I agree to Idea Use Social Media & Smartphones for Situational Awareness
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Use Social Media & Smartphones for Situational Awareness

Establishing resilient communities requires more engagement among all members of society. Emergency management and public safety agencies should facilitate and offer a forum for that information exchange before, during and after an emergency. PPD 8 calls for all members of the community (not just government employees) to be prepared and contribute to improving resiliency.


Digital mediums empower the public to provide instantaneous eye-witness reports when a situation is developing. Citizens are the true first responders to meta-disasters and we need to leverage their capabilities. Social media reports accumulate rapidly and can be overwhelming during a disaster. Emergency Managers need to influence technology development and help verify, organize and filter out the noise / clutter on social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. A more strategic approach and an interface between the public’s use of social media and government/public safety’s use of social media will yield improved situational awareness and actionable information for the whole community.

Submitted by in Nov 2011

Comments (12)

  1. Reverse 911 if available and crowdmapping (google it and see if this is what you are looking for)
    in Dec 2011
  2. laurie.vanleuven Idea Submitter
    There are a lot of individual tools that can be done to meet one small subset of issues, but each individual tool has limitations in its effectiveness. The social media forum concept will enable the impacted community members to self organize and share information with each other (as well as goverment officials who choose to listen). Instead of expecting citizens to friend or follow tens or hundreds of organizations that have one piece of information, this concept would allow users to see all data sources (official and unofficial) in one common location (web site). It could also have crisis mapping and GIS layers to see results visually, videos and photos with geotagged data and hashtags, and provide advanced filtering and credibility ratings on all content contributed to the forum.
    in Dec 2011
  3. Laurie makes some excellent points. Social media information can be entered by anyone and there is no way to edit the information or check it for accuracy. The public could easily rely of false information selected from the the many sources. It makes me think of some problems post-Katrina. I was a local EMA director and a citizen contacted me to try to locate her elderly and infirm father who lived in New Orleans. Well meaning individuals and groups had set up websites for victims and/or family members to register where they were located or who they were looking for. I did a lot of research for this lady and found and searched 68 (sixty eight) victim location websites with no luck. The best was a website of the American Red Cross and if it had been the only site victims and families would have had an easier time and more success. I recall that the ARC website was actually hosted by either the CICR or IFRC in Geneva, although appearing American. I fear that using services such as Facebook would lead to chaos. (By the way, the lady looking for her dad found that he was in the attic of his New Orleans home, deceased of dehydration and diabetes)
    in Dec 2011
  4. Social media is not a secure way to disseminate information. The EAS system is still the best way to get information to the public in a controlled and secure manner. It is more important for PIO's to develop plans and relationships with the media BEFORE an event, and have one true reliable source, rather than thousands of people voicing their "opinion" of what should be done.

    Think about this...a bombing incident...Bad guys already know that Tweets are flying...facebook is compromised by hackers, and the survivors are corralled into an area just in time for a secondary device to detonate.

    Have you checked the batteries in that AM radio lately?
    in Dec 2011
    1. laurie.vanleuven Idea Submitter
      I understand the fear of "what if" scenarios, however the gap in current strateiges is that we focus on disseminating one-way information. The EAS and IPAWS is important, but there is also value to having a system that allows the public to share their first hand information with each other as well as with emergency responders and managers. The public is already using social media for this and EM jurisdictions are using it for distribution. There is no interface of the two activities. The real issue I think you are raising is how do we verify the information, not that we plug our ears to all of it. Technology innovations will meet these challenges if we get savvy about how to articualte the requirements.
      in Dec 2011
  5. Twitter inputs from trusted sources with limits on retweets and FB for distribution of information by state or local entities. You must control and validate information.
    in Dec 2011
  6. Most terrorist groups are sophisticated enough to employ social media to their advantage during a terrorist attack. It is almost certain terrorists would post false information to help increase the level of public fear/ panic. During any man-made disaster, social media would be very dangerous to use.
    in Dec 2011
    1. David makes a very good point here. There is always two sides of the coin. My rule of thumb is to "follow" the "trusted" media. I do a lot of research in social media and it is still the best way to reach the masses. It is a matter of teaching the "masses" the correct social media to follow. Since I am now with the local Red Cross chapter developing a solid communications plan to include social media.
      in Jan 2012
  7. This topic always seems to have an all or nothing response.
    1. The occupy Wall Street protests seem to mobilize hundreds if not thousands of people to pass information along on twitter.
    2. The police were able to use twitter to follow the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

    Not every disaster needs to be compared with a terrorist response. Sometimes a social media component can be used very effectively to communicate important information. Sometimes not, but to just say that terrorists are going to infiltrate our twitter feeds, throws the baby out with the bath water. Terrorists are so smart that they might be able to purchase motorola radios and listen in or even transmit bad information. We shouldn't stop using radios.
    in Dec 2011
  8. Situational Awareness almost always needs location information, so a smartphone app would have to provide that as part of any communication sent. The ability to also attach a geotagged photo is also very desirable.
    in Jan 2012
  9. These sorts of discussions always tend to focus on extremes e.g. well organised terrorist organisation that is actively using social media to spread false information. However, there is a lack of recognition that there are many situations were a combination of smartphones & social media can be usefully employed to contribute positively to a crisis. Let's face it, social media is increasingly being used by the general public during disaster situations regardless of whether the EM establishment is involved. Wouldn't it be much better to be responsibly engaging this medium rather than ignoring it and hoping it will go away.
    in Jan 2012
  10. Yes, a way to integrate twitter into operations without compromising responses to man-made events (SWAT/HLS mobilizations) is to provide a widget within your EOC software that can turn on or off, depending whether you want to use social media to monitor feeds or send out official statements to stakeholders.
    in May 2012

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