Florida emergency managers seek social media volunteers

Emergency managers in Florida are recruiting a team of volunteers who will use social media to honestly inform the public during disasters.

Florida State University (FSU) is using virtual operations support teams to monitor amateur reporting via Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to determine what news is legitimate during a disaster. The volunteers can then pass the info along to emergency managers to analyze and disseminate the information, Emergency Management reports.

"Rumors start quickly after a disaster," David Merrick, the director for the Center for Disaster Risk Policy Social at FSU, said, according to Emergency Management. "Social media has just made that easier. Facebook and Twitter allows that to happen nearly instantaneously across the entire country. You really have to have an idea on that so you can see what the public is saying that might be wrong."

Merrick made the remarks on Friday at the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference in Orlando. He said that virtual operations support work is very labor intensive, which is why many volunteers are needed to monitor social media chatter. The team recently put social media to the test during flooding in Florida's panhandle.

"We've still not been able to take the human out of the loop when it comes to analyzing this information," Merrick said, according to Emergency Management. "The trick there is trying to identify what is good and bad. We are looking for reports of people that were trapped, of which there were several. They weren't 'trapped.' They just couldn't get out onto the road."

Merrick said that during a real crisis, the combination of bad information, information posted in the wrong places and information with the wrong identifiers can hinder more than help.

FSU has recruited approximately 30 students to the program, Emergency Management reports.