Social Media in Wildfires and Disasters

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This week, there are a number of live crisis events going on throughout the United States. From wildfires to tropical storms, social media is busy with folks who are talking, being social and sharing incident-based information.

And while among the emergency services community, there are a lot of folks working to develop Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOST) to assist incident command entities like Incident Management Teams (IMTs) and Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), we all know that disasters are local. People will share information across social channels well before an incident response entity begins to coordinate a community response.

Just like in any crisis, the every day neighbor-helping-neighbor activities are the true “first responders” to any emergency incident. But a question I find myself answering often these days is simply this: How Can I Help Online?

Here are some initial recommendations for “helpful behavior” on social media when disaster strikes:

  • Identify whether there are any official social media feeds for the affected jurisdiction.
  • Begin to assemble official voices into a list for easy access & monitoring by others.
  • If you are actively sharing / tweeting, encourage others to look at the official sources and amplify messages from official sources.
  • Identify key hashtags in use for a breaking situation. Remember at the beginning of a new situation, tags may change or there may be multiple tags before they begin coalescing into fewer tags.
  • Use or to begin watching the active hashtags. On both of these platforms, you can actually save a set of searches and share this with others on social sites so they can watch, too.
  • If you are actively sharing / tweeting, watch & encourage good time-stamps on data as dynamic situations change rapidly. FEMA’s standard looks like this 6/24 6:45p PDT.
  • Look for requests for help or assistance. Help to direct those requests towards official channels.
  • If you are sharing pictures about damaged homes, be sensitive to the fact that you may be inadvertently notifying someone that their home has been destroyed.  If you know people in the affected area, check with them first before broadly sharing damage pictures to be kind.

Do you have any other suggestions for the everyday user of social media?  We’d love to add to this list and see a very empowered community of folks who are actively helping each other post-by-post or tweet-by-tweet to respond and recover from disaster.


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