Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Text, don’t call when natural disaster strikes

May 30, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – It is better to send text messages than to call when natural disasters strike and networks get congested, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, also urging people to add battery-powered cell phone chargers to their storm emergency kits.

Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters that forecasts for a “normal” Atlantic hurricane season should not keep those in potentially affected areas from getting ready for storms that could make landfall.

“There is no forecast yet that says where they are going to hit or not hit. So if you live along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic, and as far inland as the folks in Vermont found out last year, you need to be prepared for this hurricane season,” Fugate said at a White House news briefing.

The U.S. government is working to extend its public alert warning system beyond radio and television to mobile networks, Fugate said, noting that most new and upgraded cell phones have the capacity to receive such emergency notices.

Households without fixed-line phones should be ready to charge cell phones during power cuts, the FEMA administrator said, also calling on families to make alternative communication plans for when wireless networks are congested.

“When there’s a big crisis, don’t try to call people on your phones – text message. It’s a lot faster and gets through. Use social media to update people … and also be prepared when power outages occur how you’re going to keep your electronic devices charged,” Fugate said. “Add to your evacuation kits your cell phone chargers.”

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Facebook Assembles Group to Plan for Disasters

June 8, 2011

Facebook is already adept at handling public-relations blunders, but the company is beginning to focus on how it can help with real calamities.

About a dozen disaster-relief workers from governments and nonprofit organizations convened this week for a five-hour meeting at Facebook’s offices here in Palo Alto, California, and via teleconference from Washington.

While the groups, which included members from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and California Emergency Management Agency, were grateful for the gesture, they were not above taking good-humored jabs at Facebook for its rocky relations with government.

“Thank you so much for inviting us here,” Kelly Huston, a Cal EMA spokesman, said near the end of the assembly. “I know your interaction with government isn’t great because we’re suing you all the time for privacy issues.”

Meanwhile, another Facebook privacy debate was stewing during the meeting when Facebook began widening the reach of its facial-recognition feature. European Union regulators will hold an inquiry about the matter, Bloomberg reports.

The Tuesday event was Facebook’s first noteworthy collaboration with emergency-response organizations, spokespeople said.

Site administrators currently manage a page called Global Disaster Relief on Facebook. It has about 540,000 members, or less than 1% of Facebook’s total user base — but still more than the combined Facebook fans for all the groups that attended the meeting.

FEMA and the American Red Cross representatives offered occasional insights from Washington. FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, met with Facebook in October but was not present at this week’s meeting.

“Discussions like these help us learn from each other about what is working well and what isn’t,” Shayne Adamski, a FEMA senior manager who attended the meeting, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

For some, the affair was an education seminar, a chance to ask questions to the masters of the platform.

Wendy Harman, the social media director for the Red Cross, expressed frustrations with managing Facebook pages. “It makes me want to cry thinking about making 80,000 instances and updating them into eternity,” she said.

Facebook spokespeople were quick to offer suggestions.

“We can play a really important role in educating,” said Dave Steer, who manages Facebook’s trust and safety team. “This is one of the reasons we convened this kind of forum.”

The Red Cross extended an open invitation to Facebook to embed with its disaster-relief team, Harman said.

Google, which has more than 20 times as many employees as Facebook, devoted a “small team” last year to building projects that help provide disaster-related news or organize search efforts for missing people. Tumblr, the blogging platform, has added buttons to its site that encourage bloggers to donate to disaster relief efforts.

Facebook was less apt to promise dedicated resources from its 2,000 employees.

Steer suggested Facebook could create an internal think tank focused on disaster response.

“How do we leverage some of the minds of the people who work here to tackle the technical problems?” he asked.

Company spokesman Frederic Wolens added: “Facebook is the platform.”

Some weren’t fully convinced of Facebook’s dedication to the cause.

“I know that Facebook is a platform, and you want to push that, but going beyond marketing Facebook,” said Heather Blanchard, co-founder of the nonprofit Crisis Commons, “part of it is about recording history.”

