September is National Preparedness Month in the US.

national preparedness month

During this time governments and other public safety authorities will be disseminating a ton of information regarding emergency preparedness and response, and encouraging citizens to “understand what it truly means to be Ready.”

My interest in this subject is the application of social media in emergency preparedness. As we have seen in the past social media can play a major role in emergency events. From Twitter breaking the news of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, to the Los Angeles Fire Department communicating wildfire information via Twitter, to the students of Virginia Tech using Facebook to share critical information after the 2007 shootings, we have seen the potential communication benefits of web 2.0 tools under emergency circumstances.

As the world of new social media evolves so too does its role in emergency preparedness. During the next big emergency situation or natural disaster, not only will we see Twitter and Facebook used more effectively, but other social media tools will come into play. Here are just some of the advancements in new social media that will undoubtedly help us all better prepare for and manage communications during a crisis.

Emicus

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Emicus - Community Powered Emergency Information - is free online tool for emergency preparedness during natural disasters. The website’s mission is to “make it easy for you and your community to get and share disaster information.” Website features include a services map to find critical services such as gas, building supplies, pharmacies etc; information sharing via an iphone apps, mapping tools, Twitter and Youtube accounts, and an SMS system for text alerts; and a News and Hurricane Tracker that is constantly updated to provide the most current news about a hurricane or hurricane warnings. The website also has a lot of other neat features and preparedness advice as well.

Smartphone Apps

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iPhone markets its apps by claiming “there’s an app for almost anything,” and they’re right, there are even apps for emergency preparedness. One iPhone app called “Hurricane” developed by Kitty Code is a hurricane tracking application that gives you the ability to track violent storms and see where they are heading. The tracking map lets you see where the storm is coming from, where it’s going, and displays hurricane stats like speed, direction, pressure, and distance from you. Such technology did not exist during Hurricane Katrina and one can only wonder how the outcomes would have differed if it did. Another good example of an iPhone app is called “Outbreaks Near Me,” which it tracks H1N1 flu outbreaks. It can be used to alert users when an outbreak is reported in their area and provide real-time outbreak news and information. A pandemic can be a very devastating crisis with people frantically looking for current news and updates on the virus, “Outbreaks Near Me” puts this information at the fingertips of users.

Podcasting

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Podcasting is the next step for public safety authorities to take in their social media campaigns. Many emergency services use Twitter and Facebook to share timely info with their constituents, although effective, an even richer means of communication can be disseminated just as easily. Podcasting is a social media tool that delivers rich audio and video content to subscribers via RSS (Really Simple Syndication). You do not need access to a Twitter or Facebook account, just the RSS Feed URL for a podcast and you can access the podcast from any internet compatible device. Audio and video content can be a lot more effective for important information like “how to” instructions or relaying ground zero information.

At DailySplice Technologies, we have developed one of the easiest podcast management tools in the industry, with features especially handy for the emergency services sector. One of the features, called “FieldCast,” allows a first responder to record a podcast straight his/her mobile phone, as simple as leaving a voice mail. A first responder that cannot easily access Twitter for a 140 character notification can quickly dial in an audio podcast as soon he/she appears on the scene and let everyone know what the circumstances are. Characteristics like the first responder’s tone of voice or background noise help people define what the situation on ground zero is really like. You can easily see how this technology may be of great potential benefit for crisis management.

Social media shouldn’t define communications for disaster preparedness, but act as an important information sharing tool in your emergency communications tool kit. If used correctly as a part of a strategic and comprehensive emergency preparedness plan, social media can save lives!