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Small Town America – Easing into Social Media Disaster Planning

In a January 27th 2011 article by Newsday Reporter Erin Geismar, Southold Group Eyes Social Media Disaster Plan, Supervisor Scott Russell responded to our plea by saying he sees Facebook as a way to communicate with residents on a day-to-day basis, but it will not be his emergency management team’s priority.

Emergency management at its core is about saving life and limb, Russell said.

A print copy of the full article is here, courtesy of Newsday: http://www.southoldvoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Newsday.com-Southold-social-media-crisis.pdf

We welcome the Supervisor’s invitation to meet with him and his Emergency Management Team. First, we’ll draw their attention to the solid evidence from agencies and reputable NGOs that emergency responders who harness the power of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, TwitPic, and YouTube, do save life and limb, and equally, that significant numbers of the population expect emergency services to respond to social media calls for help. The American Red Cross White Paper, full details below, gives real life examples of the value of social media in disaster response.  Unfortunately, not many people “get it” yet, and our Town Supervisor is certainly not alone in being one of them, but to borrow a phrase from FEMA Director Craig Fugate, if we innovate at the speed of government, we’ll never get there. This needs the private and volunteer sectors also to step up and help, and that’s exactly what SoutholdVOICE is now doing, on behalf of not only our members, but also the wider community.
Although much of the research and development work is happening at Federal and even global level related to major disasters worldwide, the principles apply to all hazards, which on a local level means not only preparedness for a possible major hurricane, but also the lesser storms of a damaging nature. We had nothing but a thunderous silence from the Town and being left to our own devices for the Nor’easters of March and December 2010, also the two we’ve experienced so far in 2011, and it’s still only January with 51 days until Spring!
These new social media channels can be implemented quickly and at very little cost, if any, to provide an effective two-way exchange of information with the general public, to help responders, volunteers and self-help groups preserve not only life, but also property, and during ALL storms, or hazards, not just the major ones. Of course we know local government were responding to major incidences and providing assistance to the few whose lives may have been in danger, but it’s the abandonment of everyone else that is part of the problem, and the fear that in a major incident, our emergency resources would quickly become overwhelmed, leaving all but a few with no timely assistance whatsoever. If there’s no effective exchange of information with the public before, during and after a crisis, the public’s perception is that government is doing nothing at all, essentially AWOL. A Town website which routinely posts a banner “Closed due to Storm”, is not helping create confidence in the Town’s preparedness. Policy makers at higher levels get this, now local politicians also need to hear the message.
If you’re not communicating with your constituents using Social Networks, the perception is that you’re not doing anything.
That’s one problem Southold Town has, but it’s not alone.  Suffolk County and the rest of Long Island are not doing much better, only NYC has embraced the use of the social networks, and that’s too far away for us on the East End to be useful in most instances. Check out the links and resources we have listed for you on our Twitter page, and it’s not impressive. Let us know any we have missed.

American Red Cross logoBack in August, the American Red Cross hosted an Emergeny Social Data Summit, to discuss the future of social data response and increase disaster response collaboration amongst aid agencies, government agencies, corporations, technologists, and citizen groups.

Social media has radically changed how people communicate, including their calls for help. Now, people Tweet, add a Facebook status or text about a natural disaster. Emergency and disaster response organizations are working to develop a process to address this and harness the communication power of new media. This American Red Cross blog chronicles that effort, beginning with the Emergency Social Data Summit at http://emergencysocialdata.posterous.com/

Our research suggests the public is increasingly relying on social and mobile tools in their daily lives and therefore also during emergencies. Specifically, we found that the public expects response organizations to take action on incoming social information about disasters. We also wrote a white paper, The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media, which outlined the history and current state of affairs around the public using social technologies to request help from themselves or friends and family during a crisis.

The American Red Cross White Paper making the case for integrating Crisis Response with Social Media is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/35737608/White-Paper-The-Case-for-Integrating-Crisis-Response-With-Social-Media


Mike Ellis, from Emergency  Communications Network tweeted Saturday 29th:

Mike Ellis from ECN

It’s easy for us to forget about beginners or the uninitiated when we live and breathe it everyday. 

Mike Ellis from ECN

There are many in EM who haven’t started . This week someone asked me if  was a free service.

Mike’s company, http://www.emergencycommunications.net/ has developed affordable notification services capable of reaching millions of citizens in minutes. The Suffolk County Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services recently contracted with ECN to license its CodeRED high-speed notification system, to contact us in the event of an actual or impending emergency.   It’s a great system and if you haven’t been getting these alerts, sign up here now: https://cne.coderedweb.com/Default.aspx?groupid=%2baCHAGsI63WWVa6aL1efKg%3d%3d.

If you’re going to pick one person to follow on this topic, read former firefighter, now FEMA Director Craig Fugate. He’s active on Twitter @CraigatFEMA (yes, he writes his own tweets), and he started FEMA’s first blog a little over 6 weeks ago, which is a way for us to communicate directly with FEMA. You can find that at blog.fema.gov and Craig’s Corner is here: http://blog.fema.gov/search/label/Craig’s%20Corner . Don’t miss the link to the article and podcast at Wired magazine here: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/01/storyboard-fema-craig-fugate/ which speaks to how to get information to the public using the tools they are using on Social Networks. They’re trying to do a better job of using mobile networks, where they’re seeing greater resilience during disasters from the cell networks. The public is a resource, and people are going to be stabilizing themselves until the cavalry arrives, and it’s moving so fast, FEMA often finds themselves moving outside government to the volunteer sector. This is a fundamental change in government philosophy, so it’s no longer a government centric approach. There are all kinds of other resources and government is not the total answer, it’s only part of the answer and now includes what others bring in from the outside for all hazard planning.

SoutholdVOICE is the first in our community to make a start:

  • We created a slide presentation “Let’s Get #SMEMsmart”
  • We created a Twitter Account @SoutholdVOICE
  • We created a Facebook Page
  • We have started adding Emergency Resource links to our website at the Resources tab
  • We have added Twitter page at our website with feeds from local, regional, national responders, as well as mainstream media.

We’ll be using more Social media apps as time goes on, to make it easier to create and distribute content and discuss the things we care about and help us get the job done. Social media includes text, audio, video, images, podcasts, and other multimedia communications. Apps can be picked quickly off the shelf and up and running in some cases in less than 15 minutes. It’s easy for us to take and implement what we need and gradually grow our operation – one baby step at a time.

Let’s make a start, let’s get #SMEMsmart

I am also taking this opportunity to apologize to members for a previous password protected post referencing the Newsday article, which was a draft not intended for public distribution, but went out on our Feedburner feed in error.

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