Credited to the New York Times

Credited to the New York Times

This past week was historic for the use of social media in crisis.

And while many articles have already been written about the use of social media in the Boston Marathon bombing and the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, I want to focus on the role for the rest of us.

If you are in a jurisdiction that is dealing with an incident of national significance, you are busy learning the following lessons:

  • The world is watching and wants to help,
  • Rumors will run rampant because people try to live-tweet scanners and news broadcasts in crisis events,
  • Images and videos, no matter how graphic, will surface, and
  • The amount of information available will become a sifting and sorting nightmare, but
  • There is now little dispute that the use of social media can rapidly allow agencies to share information and employ the public as additional eyes and ears during significant events.

So, what should the rest of us, as fellow public safety agencies, do?

If you were outside of the immediate impact area, were you quiet on social media this past week or did you seek every opportunity to connect with your local community?

It is important to realize that despite geographic distance from these tragic events, they affect all of us.

Our local community members, no matter where they lived….

  • Had loved ones in the local area that they were worried about.
  • Tried to find any and all evidence that their loved ones were safe.
  • Felt glued to the television or social media seeking the “latest” key information.
  • Wondered what they would do if a bomb went off near them locally.
  • Would like to know if there are emergency plans in place to deal with a similar situation locally.
  • Weren’t sure how to report suspicious behaviors to local authorities. Do you call 9-1-1, FBI or file an online report with a Fusion Center?
  • Heard the term “shelter-in-place” for the first time and didn’t know what that really meant.
  • Wanted to know how they would be contacted by emergency responders and given critical information.
  • Were feeling the weight of the crisis events and some may have felt emotionally fatigued, and
  • Wanted to help others.

Granted not every community member falls into each of these categories, but the existence of social media now gives everyone the opportunity to share information, render emotional first aid and react to the world around them.

If you are a public safety agency who is involved in social media, this past week was an opportune time to show empathy, answer questions and provoke discussions around some of these key topics.

Here are some key thoughts:

  • Acknowledging the crisis event, in some way, shows that your agency is tuned in and aware of national events.
  • Empathetic statements can open up a community dialogue.
  • It is always wise to provide reminders about not overloading phone lines, using text messages and use of the Red Cross Safe & Well Reporting website.
  • Sharing information about your emergency plans or local resources are much more relevant during a time of crisis (and that window of opportunity evaporates quickly).
  • You have a unique & local perspective.  Always be thinking, “what might be most interesting to my community right now?”
  • If you pre-schedule any of your social media content, turn it off during an active crisis.  Nothing looks more insensitive than sending out irrelevant content.  Be authentic with your audience.

And, if you aren’t affiliated with a public safety agency, it’s good to revisit “How to Help When Disaster Strikes” to evaluate what is most helpful during crisis.

Crisis events show no prejudice and can affect all of us.  Whether it happens in front of us on the streets or breaks out online while we are watching, consider how you can be of value to those around you.  Like CPR/First Aid, being ready to effectively share on social media requires an understanding of how you can help and a willingness to do it.  Be willing.

This coming Tuesday, April 23rd, from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. PDT, I will be speaking more about social media content development both in crisis and during peacetime.

  • We are aiming to stream this session via USTREAM.TV although as technology goes, I always figure that the odds are about 50/50 that something could go wrong, but keep your fingers crossed (and accept my early apologies if it fails to be perfect).
  • The hashtag for this event will be #smPDX so feel free to follow along on Twitter.
  • If you live near Portland, Oregon, you can attend this event in person by registering at this location



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