3-4 pages double spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman. You will be expected to provide a summary or each of the readings ( no more than one page), and then provide a critical analysis to weigh the positive and the negative issues with each theory or concept. Finally you should provide your own thoughts about any issues or provide recommendations for enhancing future communications. 

The social media manifesto: A comprehensive review of the impact of social media on emergency management

Adam Crowe Received: 19th October, 2010

Johnson County Emergency Management & Homeland Security, 111 S. Cherry St., Suite 100, Olathe, KS 66061, USA Tel: +1 913 715 1003; E-mail: [email protected]

Adam Crowe is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and Kansas Certified Emergency Manager (KCEM) who currentiy serves as the Assistant Director of Community Preparedness for Johnson County (KS) Emergency Management & Homeiand Security. He has spoken at numerous nationai conferences in the USA and his work has been pubiished in several professional jour- nais inciuding the Journal of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, Journal of Homeland Security Affairs and the Disaster Recovery Journal. He hoids a master’s degree in public administration from Jacksonville State University and a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University.


Over the past five yeiir5, soda] media have impacted emergency management and disaster response in numerous ways. The emergency management professional must begin to accept this impact not as an arbitrary consequence of an uncontrolled disaster, but rather as a tool to help coordinate, manage and facilitate a saje and expected response during emergencies and disas- ters. This paper will explain the power and pur- pose of social media as well as how social media systems have equalised capabilities for all levels and sizes of government. Moreover, this paper will also Imhliçht the social media systems that are being used as operational tools as well as what the future holds. Lastly, common imple-

mentation challenges will he discussed through a look at systematic approaches to applying social media in emergency management as a positive and valuable tool.

Keywords: social media. Web 2.0, emergency management. Twitter, Facebook


As the second decade of the 21st century dawns, the biggest challenge for emer- gency managers is the need to modify long-standing philosophies on how to communicate with citizens regarding emergency preparedness and management issues that might affect them. This com- munication includes pre-event prepared- ness and planning as well as responsive crisis communications necessary during the emergency or disaster. Traditional out- reach has included providing educational pamphlets and flyers during local presenta- tions or community events where citizens may receive the information along with a plethora of other material from other sources. Unfortunately, those citizens may or may not be interested in receiving that information and consequently will not be sufficiently swayed to consider necessary behavioural changes like personal pre-

Journai of Business Conrinuity & Emergency Planning Vol. 5 No. l . p p . 4(19-420 © Henry Stewart Publicitiotis, I74′>-‘)216

The social media manifesto

paredness and/or prompt response when directed by emergency officials. Moreover, establishing trust between governmental representatives and the general public is challenging and again can lead to a lack of behavioural change. These traditional approaches and common challenges have been the cornerstone of some of the most significant communication issues faced by emergency managers.

These challenges can be overcome (in many ways) through the utilisation of social media. Regardless of the system, a shared connection of people and/or organisations is created with common values and interests, and choosing to engage in the exchange of information for the common good. Social media also create an inherently higher trust factor for information because of the shared net- work of friends, contacts and organisa- tions. It is noteworthy, however, that this engagement of information can be good or bad. This is why it is critical for emer- gency managers to understand and engage in the collaborative phenomenon of social media. Consider, for example, Facebook. It currently has over 500 million active accounts, which means that it has more users than the entire populations of Russia, Japan and Mexico combined and nearly twice as many as the population of the USA. Or, put another way, were Facebook a country, it would be the third most populous in the world behind China and India.^ In contrast to the traditional model of education and outreach that is offered where citizens may or may not be spending their time, Facebook is where communication and relationships are actively happening. Specifically, an average Facebook user has 130 friends, connection to more than 80 community groups and shares 90 pieces of personal content each month.”‘ This type of pervasive establish- ment of community is also common in other social media outlets such as Twitter,

YouTube and several different blog sources.

Twitter is arguably the second most important social media site for emergency management practitioners. While cur- rently maintaining 105 million users (21 per cent of whom are active), media out- lets of all levels and types actively utilise this system to seek out and distribute newsworthy information at a tremendous pace.’* This pace of information dissemina- tion is exponentially increased due to the significant levels of mobile use of Twitter and its redistribution (or retweet) func- tionality of liked or trustworthy informa- tion. Specifically, numerous third-party applications (eg HootSuite and TweetDeck) allow various forms of utilisa- tion of Twitter such as monitoring and direct messaging.

