Message to Emergency Management pros: Here’s why social media is important to you

April 24, 2009

Let’s face it. Most emergency management professionals are more than 45 years old. From their perspective, they have far more important things to worry about in preparing to respond to a major emergency than silly things like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like. They and their Public Information Officers (PIOs) are very clear about what has to happen to communicate with the public in a major event–they got to get a press release to the media and hold a press conference. The media is their “partner.” Do that, and the job is mostly done–oh yeah, answer some questions along the way.

I’ve had this conversation recently too frequently to tell. It’s how those in emergency management think about this world. I’ve been trying to tell them they are wrong, the world has changed. But now I have some serious academic studies to back me up.

The University of Colorado at Boulder, with Dr. Leysia Palen leading the research, is becoming a center for study about disaster communication. I heard several references to Dr. Palen and the studies at this university at the Booz Allen conference in DC last November. This release from the university documents the shockingly fast move of the public to online communications and particularly social media during major events.

The world has changed. No sense sticking our heads in the sand.

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3 Responses to “Message to Emergency Management pros: Here’s why social media is important to you”

  1. Doug Says:

    I encounter this on a very regular basis. The local area’s PIO seems to want nothing to do with evolving his work into the 18th century (although they have added a blog, but I believe someone else, not the PIO, does it), let alone the 21st century.

    As a regular reader of this column and advocate of proactive public information and risk communication, I find this incredibly frustrating. Furthermore, the area I’m referring to is at a high(er) risk of flooding, and I’m not sure if they’ve taken many steps to deal with this issue in a pre-active (rather than re-active) manner.

    I do, however, have to admit that they seem to be adding a mass notification system (via cell phone text and e-mails). One step forward…

  2. Paul Seaman Says:

    Good post. Here’s a case study highlighting how the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) fails to see that social media creates exciting possibilities for proactive communication:

    http://paulseaman.eu/2009/01/bankers-shouldnt-blame-the-media-they-should-join-it/

  3. Bill S Says:

    Great post. It’s a shame that people we work with don’t often see the value of the advice we give. If only we had studies to back us up. Then we get studies and they find ways to figure out how the study that supports our points doesn’t apply to them. “We’re different,” they say. I have been fortunate that two of my clients recognize they need to get with social media and be prepared for the next crisis in a different way than the last crisis. We just have to keep building examples and delivering the message of change.


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