Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

How Do We Incorporate Social Media and Social Networking with Disaster Planning and Recovery?

By Dennis D. McDonald

Is it a problem that we have too many specialized communication platforms? If, for example, email is for "old people," as suggested in Jeremiah Owyang's post here, how wise it it to rely on it when so many of the people impacted in a campus type emergency situation are using other channels?

How much interactivity do we need in a true emergency situation? That depends on what we need to accomplish. If what is needed is to get the word out about a threat, a broadcast system that crosses platforms is what's needed. That means The Authorities need to be able to plug into the communication "grid" and pump basic info out quickly and reliably. Perhaps such systems are under development.

At Virginia Tech we saw a disaster that was relatively contained in time. What if instead of a mass murderer with easily-obtained handguns there had been a biological agent used in a terrorist attack? The immediate response might have been localized in time but the after effects might stretch over a much longer time period during which we would find that social media and social networking might have to play a much larger role in communications among all interested parties, including the military, public health officials, investigators, clean up staff -- and those who are displaced.

  • We need to define the role of technology and what to do when it doesn't work. (For example, what if wireless communications are not working? What if people can't recharge their cell phones?)
  • What should be the relationship between social networking and formal communications that are more oriented towards hierarchical “command and control”? (Will authorities be willing to participate in two way interactions that might become confrontational?)
  • How should relationships be managed among affected population, recovery teams, and the “outside world”? (Forget about secrecy. )
  • How should we address age differences in willingness to accept new technology among affected populations? (My children still don't know about Twitter and I'm old enough to be their father!)
  • Should authorities monitor communications among affected populations during response and recovery?



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