While impressive, many governmental leaders and local emergency managers worry about the credibility of systems like Twitter that lack verifiable accounts (for most governmental entities) and that admittedly are often filled with insignifi- cant and/or irrelevant information. Alternative communication sites such as Nixie were developed to address such issues related to emergency management’s use of Twitter as a public education and information dissemination tool. Unfortunately, the number of users (par- ticularly media) of these alternative sys- tems pales in comparison to Twitter and therefore they are highly unlikely to be impactful tools for emergency manage- ment even though they allow for verifiable accounts.

Nixie is just one of many social media systems built to draw in people for specific purposes, often related to emergency man- agement and preparedness. For instance, in early 2009, Microsoft announced the cre- ation of Vine, a social media system intended to serve as an emergency notifi- cation and naonitoring system by friends

and family; however, by September 2010, Microsoft had announced the discontinua- tion of this system.” Citizens were not finding Vine beneficial presumably because they were not actively engaged on the network, especially compared with Facebook and Twitter. Based on the statis- tics already mentioned, Facebook and Twitter have estabhshed their supremacy and should be treated as such by emer- gency management. Emergency manage- ment must be careful to distribute their messages where local citizens are spending time, not w^here they want them to be, to avoid repeating the mistakes already estab- lished through traditional outreach approaches.

This premise is also true of how people seek out information through the inter- net. According to one major technology publication, the web (as utilised by local governments for the last decade) is dead. Citizen activity has moved away from static browsing for information towards applications and mobile browsing.^’ Additional studies have indicated that mobile browsing will overtake traditional browsing by 2015 as the predominant way in which most people will view the inter- net.^ In the USA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Weather Service have both implemented new mobile and/or applica- tion-based outreach services.**’̂ ^ Moreover, the impact of this mobile browsing and notification has caused exponential growth at the local level due to the ability of many jurisdictions to automate emer- gency alert messages to established social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.'”

Interestingly, the availability of practical emergency preparedness mobile applica- tions is not limited to formal offerings from governmental and quasi-governmen- tal sources. There are a variety of apps offered for free or minimal fees including

step-by-step guides for first aid, CPR, pet preparedness and personal allergies,” as well as function-based software including flashlights'” and emergency dispatch feeds. ‘ This type of information contin- ues to carry common messages expressed by emergency managers and/or creates a transparency of information towards activ- ities and direction.


As outreach philosophies are beginning to change in the emergency management field, the benefits of such a change have to be understood. For instance, these benefits are broad and multi-faceted, affecting components including public education, public communications and response tools. Moreover, traditional approaches to project management, technological devel- opment, training and public involvement are on the verge of revolutionary change due to the inclusion of social media and other Web 2.0 concepts. Specifically, there are three fundamental rules of social media application in emergency management:

• Conversations are key. • No more middle man. • It has got to be free.

These rules allow a levelling of the prover- bial playing field between emergency management programmes of all sizes and at all levels of government.

Perhaps the most significant change relates to the cost management of activities related to emergency management pro- jects. Social media and Web 2.0 concepts often eliminate the need for costly devel- opment of systems to manage emergency management concepts such as planning, exercise management and response mech- anisms. These cost savings are possible due to the establishment of robust networks, servers and infrastructure by nearly all

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social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter,YouTube, Flickr and many others, which generates a high level of confidence •when used by emergency management or other secondary sources.

A second reason these systems are beginning to replace traditional mecha- nisms is the implementation of cro^wd- sourcing. Crowdsourcing allows tasks typically performed by employees now to be performed by a collection of individu- als within a crowd who have no particular connection outside of the ability to per- form the desired function. Within emer- gency management, cro^wdsourcing has been used numerous times, most recently by BP during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to collect suggestions about possi- ble ways to stop the spill. BP received more than 20,000 suggestions that were categorised into not possible, already planned or feasible. As a result, the com- pany identified nearly 100 options that •were feasible and previously unidentified to stop one of the largest oil spills ever. These response concepts and ideas were made accessible to decision makers and emergency responders in a more timely manner and ultimately may have con- tributed to the resolution of the incident in a quicker and more efficient manner.

Additionally, a free crowdsourcing •web- site called Ushahidi has been utilised during several international emergencies including the Haiti and Chile earthquakes of early 2010. Ushahidi provided web- based or mobile connectivity to collect (from ‘the crowd’) information about the incident. This included web-based maps that provided real-time crowd-generated information about health conditions, infrastructure damage and localised emer- gencies.”^ The speed and accuracy of this type of information aggregation is impos- sible for governmental or first responder agencies utilising current systems. The application of Ushahidi in these situations

provides strong support that the public’s growing expectation of speed and breadth of information is much greater than offi- cial government communication channels are currently able to provide.

