Emergency 2.0 in crisis management

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Haitian man repairs cellphones in tent city. Source: Flickr/US Air Force CC
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Contents

Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 24 October 2014

Introduction

See also Disaster Information For Librarians | Flood cleanup & health information — Alberta & Saskatchewan | Social media for positive social change | Social networking | Web 2.0

Emergency 2.0 in crisis management is an entry about the use of social media in emergency preparedness, emergency management, and disaster responses during a crisis. Devastating events such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and Hurricane Irene have demonstrated the power and reach of social media in emergencies. In fact, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have played an increasingly important role in emergencies and disasters. Social media websites rank as the one of the most popular sources of information during emergencies. To better utilize social media in crises, organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross and the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have used social media by integrating them into their emergency preparedness and response plans. The emergency response community has pooled their collective expertise into communities of practice such as Social Media 4 Emergency Management (SM4EM) and Emergency 2.0. Some of the factors that lead to active versus passive use of social media during disasters are the focus of a number of the articles in the literature. However, we know that the availability of reliable wifi during disasters, the use of mobile devices and access to sites like Facebook and Twitter are important factors in the management of emergency 2.0 crises. In addition, social media are often used by individuals and communities to warn others about unsafe areas and inform friends and family that someone they love is safe, and to raise funds for disaster relief.

Benefits

  • One of the benefits of utilizing social media during an emergency is the wide dissemination of real-time information. Emergency responders and managers can provide accurate, timely and updated information to members of the public without being limited by the press deadlines of traditional media
  • Another is the real-time updates from those in the actual emergencies. People who live in an affected region may have more current or specific information about what is occurring and where. Responders can use this information to deploy resources or more accurately share updates and warnings.
  • Social media is inherently interactive which allows the public to seek and receive timely advice from professionals about the nature of emergencies, where to go and what to do.

Risks

  • A risk associated with utilizing social media during a disaster is misinformation, either intentional or unintentional. When messages are repeated, the risk is they will get diluted thereby losing critical information. Some pranksters may think it is humorous to purposefully spread misinformation causing responders to inappropriately deploy resources.
  • Another risk is having the system overwhelmed by excess activity. Delivery of messages may be delayed or not delivered which could delay appropriate responses from agencies.
  • An additional risk is the inconsistent use or misuse of hastags and trending terms which can result in missed messages by responders and organizations.

Examples

Haiti 2010 and Mission 4636

Figure 1: Communications Map for Mission 4636. Picture Credit: Mission 4636

Mission 4636, a free phone number, was established to enable the Haitian people to use SMS messaging to communicate urgent needs and receive critical information within 48 hours of the 2010 earthquake. Cellular towers in Haiti were operational after the earthquake and SMS messaging was the primary mode of communication, thus, was the most sensible communication tool.

Messages for help were written in Haitian Creole and responders required efficient and accurate translation of these messages in order to deploy resources. Using crowdsourcing of Haitian Creole-speaking volunteers, partner organizations were able to get those urgent messages out to the right organizations. In addition, crisis mapping was made available which enabled responders to better assess the situation and deploy resources. See Figure 1 for a communications map for Mission 4636.

The organizations involved were part of a global response and demonstrated the power of the collective will. Thanks to the efforts of these groups lives were saves and Mission 4636 has become an integral part of Haiti’s rebuilding efforts.

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Key websites & video

  • The emergency 2.0 wiki is a reference source for emergency agencies, government, community agencies, business and the broader community for information about social media and web 2.0 to prepare for and respond to emergencies

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