“clearly Twitter is becoming a key vehicle for emergency communications”

It is far from a complete surprise for us, but social media seems to become more and more important in emergency and crisis response. During the last few years, we have heard many reports of the potential of social media in times of emergencies, crises and disasters. Too often, these stories have focused only on the potential use and interesting yet minor examples of real use. But since some time, we now see a massive use of social media where the benefits not only are identified but are concrete and real.

During hurricane Irene, not only top-level government agencies used social media to stay informed, but also local governments. It is refreshing to see how local and regional agencies now seems to have overcome their self-generated administrative and bureaucratic hurdles to use social media.

Alexander Howard writes on CBSnews.com how “Hurricane Irene highlights importance of real-time leadership and social data”. He describes how Mayor Vince Gray (@MayorVinceGray) in Washington just recently have come to the conclusion that social media is fundamental i emergency and crisis response. I quote “Mayor Gray’s office, while a relative latecomer to social media, appears to be convinced of its use after the past weekend: “clearly Twitter is becoming a key vehicle for emergency communications,” he tweeted last night.”

We have not seen the same enthusiasm yet in Swedish local, regional and national agencies, but it is reasonable to expect that similar opinions will emerge even here in Sweden. What is really fascinating is how the US department of Homeland Security urges people to use social media during extreme events in order to stay in contact.

According to Alexander Howard, FEMA administrators such as Craig Fugate (@CraigAtFEMA) use social media for situational awareness. Craig Fugate explains that “Social media’s biggest power, that I see, is to empower the public as a resource.”

We have still some work to do in Sweden before our national, regional and local agencies will use social media for situational awareness. But important steps are on its way and it is not unlikley that we will see a dramatic shift in attitude to use social media for improved situation awareness during the next few years. It is reasonable to believe that we will se a rapid increase of competence development activities focusing on social media for crisis response. Many Swedish organizations have a long way to run to catch up with the fast-paced social media landscape.

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