Monday, November 9, 2015

Community engagement within emergency management

To have citizens as legitimate allies. This was one of the conclusions that I got from the conversation with Burt Lum (VOST Hawaii) last week. When it comes to confront emergencies, such as earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes, the decision-making sphere can become stressful and difficult to handle. But with the emergence of more sophisticated social media tools the task can be better managed with the help of actors that not necessarily are part of the government staff. These are the citizens. Through different technological devices and channels, they can build a powerful flow of information that is important to take into account. However, Lum insisted in the point of reviewing carefully the data in order to avoid fake information.

As Burt Lum said, emergency management is also about getting people involved. Having an accurate and good coverage of what is happening outside it helps authorities to gain support and a better monitoring of the whole process. In other words, the voice of citizens become essential to the formal channels of governments.

Disasters management is not only about organizing volunteers and having official strategies, but it is also about providing data and building collaborative teams within local communities. Therefore, the efforts of VOST are moving towards bringing government together with citizens and bridging gaps that before were taken as “expected” because of the absence of social media.

Nowadays more and more state agencies and international organizations are establishing social media strategies. They are starting to recognize the importance of having as allies these tools and citizens as well. Clear guidelines, procedures and times in responding are now major concerns for leaders in the political arena; and this was only possible because of the Social Media evolution within emergency management cases. Awareness of this reality has become vital for enhancing procedures and improving communication towards citizens in this type of contexts.

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