The role of social media in helping emergency managers mitigate, prepare, respond and recover from disasters is increasingly evident. During hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the power of social media to save lives during a disaster was undeniably demonstrated. For example, Twitter hashtags resulted in emergency help when 911 or other critical communications infrastructure was damaged or overwhelmed. A fuel location app for mobile devices helped evacuating residents identify gas stations along evacuation routes that still had fuel. Volunteers used the social media application Zello as an ad hoc dispatch system, connecting volunteer rescuers with individuals who were stranded. Every aspect of hurricane preparedness, response and recovery was impacted by social media including communication, operational decision-making, requests for assistance, volunteer coordination, and initial damage assessment.
SimulationDeck’s simulation tools include social media sites that work like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and GeoFeedia. It also includes digital media sites delivering print, radio and TV news stories to participants in real time. SimulationDeck helps incident management teams practice gathering situational awareness to enhance operational decision-making, and enables crisis communications teams practice message management and rumor control in a private environment out of the public eye.
SimulationDeck allows exercise planners to build the exercise scenario, register exercise participants and deliver exercise injects with ease. The platform projects ground truth to participants simultaneously – whether they are in the same room or scattered across the globe. Built-in evaluation features also make it easy to document player performance – simplifying after action reporting.
Predating hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the response in Louisiana after catastrophic flooding in August 2016 is one example of the important new relationship the public has been forming with online platforms. Community members privately organize, ad-hoc groups such as the Cajun Navy, using Facebook and Google Maps to locate individuals in need and dispatch assistance to thousands of Louisianans. It is a compelling call for emergency managers to explore how their role may be changing.
FEMA, along with many others in the emergency management community, recognize that social media played a seminal role in the response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. While social media has played a role in disaster response and recover since before Hurricane Katrina, the role has never been so evident and fully formed as it was in the response to Harvey and Irma. As a result, social media emergency management must have a significant place in the after action analysis and reporting for these historic events. Recognizing that most of the significant and seminal social media actions during disasters, including hurricanes Harvey and Irma, have not been driven by “professional” emergency managers, but rather by the spontaneous action of community members, the emergency management community must understand not only what happened, but also what the implications are for how social media has changed the way we will manage future disasters. While emergency managers have historically preferred to rely on official sources of information, the profound role of the community, empowered by social media, must be taken into consideration in ways that were previously unimaginable.
Author: Brian Sanchez, Emily Norcross, and Mark Amann from Nusura