needs and reputable organizations are listed.

Rebuild Joplin also has a Facebook page with over 7,000 fans. Their presence is open, allowing anyone  to post to their page; the posts currently up are completely appropriate, involving information about donations or community recovery events.

The question for communities: Can you build this type of platform before an event? Some are people are trying to do just that, including Pascal Schuback, the chat moderator, who indicated that he is building a site using Ushahidi software. Another person, James Hamilton of Cecil County, Maryland, is looking into a Ushahidi deployment as well, and I’ve also heard rumors about something similar in Northern Virginia. Would these sites be publicly available pre-crisis? Pascal indicated that his would. I think if a site, similar to Rebuild Joplin, was able to list community needs as well as community resources everyday–people would use it and respond favorably. Site administration questions would need to be ironed out, however.

2. Gaining input from Citizens

Facebook has also played a small role in how the community is gaining information for its Citizen Advisory Recovery Team. After the in-person meeting announcements were put up on a local news organization’s FB page, people posted their comments straight to that site. These comments were mined and fed into the final draft. I wonder aloud why they didn’t ask for these comments on their own “City of Joplin” FB page where the event was also announced? Providing an opportunity for citizens to give their input virtually is even more important after a crisis because some members of the population may be displaced and temporarily living in another community. Their displacement, however, would not diminish their desire to have their voices heard.

The city’s own Facebook page, nonetheless, is being used as place to post recovery information and, to a limited extent, as an informal forum for people to ask questions. Another interesting point is that the page is the City’s page, not one of its agency’s, such as local Emergency Management. (Who’s page to use to broadcast recovery info is another planning consideration.) 

The City’s FB page also connects people who are interested in helping with those who need assistance–although recently they posted that there are more volunteers than there are needs.

3. Allowing for Micro-Donations

Another great aspect of social media and recovery is the ability for horizontal distribution of resources, by which I mean the ability for donors to give goods or funding straight to organizations they are interested in helping. This is in stark contrast to a vast “recovery fund” and allows people to really target their donations. This sort of giving reminds me in a way of micro-loans. For example, there is a FB fan page explicitly to collect donations for the Joplin High School band.  They are using the FundRazr app on the site which allows people to donate as much or as little as they can.

Even school districts are posting info on their social media sites about how to donate directly. 

In conclusion, since this has gotten to be a very long post, I can sum up the sentiment from the chat in one sentence:  have a plan in place for how you might use social tools for recovery…start before a crisis.

Related articles

8 responses to “Using Social Media to Aid Recovery

  1. Pingback: Using Social Media to Aid Recovery | New Mexico Emergency Management |

  2. Pingback: “Using Social Media to Aid Recovery” « Recovery Diva

  3. Great article. My name is Mark Kinsley and I am with Rebuild Joplin. One of our goals is to make this model available to other communities. Right now, Joplin is a laboratory for post-disaster recovery. The lessons we are learning will hopefully benefit communities facing disaster. We are constantly evaluating the website and our social media presence to determine effectiveness and efficiency. Thanks for providing some valuable analysis.

  4. The link to ICMA comment does not work.

  5. It’s working now-thanks!

  6. Pingback: Using Social Media to Aid Recovery (via idisaster 2.0) « social justice and sustainable living – new media: tony serve blogs

  7. Hi Kim,
    Thanks, glad to see you talking about recovery and social media. There are some great examples out there of people using social medfia to help each other recover. And it doesn’t have to be a huge disaster for social media to be helpful; social media can be just as helpful in smaller-scale disasters.

    We set up and operated a set of social media recovery tools in Astoria Oregon in December last year for a fire that destroyed a historic building which housed 28 businesses and nonprofit orgs. We operated the Astoria Fire Blog on a free wordpress site where people could list and respond to needs of those affected, and linked that to a “Where’d They Go?” google map, a googledoc listing the inventory for available spaces in town, a curated Storify stream about the fire so people could learn more, and a facebook page where people could talk about how the fire affected them.

    If you’d like to see it, it’s at:

    Tiffany Estes and I also did a talk on how we set this recovery effort up at the 140 Characters NW Conference:

    • That is an awesome example creative thinking and problem solving. The social media platforms are really secondary. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s