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Jun 23 2010

Social Media and Emergency Management: Hybrid 2.0?


Topics: Social Media

Below is a blog first posted by Sara Estes Cohen, MPP, ABCP, on GovLoop.

For the past three years, I’ve been working in emergency management and social media. As I’ve been focused on leveraging social media tools and technology for use in emergency management and response, the world of Gov 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 has grown up all around me. Transparency and accountability are now synonymous with government activity – social media is no longer a wild and crazy idea, but a concept that has been tested and proved invaluable in several ways.

As I continue along the road of social media and emergency management, however, I continue to see only two models for the use of social media:

  1. For use in public communication and collaboration – transparent and without barriers, social media is used for daily communications with the public, with stakeholders, among friends, etc. Examples of this model include campaigns, crisis communication (e.g., the CDC Twitter account and pandemic influenza, Crisis Commons Oil Reporter, etc.).
  2. For use in an enterprise – behind the firewall, 2.0 technology is leveraged for virtual workspaces, communication focused around a central theme (e.g., employees of a company, work done by that company, etc.). This model exists in business and the intelligence community and has been proven successful for internal communication and collaboration (whether proprietary or national security-related).

Both are helpful and appropriate for the goals, objectives, and security requirements of their audience. And both have again proven invaluable to work flow, communications, collaboration, and innovation.

I see one additional model that has not yet been thoroughly discussed: how to leverage these two models (or develop a new one) for emergency management and public safety. These spaces are a different breed – requiring communication with the public AND within a secure environment, social media for emergency management must take on a different face. How does one leverage public-facing 2.0 technology while maintaining security and authority? How does one leverage internal 2.0 technology while maintaining transparency and collaboration?

Therein lies the rub – social media in the emergency management, response, and public safety arenas must become a hybrid of Gov 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. One that provides the ability for its users to interact with each other behind the firewall while leveraging public communications channels as well. If these two are not developed simultaneously, the entire field will continue to operate in silos – having to visit and post to public-facing sites and work from within the firewall separately.

The security implications of developing a cross-pollination of the two are monumentous, seemingly impossible – but as technology development has proven, I do not believe insurmountable. How do we provide a vetted and secure workspace for individuals working to maintain safety and respond to emergencies, while providing them an integrated channel to communicate with the public? And most importantly, how do we do this without requiring them to work within two separate spaces?

Emergency managers and public safety are always up against barriers (e.g. funding, security requirements, resources, etc). Many now use social media for crisis communications – however, crisis communications is not the same as emergency response. These two concepts are interrelated but separate in nature. For public safety/first responders to work efficiently, however, these two concepts must be integrated somehow, to save time, to save effort, and to save lives.

Part 2: Hybrid 2.0 – Leveraging Citizen Engagement for Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recover

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