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How Emergency Managers Can Leverage Social Media During a Crisis

How Emergency Managers Can Leverage Social Media During a Crisis

Emergency managers no longer have the option of ignoring social media. In today’s world, the relationship between public emergencies and social media platforms is all but assured.

Bad PR becomes worse PR through social media. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Twitter and Facebook amplified outrage through devastating visuals of the aftermath - seagulls covered in tar, entire shorelines wiped out. Equally, throughout Hurricane Harvey, social media showed rapidly flooding homes and storefronts. Houston-area residents took to Twitter to voice fears over climate change and disaster prevention inadequacies.

When a train derails or a subway system breaks down, where’s the first place people go to talk about it? Their chosen social media platform, of course.

Social media also holds enormous potential as a force for good. It can serve as a critical tool for communicating with large audiences. After Hurricane Harvey, for example, Florida Governor Rick Scott sent mass alerts and updates through his Twitter account.

During natural disasters, you’ll find poignant human interest stories on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. People rescue each other, or save pets via speedboat after a flood, or offer overnight shelter in their mattress shops. Humans get help faster, because of the rapid dissemination of information that social media provides.

Ideally, social media can help save lives and restore organizational continuity. Or, when things go wrong, it can shine a bright spotlight on high-profile mishaps, creating a PR nightmare. Here are the best ways to leverage social media in times of crisis and panic.

1. Phones Are Lifelines for Employers and Employees

Your mobile phone is your first line of defense. If you manage a team, you’ll need it to communicate with them. If you’re on a team, you’ll turn to your phone first for emergency instructions. Landlines are less reliable when outages occur or business is interrupted. Here’s what you can do to best leverage your mobile phone before a disaster:

  • Charge your phone in advance and carry a spare battery pack if possible
  • Locate nearby hotspots for WiFi and mobile service
  • Download an app like AtHoc for sending efficient mass alerts
  • Discuss mobile phone protocols and critical alert templates and channels with your team

2. Subscribe to Real-Time Feeds for Real-Time Analysis and Geo-mapping

Although it’s not primarily a visual platform, Twitter is the most rapidly updated real-time feed of all social media platforms. You can subscribe in advance to your local weather station, emergency service teams, government agencies, and public officials. When a disaster occurs, you’ll be plugged in to real-time analysis as the situation unfolds.

3. Leverage Social Media’s Global Reach

If you’re in a large federal agency or an international corporation, you can leverage individuals in any location. For example, California recently experienced an uptick in forest fires. From several counties away, officials used social media to get status updates from individuals on the ground. They used these updates to send reinforcements and understand the scope of the fires.

After the Vegas mass-shooting incident of 2017, social media was used to raise funds from all over the world to cover medical expenses for injured victims. Because of social media, disaster response is not relegated to local efforts.

4. Don’t Treat Social as an Afterthought

Since it is a newer form of communication, many organizations don’t plan to use social media during or after a critical event or crisis. Emergency response teams may not have permission to create social media protocols, or they may simply not prioritize it. Particularly for government agencies, formal social media adoption may not be authorized for times of crisis.

Communications planners should make sure to create emergency social media protocols. Many individuals first learn about an incident or crisis from social media, as opposed to learning through official sources. Many tech companies are even filling the gap between the prevalence of social media, and the inability of organizations to scale their social media capabilities. According to the New York Times, there are now messaging apps for low-bandwidth areas, and digital capabilities being added to certain 911 call centers.

5. Seek Advice From Digital Natives

If you yourself aren’t comfortable with social media for emergencies, seek help. Spearhead a focus group of people who do use social media at work. Ask them how to establish proper emergency protocols, and which platforms are most effective in various situations. Do not try to replace your traditional crisis communication protocols. Instead, think of social media as an additional channel to be leveraged.

Social media wasn’t originally created for emergency use. But today, it would be foolish to create a crisis management plan without social media considerations. Busy individuals and organizations are much more reachable through mobile technology. As an informal mass notification system or an official communications channel, Twitter and Facebook might end up saving lives in a disaster.

The Blackberry AtHoc mobile app provides a secure, centralized, and comprehensive emergency notification system that utilizes the device your employees are already most likely to have in their possession – the smartphone. Learn more.

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