Social Media and Emergency Management: Using Technology to Spread the Word

Social media is an obvious extension of emergency management, with public officials being able to send out near-instantaneous information to citizens and citizens being able to request help from emergency management officials in times of crisis.

An American Red Cross survey in 2012 revealed that 76 percent of adults expect help to arrive in less than three hours if they post a request through social media. The use of social media in emergency management is not one that has been fully explored, however, until now.

The National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) recently funded research for CNA, a nonprofit organization that conducts in-depth research and analysis for public sector decision makers, to explore the relationship between emergency management and social media. In particular, CNA sent out a 56-question survey to emergency management and response agencies at the state, county, and local levels to learn more about the use of social media in emergency management.

The survey found that 59 percent of emergency management agencies at the state level and 55 percent at the county level trust social media less than they do other, more traditional sources of sending out information.

The survey also found that the primary barrier to the use of social media among emergency management professionals was the lack of dedicated personnel who could handle social media communication. A large percentage of survey respondents felt that federal support, grant funding, and training on social media who increase the likelihood of using social media as a way to disseminate information in times of crisis.

FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate, stated that “social media is imperative to emergency management” because the public uses these tools so extensively. He went on to state that, rather than trying to get the public to communicate the way FEMA communicates, this federal agency must adapt the way they communicate as to better engage the public.

The need for emergency management agencies to adapt to the new ways the public communicates is essential, as out of the 314 million people living in the United States, 296 are Internet users and an astounding 160 million people use Facebook and another 140 million use Twitter.