Post by: Kim Stephens
Alice Johnson of Zawya.com recently posted an interview with retired Admiral Thad Allen about disaster response. She uses a quote from his as the title or her article: “It’s a leadership challenge, it’s a legal challenge, it’s a policy challenge, it’s a resource challenge”. Most readers will remember him for his role in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as the Principal Federal Official, he’s now a VP at a consulting firm. I have pulled out the section of the interview where she asks him about emerging technologies, and he specifically addresses the role of social media. I love his answer to the question about what government thinks about this new environment we live in. He basically says it doesn’t matter what government thinks, people will use social media to report what’s happening to them in a disaster (and “participate in these events”) whether we like it or not. Love it!
Q: Are there any new forms of technology or processes that have ensured more effective responses to large-scale catastrophes?
A: I think there are technologies that allow crowd-sourcing, allow us to try to understand where the need is for a response. On the other hand, you’re automatically going to be graded by the public and it will be announced publicly immediately through social media. I think that is something that’s dramatically new in the last five or six years.
Q: So how have responses changed in light of the social media phenomenon?
A: Well, it can help you mobilize resources, it can help you communicate, it can help you explain a level of complexity to the public. On the other hand, you need to be able to get that information out in a timely manner because if you aren’t, there’s generally a perception that there’s information being withheld or you’re not being open and honest about it.
Q: Do governments and other agencies agree with you on that?
A: That’s a very good question. Here’s what I tell people: it really doesn’t matter what you think. It really doesn’t matter what your position or your policy is in government or a company. The public can participate in these events because there’s no barrier to entry on the internet.
If you’re not out there and you’re not interacting and you’re not providing information, then the public is only going to hear what is said from people who are trying to observe it from where they are, and they may not have complete information. Each government has a responsibility to put the entire picture out there.