Not only can emergency managers utilise public gatherings and collection of information, they also can self-define pre- paredness and response messages as well as certain operational processes. Specifically, traditional media outlets (television, radio and print) are vital partners in public dis- semination of emergency management messages; however, these groups innately filter the message. This type of message adjustment can be positive or negative, but inherently happens for a variety of reasons ranging from media bias due to time (or space) limitations based on the format utilisation for distribution. Social media can help to eliminate and/or control this process and allow emergency managers to have an outlet for an unfiltered and fully developed preparedness or response mes- sage, which is critical to ensure public cit- izens receive clear and consistent information.

Likewise, operational processes such as donations and volunteer management have been significantly improved due to the involvement and application of social media. For instance, in 2009, the City of Fargo, North Dakota, was responding to significant flooding from the Red River and was having difficulty arranging for enough volunteers to support efforts during the middle of winter. At the sug- gestion of one local man who was already volunteering, the community imple- mented a Facebook group and generated interest in volunteering that •was approxi- mately equal to 5 per cent of their local population, •which significantly improved their response capabilities.”‘

Similarly, donations management has successfully moved into the social media and Web 2.0 realms after the American

Red Cross utilised financial donations through text messaging in support of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Specifically, the Red Cross was able to generate a total of US$5m in donations within the first 48 hours’^ and US$30m within ten days of the disaster. This figure ultimately accounted for approximately 10 per cent of the total donated to the relief funds and represented a significant reduction in the time commitment and resources often necessary to collect, manage and process donations generated in response to an emergency or disaster.

Another example of cost-effective, direct access training and public education is the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) utilisation of Second Life. Second Life is an online virtual world where users can create avatars (or digital likenesses) and engage in the virtual envi- ronment and communicate openly on var- ious topics of interest. For instance, in spring 2010, the C D C held a virtual talk on Second Life about H l N l that was later captured on video and shared via blogs and YouTube. ^̂ ‘”‘” Second Life has also been utilised by the University of Illinois, Chicago School of Public Health, in con- junction with the C D C to simulate mass prophylaxis sites and distribution of mate- rials after an anthrax attack.”̂ ^ This type of systematic utilisation of a virtual environ- ment has the opportunity ultimately to decrease the cost of training and exercises by minimising costs related to physical setups and elimination of perishable items necessary for resource intensive emer- gency preparedness training and exercise activities.

THE FUTURE IS RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW There are many examples of how both individual disasters and emergency man- agenaent professionals have been impacted

by social media and Web 2.0 concepts. These include the utilisation of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to name a few sys- tems, as well as a strong push to redefine the relationships between local govern- ments, the media and their citizens. While these issues may continue to be developed and/or redeveloped in the near future, the emergency management community also will have the immediate opportunity to begin to utilise various Web 2.0 tools that are already available for free. These tools are free because of a shared network of servers, computers, networks and interre- lated systems often referred to as the ‘cloud’. This cloud is utilised by all online social media and Web 2.0 service providers to ensure robust networks that are both redundant and sufficient to meet the needs of the end user. When this robustness fails, the social media community often has abandoned the system or come up with colloquial monikers like Twitter’s ‘Fail Whale’.”” This sector of clovid systems represents numerous operational and response tools that can (and will) be utilised by emergency management as a cost-effective alternative to many current systems commonly used. For instance, real-time collaborative editing tools would be of great value to emergency managers and first responders who are creating plan- ning and public information documents during an event. This type of tool would allow for multiple users to be simultane- ously creating a docunient rather than the document being written, reviewed, edited and then reviewed again prior to distribu- tion or implementation. The time neces- sary for review and approval for press releases and other operational documenta- tion could also be minimised and/or elim- inated due to the simultaneous reading, writing and editing of a document. Again, this type of functionality is critical in ensuring clarity and consistency of public messages which are necessary to ensure

The social media manifesto

the public exhibits safe and expected response behaviour.

The largest and most ambitious version of this type of tool was Google Wave, which was initially released in May 2009. This system promised to have collabora- tive editing with time-stamped tracking of information management, which was pro- jected as a possible new technology for implementation in joint information cen- tres (JICs) and other information manage- ment sources. Unfortunately, Google was unable to address issues identified during its beta testing and ultimately shut down Wave in August 2010. Since that time, other software and browser-based collabo- rative editing systems have been released with Type With. Me showing the strongest possibility for implementation similar to what was initially projected for Google Wave.

