Magazine article National Defense

Social Media Changing the Way FEMA Responds to Disasters

Magazine article National Defense

Social Media Changing the Way FEMA Responds to Disasters

Article excerpt

* More than 70 percent of people in disaster situations use social media to let their families and friends know that they are OK, according to a University of San Francisco survey.

This shows that the use of social media in responding to natural disasters is becoming crucial to emergency response agencies, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-lnd., chairwoman of the House subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response and communications, said at a recent hearing.

"Social media enables response organizations to quickly push information to the public - something that has not been possible on such a wide scale until recently," she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has three Facebook pages and 34 Twitter accounts. It is imperative for response organizations to leverage the tools used by the public on a daily basis, Shayne Adamski, senior manager of digital engagement at FEMA, told lawmakers.

"Millions of Americans use social media every day to check in on friends and family, learn about current events and share their experiences. FF.MA uses social media to be part of this ongoing dialogue and meet people where they are by using tools and platforms they are already familiar with," he said.

But social media can be a double-edged sword when it is used to spread misinformation.

Social media opens the doors for some to publish misleading or faulty information online, Brooks said. "There is a need to establish common standards and procedures to help make the sharing of data more efficient," she added.

FEMA is attempting to mitigate this problem by developing a rumor control webpage that denounces or verifies information spread by the use of social media. Moving forward, FEMA plans to continue to engage in online conversations, provide information to the public and produce a better-informed public, Adamski said.

"We are constantly refining our social media approach, listening to feedback from our stakeholders and keeping our ear to the ground on the ever-evolving world of social media and the digital space," he added.

FEMA has been able to provide up-to-date response information, offer safety and preparedness tips, inform the public of effective ways to help disaster survivors, direct them to available assistance and gain valuable feedback, he added. …

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