Social media’s role in emergency response

?Now more than ever, keeping people safe means keeping them informed. Public safety agencies around the world are responsible for sharing information quickly, accurately, and reliably in emergency situations, while simultaneously helping citizens stay connected with friends, family, and critical public services.

The Internet has transformed the way people share information, and policymakers, public safety professionals, and technology providers gathered in Washington, D.C. last month at the Industry Council on Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) organization's Forum on Social Media and Emergency Response to discuss the most important trends and issues surrounding social media’s role in public safety. Mark Whittington, General Manager for Microsoft Worldwide Public Safety and National Security, and I were among the forum attendees this year.

The forum examined how policy, public safety and technology come in emergency services, and how the industry can leverage social media to be effective in the present and prepare for the future. Conference sessions addressed topics ranging from what to expect after launching an emergency response social media platform to practical steps for meeting the public’s expectations with regards to privacy, reliability, and interoperability. Two sessions in particular seemed to capture some of the important issues facing our industry.

“A Culture of Social Media: Expectations for Access to Emergency Response” examined, among other things, the ways in which public safety professionals can meet and manage the public's expectations of response capabilities. Many public safety officials worry about a lack of control over these sites, but the experts on this panel say that shouldn’t prevent agencies from taking advantage of the benefits that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide. Instead, focus your resources on building useful, informative sites that can reach many people through one channel. This “many to one” approach – understanding that answering a question for one person typically answers a question for many people – needs fewer resources to help keep publics informed, and also enables public safety officials to quickly respond to and correct disinformation. My colleague Jennifer Steele discussed how Canada and Australia recently used social media tools to great effect in her On Safety and Defense blog post, “Social media presents challenges, opportunities for public safety.”

Mark participated in another panel session, “Policy Development: Crafting Regulatory Rules and Governance Process,” and was able to share his personal experiences responding to natural disasters in Haiti and Florida. Mark asserted that historically, it was common for an agency’s policies to impede its ability to communicate quickly with the public – however, as social media platforms become increasingly popular for information sharing, agency policies are forced out of the way by public usage and demand. What becomes important, then, is how to create a social media interface that meets both audiences’ needs. 

Public safety agencies around the world are confronting these same issues simultaneously, and forums like iCERT enable the kinds of discussions our industry needs to serve and protect citizens using the best tools and practices possible. I hope to see you at the next event!

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About the Author

Dan Bourgoin | Senior Director, Public Safety and National Security Partners

Dan is the worldwide Partner Sales Lead for Public Safety and National Security (PSNS), where he drives Microsoft’s PSNS partner strategy and shapes how Microsoft engages with partners worldwide to drive business within the PSNS industry ecosystem. Read More