Sunday, October 4, 2015

Weathering the Storm on Social Media

         The massive flooding event caused by Hurricane Joaquin currently affecting millions of residents in both the state of North Carolina and South Carolina (U.S. President Barack Obama has declared a State of Emergency in South Carolina) provides an excellent real world example of how social media tools can be used by government actors and other organizations involved in emergency response to provide critical information to the public and potentially save lives.

          Jana Hrdinová’s article, “Designing social media policy for government: Eight essential elements,” argues that commonly-used social media websites, such as Facebook or Twitter, “are providing governments with attractive options for meeting these new objectives.” Because these sites are widely available to both government officials and the public at large, they have become essential tools in social networking and communication between the government and the people; particularly as a means of communicating critical information during public emergencies. Another article, “Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter in Government,” provides several examples of how Twitter alone can be used as a vital communication tool during disasters, providing a fast and simple way to disseminate information and share information between multiple agencies or members of the public.

            During public emergencies, especially weather events and other emergencies that result in loss of power or loss of television service, social media tools that are available to mobile phone users may be the best way for emergency managers and first responders to reach out to the public and both provide and receive critical information needed to coordinate their response.

The State of North Carolina recently began adopting social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Code Red Emergency Alerts, to its emergency response approach. At present, many of North Carolina’s counties have created social media accounts for their local emergency management teams. A list of these counties is provided by the state’s Department of Public Safety. While many of the counties have created social media response plans, several counties across the state have yet to begin using social media platforms.

In contrast, the government of the State of South Carolina, which is currently experiencing some of its worst flooding in at least a century, addresses the importance of social media as a key channel of communication with the public during emergency events, including weather events. The Plan, published by the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, calls on emergency management personnel to follow established lines of communication to disseminate critical information during and after emergencies using “print, news release, social media, and live interviews.”
For more, please see - South Carolina Emergency Management Division

Throughout the flooding and rain currently affecting the state, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division has remained active on Twitter, calling for the public to stay vigilant and providing critical information on the response.

For more, please see - @SCEMD
As the situation in North Carolina and South Carolina continues to unfold, it remains clear that social media can provide a critical tool for first responders and emergency managers. As of 4 October 2015, more than 29,000 South Carolinians were without power as a result of the flooding event. As a result, these residents have effectively lost their access to traditional channels of communication, like landlines and television news. However, as long as cellular towers and signals remain intact, social media platforms accessed through mobile phones provide access to crucial communication tools to those affected by the flooding.

For more information, please see:

CNN International – South Carolina Governor Calls Rain A 'Thousand Year' Event – 4 October 2015

BBC World News – South Carolina Flooding Brings Mass Power Cuts and Rescues – 4 October 2015

The Wall Street Journal – Flooding From Hurricane Joaquin Shuts Roads, Schools in South Carolina – 4 October 2015

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