Social Media Increasingly Plays a Big Role in Public Safety

Next Generation Communications Blog

Social Media Increasingly Plays a Big Role in Public Safety

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Middle Eastern revolutions and national ad campaigns are not the only situations that benefit from social media. Natural disaster communications also can be greatly helped by effectively harnessing the opportunities of social media.

“Communication reliability depends upon how we engage through the media, and new media is the conduit through which we negotiate those relationships,” noted Marya L. Doerfel Ph.D., an associate professor at Rutgers University who focuses on natural disaster communications in a recent Alcatel-Lucent LifeTalk article, Social Media, Relationships Boost Emergency Communications

“In the aftermath of Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, which struck the U.S. East Coast in 2012, organizations at all levels relied on those kinds of relationships,” she said. “It became apparent that those which included citizen-based communication platforms in their repertoire – texting in the case of Katrina – were able to gather more intelligence about what was going on.”

Let’s face it, as a series of LifeTalk articles poses, “What’s the one thing you can’t do without in a natural disaster?”

Source: Alcatel-Lucent LifeTalk e-Zine

Effective natural disaster communications not only is about sending out information to citizens, but also about connecting with those in the community who have been impacted and gathering actionable information from this network to help guide relief efforts.

There are two sides to this from an emergency communications perspective: Technologically, there needs to be a way to connect with social media and ingest it for analysis and response. But just as important is the ability to filter key data among the noise. More data by itself can just confuse a situation.

“Emergency response and all public safety agencies need to consider whether they have communications professionals on board so that someone can just manage and interpret that in real-time – thinking about where it is coming from, and what are the hot spots,” noted Doerfel. “How do we deal with the scale of data in real time? In any instance we need to boil it down to common themes as the information pours in. Those main themes will get repeated and iterated though this social media.”

Social media skills need to be more than just something that young emergency personnel possess; increasingly it is becoming fundamental to effective natural disaster communications.

When Katrina hit, things like taking advantage of text messaging made a huge difference.

“The solution to the challenge is not the social media itself, but the adaptability you bring to it,” noted Doerfel. “Resilience is in large part the ability to be adaptable and flexible in the heat of the moment.”

Even if disaster relief operations are not yet savvy when it comes to social media, the need for adaptability and flexibility is well understood.

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