A Social Media Reminder from the #NEearthquake #smem

"[T]ime for the E Coast to realize a 5.8 isn't a real earthquake." I was lectured on Twitter.  No doubt.

Everything is always a matter of perspective.  I had nothing to judge it by, but to me it seemed impressive.  I felt a deep sway.  I thought I might have gotten dizzy for some reason.  I stepped outside to see if a tree had fallen on my roof. 

I then returned to my desk and checked Twitter:  the north eastern U.S. had had an earthquake.  It rattled nerves more than anything else.

Still, it is a moment to reflect.  And I must confess, it impressed the heck out of me -- and I'm not easily impressed.

I naturally thought to call my family.  For about a half hour, though, the phones shared a simple message:  "All circuits are busy."  "So just send a text," another person on Twitter lectured.  Fine.  But what if I needed to make a 9-1-1 call.  "Ah, well...Welcome to our world!"

Let's begin planning for a "real" disaster - and optimizing social media

There are tales of police departments using social media to fight flash mobs and to track criminals.  Yet, for some reason, there are far fewer examples of social media being used to listen for and respond to basic emergencies.  "Well, that's what 9-`1-1 is for," I can already hear my detractors say.  But what happens, as happened in the north eastern U.S., today, when an earthquake strikes and all the phones are overloaded and 9-1-1 can't be contacted?  I know, I know, "it wasn't a real earthquake."  But that's my point, what if had been - one accompanied by massive death, injuries, destruction - and "all circuits busy."

We should be thinking now, more, about how we might put social media to work.  Connections already exist.  Numerous police departments and other local responders have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.  It's time that they have training and policies to make social media emergency management as effective a tool as it possibly can be.

Don't get me wrong, I know how much is already being done in the field of social media emergency management.  Just search #smem on Twitter and you'll find an abundance of innovators and innovation, including FEMA.  All well and good, but we can and should do more.  Training.  Policies. 

If  I sound slightly alarmist, I hope that you will excuse me.  We are products of our past.

Related readings:

"Twitter 911" - A Proposal

10 Reasons Social Media Is Important in a Real Crisis

Social Media & Emergency Response Lessons from a Pioneer

Please join me on Twitter:  @GlenGilmore and @CrisisSocMedia

Please share your comments and ideas!  Thank you!


Billy Shaw Jr said...

Great share Glenn! I agree that we are so under prepared and under educated about using SM in crisis or in disaster. I was so disgusted by what happened in the Nation when Gabby Giffords was shot here in Tucson.
We sensationalize and panic to first to report or tell everyone without taking time to call the Police, Sheriff, EMT or Fire Public Info Officer. But in all fairness if everyone was calling the PIO it would take away from the ability for them to help others.
If they were prepared and educated better for #SMEM it would address so many issues before they even happen.
I am with you and anything I can do support this issue online or in real life let me know!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Jessica. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, it's a good time for all of us to think a bit more about preparedness. We owe it to ourselves and to each other.

Melissa Elliott said...

While I completely agree with your post, I'd like to add that social media channels shouldn't become the standard for emergency communications - twitter overloads daily - imagine during a major disaster. Discussions need to happen on a national level re: using SMS technology to communicate to (and receive info from) the public at large during a crisis. The Ushahidi platform did this during the Haiti EQ by taking over SMS code #4636 - communications could go out to everyone on the network and messages of needs could come in (and then be shared with responders). This concept needs to be expanded and put into general awareness - much like the 911 system, but...one that continues to work throughout a disaster.

Unknown said...

I have to admit to being one of those California know-it-alls when it comes to what constitutes a 'real' earthquake. We on the west coast had a pretty good chuckle at y'all's expense. Even had a little 3.6 last night here in the bay area.

We are accustomed to the phones being knocked out, and in the case of the Whittier Narrows quake in '87 - for hours.

Social Media has proven it's mettle during some of history's most recent earth shaking headlines but still remains a vastly under appreciated tool.

Unknown said...

Thank you Melissa and Linda!

Melissa, I agree that using Twitter for 9-1-1 has its challenges. The Twitter "Fail Whale" is one.

But when 9-1-1 can't be contacted for a half hour or more because phones are out, as is more often than not the case in a major crisis, social media becomes a lifeline. I would hope this realization would advance the discussion of social media for emergency management and the creation of new policies, training, and practices.

Linda, your experience on the west coast underscores the concern I have: social media "still remains a vastly under appreciated tool."

My hope is that, together, we just might be able to change that!

Anonymous said...

Great observation, Glenn. Social media can be very helpful in times of crisis if used effectively. I think 911 reps should have several Twitter accounts for every district and should be PROACTIVE in finding "alarming" tweets.
What if, some silly people (and it happens all the time) tweeted a fake disaster on purpose just for the fun it? People tend to give social media much more credibility than it deserves and I believe that the police need to track down the sources of fake news and terminate their accounts!
It's great that you raised this issue. I will share your post and I hope others get to appreciate its value.