Emergency 2.0

Yesterday I mentioned (or at least, intended to mention) the lag between the official "Emergency Notification Systems" in place where I work and the actual event as it blew up on social media. 

There was anywhere from a 15-30 minute lag time between the quake and notifications via email/land line phone. I never actually received text alerts, although I'm signed up for them and have received them in the past (although some cell services were down/flooded). The decision to evacuate didn't reach me until almost 3:00pm, and it was shared by someone who walked the hallways knocking on doors.

Which of course begs the question... when an event can erupt over facebook instantly (I got info about the quake, reported/updated magnitude and epicenter, etc, within 8-10 minutes or so via Facebook postings), how can that power be used to make emergency communications more effective?

I think this is a question that must be asked of those who design the community response infrastructure.

Howard County has sort of done this - for example, today I saw a safety update/recommendation from Ken Ulman on facebook about reporting damage and emergency preparedness. But I don't recall seeing any coordinated messages yesterday via facebook - did I miss them (entirely possible)? Anyone?  (hocoblogs@@@)

In the mean time, look at this shiny and relevant infographic, featured today via The American Red Cross, which kind of illustrates my point. I'm surprised that the numbers of people that get info via FB/Twitter aren't higher, but also recall that there was "info passing" from those sources in the halls at work. So FB & Twitter may play a larger role than can be measured directly.

How do you think Social Media should be incorporated (if at all) in emergency response?

Social Media in Emergencies

Edit to add: Marshmallow Man mentions the local response he received within hours of the quake over on 53 beers.


  1. Ever since the blizzards of 2010, we've been keenly aware of the power of social media to communicate during emergencies. Comprehensive messages, like the one you linked to, take time to write and coordinate and, ultimately, spread. However, the short updates blasted out over social media can provide immediate information instantly, and both the County Executive and the Howard County Government Facebook and Twitter accounts were active with information shortly after Tuesday's quake. In fact, the official letter that was distributed to all channels -- website, email, social media, traditional media -- was largely a summary of the information that had been posted earlier.

    But the true power of social media is the two-way communication it provides. In the aftermath of an emergency, we're able to monitor questions and concerns from residents and incidents being reported in real time. We've always done this via our emergency operations and call center, but the power of social media allows us to provide responses and information to everyone at the same time (short example: someone asked on Twitter if park facilities were open Tuesday evening and we were able to respond directly to the original questioner and also the rest of twitter that parks and facilities were open). Sometimes, of course, this two-way exchange can be a little overwhelming -- for instance, during the blizzard when everyone was asking when their street was going to get plowed. But, on balance, the power and benefits of social media in an emergency significantly outweigh these concerns.

    As Hurricane Irene approaches this weekend, please keep an eye on the county's social media channels, as we'll be posting information throughout the event.

  2. Thanks for the correction, Ian! (I assume you're from the County Exec office?) Like I said in the post, it was entirely possible I missed the response via SM - and apparently I did :)