Additional cloud technologies that may impact emergency management include those systems that support information management, organisation and distribu- tion. Specifically, there is a group of social media systems referred to as social book- marking that allo’w for a web-based listing and categorisation of internet links that can be privately accessed through login/password combinations and/or shared publically. Not only is this type of social media an excellent opportunity for planning and operational response, it also allows free and robust redundancy for many emergency managers and emer- gency operations centres (EOCs). Likewise, there are similar online systems that allow for free online storage of files and online materials with almost no limit to the size or type of file. Sources of these services are sometimes fee-based, but there are several robust free services such as Drop.io, Evernote and MyOtherDrive that could be utilised by emergency manage- ment in this fashion.

Another powerful type of social media

tool available for emergency management is referred to as social geolocation systems. These tools include FourSquare, Go Walla, Google Latitude and most recently the implementation of Facebook Places. While all are built on slightly different models, these social media systems are all based on the concept of utilising mobile telephone devices to determine the geo- graphic location of individuals. This geo- graphic location, which is based on WiFi and GPS signalling, allows for the individ- ual user to be virtually engaged in the actual environment that surrounds them. For instance, if friends and/or favourite restaurants were geographically close they would appear in these systems and allow for the establishment and/or increased level of social interaction.

Emergency management utilisation of social geolocation systems is in its infancy (or even gestation in some cases) due to the relatively recent establishment of this technology; however, there are numerous operational applications that could be considered for usage including weather spotting, search and rescue, damage assess- ment and debris management. These emergency management functions are dependent upon field operations at diverse geographic locations that are managed from one central command location. This makes communications, documentation and technological implementation a necessity and thus a viable option for social geolocation systems. For instance, debris management operations, due to the necessity of contracted labour, are extremely vulnerable to abuse and misre- porting. Significant levels of process accountability are required to eliminate duplicate trips, weighted trucks and other abuses. The utilisation of social geoloca- tion systems would allow impacted juris- dictions to require contracted workers to identify themselves geographically over certain intervals which could then be

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recorded and reviewed by emergency management staff to ensure proper actions were maintained. This functionality would potentially improve accountability and response as well as potentially streamlining the activities necessary to document and justify possible disaster reimbursements. Likewise, weather spotters, damage assess- ment teams, and search and rescue teams would be able to be deployed to certain geographic areas and report back real-time observed information. While this reported information typically would be done through radio communications and/or traditional paper documentation, social geolocation systems allow for instanta- neous reporting and capturing of the data for faster processing by the field teams. Having this type of information faster and with greater reliability would be an extremely valuable tool for efficient and effective emergency management and resource coordination.

Social geolocation systems like Foursquare also allow for local geographic holders like restaurants and bakeries to offer announcements to individuals in the geographic vicinity that include product specials, coupons and other relevant infor- mation. This type of functionality could also be utilised by emergency manage- ment entities to announce hazardous con- ditions impacting that geographic range. Simple messages suggesting emergency evacuation, weather protection and/or sheltering-in-place could be attached geo- graphicaUy to local government buildings and disseminated to those individuals util- ising the social geolocation system.

While emergency managers have not yet fuUy implemented social geolocation systems for operational usage, many emer- gency response agencies (at all levels of government and response) have more thoroughly implemented Web 2.0 map- ping for geographic information analysis and information sharing. This was particu-

larly utilised by media outlets and educa- tors to show the progression of events like the BP oil spill during the summer of 2010.^^ Perhaps the most powerful utilisa- tion of socially-interactive maps was Google’s Crisis Response Center that integrated publically-generated YouTube videos, visual mapping reports, oil spiU forecasts from the National Weather Service, spill containment berm locations provided by the State of Louisiana and satellite images of the spill provided by NASA into the Google Map technology that is free to all. The need for crowd- sourced, real-time mapping for emergen- cies and disasters is so well accepted that Google has estabhshed MapMaker to help facilitate just this concept.”‘*

The power of text messaging for the improvement of donations management has already been discussed in relation to the American Red Cross’s fundraising fol- lowing the Haiti earthquake in 2010; however, text messaging has also become an extremely powerful tool for mobile and portable communications. According to the latest Pew Internet research, 72 per cent of US adults and 87 per cent of US teenagers use cellular phone text messag- ing on a regular basis, which is 9 per cent more than one year ago.””” This high level of utilisation is extraordinarily beneficial to local emergency managers as it repre- sents a relatively easy, cost-effective and robust mechanism to communicate emer- gency public information notifications to citizens. This type of communication will only continue to increase in usage and impact over the next several years.

