Social media plays major role in emergency response

Social media is leveraged by community and volunteer organizations to aid emergency response efforts and could be harnessed by local, state and federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security said during a January conference.

Dan Cotter, the director of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate First Responders Group's Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, spoke on the subject of social media during a panel in January. Cotter and four state emergency response leaders spoke on the role of social media within emergency response during the 2014 International Disaster Conference and Expo hosted by the city of New Orleans on January 7-10.

The panel discussed what would be necessary for social media to become a legitimate part of emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Members of the panel talked about community engagement, leadership buy-in, adoption, technology, partnerships, data standards and updates to current emergency response activities.

The panel also talked about how they would integrate social media as a communications tool and an information source for decision support, enhanced situational awareness and resource allocation.

The DHS S&T is involved in efforts to address the challenges of integrating social media through its Virtual Social Media Working Group. Established in December 2010, the VSMWG is meant to provide guidance and best practices for the emergency preparedness and response community on the safe and sustainable use of social media technologies before, during and after incidents.

The DHS S&T and the VSMWG are currently collaborating with regional, state, county, local, academic and nonprofit practitioners to determine uses for social media to enhance situational awareness and decision support.