Social Media Keeps Transforming Emergency Management
From the Asia Tsunami of 2004 to the 2009 controversial Iran election, social media is shaping the business of emergency response in unprecedented ways. I recall writing an article for the International Associational of Emergency Management Managers (IAEM Bulletin) that examined the use of role of online photo sharing that was emerging for victim identification.
In less than five years, social media has gone from barely visible in disasters to a force to reckon with in the dissemination of information during a disaster or crisis. Recently, NY Times reported about what it called a twitter revolution with respect to a single tweet by a student that rallied 10,000 demonstrators in Moldova. Social media is becoming an indispensable tool for social unrest and this inadvertently affect preparedness and public safety.
In this era of web 2.0, we are witnessing a staggering fragmentation and collapse of the mass media. If you doubt me, check out the causes of the death of the Rocky Mountain News. At the same time, we are seeing geometric growth of social media. In some recent incidents, social media has outpaced the mass media in the collection and dissemination of information. One poignant case was the case of Virginia Tech victim identification. The students who used multiple facebook groups did a faster job than the authorities.
With these changes, public safety authorities are caught between the winds: the wind of transformation and the wind of stagnation. Those who succumb to the wind transformation are adopting and integrating new media to prepare and respond to emergencies. On the other hand those who do not want to succumb to the new wind are standing by and refusing to adopt social media in planning. It reminds me of when blackberries first arrived, lots of my friends said I do not want email in the bed room. Guess what today, it is right there and who knows what role it plays.
Here is the big question: Are you part of the wind of transformation or the wind of stagnation?
Gideon F. For-mukwai, Certified Emergency Manager
Chief Preparedness Officer