As established by Facebook and Twitter, emergency managers would be doing their local citizens an injustice by ignoring the presence and growth of text messaging within a community. Many jurisdictions (especially schools and higher education institutions) have utilised private compa- nies to perform an automated text messag-

The social media manifesto

ing service; however, this is not as common as a tool specifically utilised for emergency messaging. Some emergency management groups have tied Twitter’s capability for text notification to provide these services at a fraction of the cost and with similar efficacy.” ‘̂

SLAYING THE GIANT Even with the numerous examples of the impact of social media on emergencies and disasters, most local emergency man- agement communities have yet to adopt comprehensive use of social media. Application of social media and Web 2.0 options falls into three categories:

• Proactive utilisation, including the active usage of social media systems like Facebook, Twitter and others previously discussed to both disseminate informa- tion and monitor public comments regarding their agency and/or commu- nity event. Proactive utilisation is the most complicated use of social media and requires the most time and resources to master.

• Reactive utilisation of social media only disseminates and/or monitors public comments, but not both, and is the most common application within emergencies due to its more reasonable utilisation of personnel, resources and time.

• The inactive category covers those organisations that are completely inac- tive in social media. This inactive status is probably the most dangerous to emergency managers because it ignores the significant impact of social media on emergencies and disasters.

According to a recent study by the American Red Cross, citizens are now seeking out and utilising social media to send and receive information. Specifically,

the online survey found that 20 per cent of adults who could not reach 911 -would try to contact responders through a digital means such as e-mail or social media. Moreover, 44 per cent of respondents stated that they would ask other people in their social networks to contact local authorities on their behalf, 35 per cent would post a direct request on a response agency’s Facebook page and 28 per cent would send a direct Twitter message to responders.” More alarming for inactive first emergency management and response agencies is that this study also found that 69 per cent of respondents felt that first responders should be monitoring social media sites to send help quickly, and nearly 74 per cent expected emergency help to come in less than one hour after a post to Twitter or Facebook.”̂ ^̂ This survey clearly states that the public expects proactive social media usage by emergency manage- ment and first response agencies. Based on these findings, it is operationally, ethically and politically irresponsible for local emergency management organisations simply to try and ignore social media’s impact on their response.

These survey findings are fuUy sup- ported by BP’s experience during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP’s pres- ence on Twitter immediately after the oil spill in spring 2010 was not fully devel- oped and lacked the content and added value that the general public was seeking out regarding this disaster. Unfortunately for BP, this social media void was filled by a satirical twitter account presenting itself as an official source of BP public relations •which posted inflammatory comments. Interestingly, the number of followers of the fake BP account outpaced the real BP account nearly ten-fold.”‘^ As already established, social media users (who are ultimately local citizens) are seeking out information via social media systems and will seek sources that supply the informa-


tion they are seeking whether the source is legitimate or not.

In addition to the reactive versus proac- tive challenge, another problem that emer- gency managers and emergency public information officers face is the balance between style and substance. Social media system users expect informal, conversa- tional tones and language which often includes colloquialism, slang, abbreviations and misspellings. Unfortunately, this level of informality is extremely uncommon in official government information releases. Consequently, emergency managers must decide what level of modification they are willing to accept. For instance, the US Government released its social media guidelines in 2010, which included main- taining an active voice, use of present tense, speaking directly to constituents, utilisation of keywords and the avoidance of colloquialism, slang and governmental jargon.-“*”

Additionally, some emergency manage- ment agencies are overwhelmed by the process implementation required for utili- sation of social media. This implementa- tion includes the identification of personnel to oversee social media and the establishment of vigorous and realistic poli- cies. Many emergency management offices are small with only part-time or volunteer support staff, which makes nê w concepts like the application of social media chal- lenging if leadership is not already passion- ate about its use. Rather than seeking out creative and innovative ways to be proac- tive or at least reactive, some emergency managers have taken the stance that the social media phenomenon is simply a fad that will pass if it is ignored long enough. Unfortunately, this attitude that social media will simply go away is short-sighted. The utilisation of analytics and monitoring measurement tools such as TweetDeck, Google Analytics and Monitter show a near constant social media discussion on

various issues impacting a jurisdiction. This social media conversation will simply grow exponentially during an emergency or dis- aster and be occurring all around official emergency management and response whether local emergency managers acknowledge it or not.”” These monitoring tools are free and sufficiently dynamic to search for certain terms, concepts and asso- ciations to determine how the public is discussing certain issues. Using these tools ultimately will lead to more effective com- munications with the public regarding the incident in question.

Lastly, social media are also significantly impacting operational response systems like the US National Incident Management System (NIMS) that help to define a uniform and coordinated response to emergencies and disasters. Specifically, methods like NIMS define processes to include the collection, analysis and distribution of emergency public information through a command and con- trol

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