This is a course blog for the classes on digital government and social media in the public sector" class taught by Professor Ines Mergel at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. The blog posts include comments and ideas from MPA, MAIR and EMPA students studying the use of new technologies in the public sector.
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.”
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.
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.