Using Social Media During a Disaster

Average citizens’ homegrown efforts to find help and map emergency zones competed with online emergency management directives during recent disasters, according to an emergency management researcher.

Kim Stephens, who has spent more than a decade researching and practicing emergency management, participated in a webinar for last month. The platforms – such as Facebook and Twitter – may change, she said, but “the concept of people sharing their experiences in real time through web-enabled communications is something we’ll be dealing with for the long term.”

Emergency managers putting up their own social media sites should not be surprised if they get very little traffic at first, she said. But that will change once disaster strikes: A report from officials dealing with the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast showed that they were receiving about 1,000 inquiries per day. “You need to be prepared for quite a few more inquiries than you normally get,” Stephens said.

Although officials had set up social media sites to get information to the public during the spill, some of the most highly trafficked sites were constructed and maintained by local residents who took information off the official sites and presented it well.

To listen to the webinar, or read a transcript, click here: and select “program archives” for Oct. 27, 2010.