Bruce R. Lindsay

How are government agencies using social media to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters?

The Federation of American Scientists recently posted on its Web site a CRS report, “Social Media and Disasters: Current Uses, Future Options, and Policy Considerations,” by Bruce R. Lindsay. The report argues that social media may be used in a “systematic” way as “an emergency management tool.

Systematic usage might include:

  • “using the medium to conduct emergency communications and issue warnings”;
  • “using social media to receive victim requests for assistance”;
  • “monitoring user activities and postings to establish situational awareness”; and
  • “using uploaded images to create damage estimates, among others.”

Of these four prospective uses, the first can be applied both to pre-event planning and inter-event communication. The second two can be understood as inter-event response activities, and the last for recovery efforts after the event has ended.

In each phase, agencies are turning to a different mix of tools to help them achieve their goals. Of course, all government agencies at every level should adhere to the roles and responsibilities laid out in the National Response Framework, which lays out the responsibilities of the federal and state governments as:

  • “Coordinating with private-sector and nongovernmental organizations involved in donations management and other recovery activities.”
  • “Establishing Disaster Recovery Centers. Federal, State, tribal, local, voluntary, and nongovernmental organizations determine the need for and location of Disaster Recovery Centers.”
  • “Coordinating with the private sector on restoration and recovery of CIKR [Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources]. Activities include working with owners/operators to ensure the restoration of critical services, including water, power, natural gas and petroleum, emergency communications, and healthcare.”
  • “Coordinating mitigation grant programs to help communities reduce the potential impacts of future disasters. Activities include developing strategies to rebuild resilient communities.”
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