“You have an entire research population hungry for what you know,” she added.

Facebook plans to discuss the feedback it received from the organizations over the next few weeks and will determine how best to handle the requests.

Tuesday’s agenda included a brainstorming session for a Facebook application dedicated to disaster relief, but the concept wasn’t discussed at length. Facebook liaisons offered technical guidance and recorded talking points and ideas on whiteboards: one bolted to the wall and the other projected digitally.

In the past, Facebook has held similar summits with organizations addressing bullying, suicide and privacy issues.

Social media tools have quickly become a mainstay for disaster response in many countries. Twitter saw the third-highest activity on its service after the Japan earthquake in March, a spokesman said.

Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s director of partnerships, highlighted “stuff that happens organically” in response to disasters, such as the page for finding items lost during the Joplin, Missouri, tornado. By highlighting these grassroots programs in addition to promoting those from government and nonprofits, Facebook thinks it can help.

“There’s a thirst for information,” Steer said. “Now the onus is on us to quench that thirst.”

This is a repost of an article reported on CNN

How Social Media Fits Into Los Angeles’ Crisis Communication Strategy

May 12, 2011

It’s been a slow but steady climb in Twitter followers for the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department (EMD). The site, launched about 18 months ago, is one of two social media properties owned by the EMD. Twitter followers now exceed 1,000.

The EMD’s use of social media reflects a growing trend among public safety agencies: the use of social media to connect with a public that is increasingly spending more time on social media sites than accessing traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers.

The EMD uses Twitter to post official city bulletins and advisories about emergencies, significant events and disasters that affect residents. The account is “verified” by Twitter, a distinction Twitter carefully dispenses to establish authenticity so users can trust that a legitimate source is authoring the tweets.

Twitter followers tend to increase when bulletins or advisories are posted about mud and debris flow concerns or announcements of cooling centers during a heat wave. The last significant spike in followers happened over the past few weeks when the EMD posted tweets updating Angelenos about the city’s efforts in monitoring radiation levels from the nuclear plant in Japan.

The EMD has also used Twitter to update Angelenos on road closures, evacuation notices of residents in burn areas, heat advisories, information about missing children during large public events, and to post messages encouraging the public to remain calm during special events like the Lakers championship game, or imminent verdicts like the Oakland transit officer case.

Twitter has become an important communication tool and a vital part of the EMD’s crisis communication strategy.

“It’s important to leverage technology,” said James Featherstone, general manager of the city’s Emergency Management Department.

“You have to fish where the fish are. People spend more time getting information on the Internet than they do from traditional news sources. Social media allows us to quickly push out messaging during critical events and let residents know what has happened, what the city is doing and what we need residents to do. It’s our most important crisis communication management tool,” said Featherstone, adding that in addition to using traditional media, social media allows information to spread exponentially through retweeting and reposting. It has given the EMD a more direct way of reaching more residents during an emergency or critical event, in real time.

The EMD is not the first public safety agency in Los Angeles to use social media. The Los Angeles Fire Department uses Twitter to post information about incidents and alerts to its more than 10,000 followers.

The Emergency Management Department also has a Facebook fan page with more than 500 friends. It too has seen a spike in subscribers after the recent Japanese power plant emergency.

While events such as the nuclear crisis in Japan tend to heighten public concern and increase their interest in following the EMD’s posts, the most effective use of the EMD’s social media sites has been using them to emphasize the importance of being prepared for any of the natural disasters that characteristically affect Los Angeles such as earthquakes, wildfires, and mud and debris flow from winter storms. Twitter has helped readyla.org — the city’s official readiness, response and recovery website — become a valuable and recognized source of readiness information for Angelenos.

“We believe in messaging over time,” Featherstone said. “During non-emergencies, posting tips on how to prepare for emergencies helps to create a culture of readiness — and readiness is the most powerful tool we have to survive disasters.”

The author, Veronica Hendrix, is a public information officer for the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department.