Social media has become both popular and crucial in crisis and emergency communications. Responders are not only communicating to their public through social media outlets, the public is communicating with each other, and with responders. Individuals are able to provide important information on disaster impacts, including location and imagery, using nothing more than a smartphone equipped with a camera and GPS locator. One particular technology from Ushahidi offers an interesting way for responders and affected individuals to communicate with one another in the course of a disaster response. The Ushahidi BRCK offers an application of technology that, while not originally designed for use in the emergency management field, has an application in the response to a disaster. This and other technologies contribute to the ever changing way responders and individuals communicate.
Social Media Pros
Social media sites including Twitter and Facebook are in their infancy yet play an increasingly important role in the response to a disaster. After all, “one of the basic tenants of emergency management is mass communication and being able to deliver pertinent information to those who need it” (Gould, 2012). Social media offers an avenue to obtain up to the minute information on a given situation right in an individual's hands thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices. “Each disaster sparks its own complex web of fast-paced information exchange. It can both improve disaster response and allow affected populations to take control of their situation as well as feel empowered” (Maron, 2013). While traditional forms of media, print, radio and television in particular, have been the standard since the inception of the emergency management field, social media outlets offer a faster method to reach individuals while receiving feedback or other pertinent information from individuals in nearly real time.
Many different agencies dedicated to responding in an emergent situation use social media. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross are two agencies who embrace the change in communications that social media brings. Not only do these agencies use social media to get information to the public in the event of a disaster response, they also use social media as a platform to offer tips and proactive readiness messages.
FEMA recognises that “social media is a new technology that not only allows for another channel of broadcasting messages to the public, but also allows for two way communication” (FEMA, 2012). Situational awareness is of key importance to FEMA and taking the step of including social media in their communications plans increases the situational awareness of those responding to any given disaster. FEMA reinforces the importance of social media by offering an independent home study program covering social media in emergency management.
Social Media Cons
Not everything surrounding the use of...