Tweet this: Emergency communications takes on new partnerRise of Twitter and other social media boosts public's role as participant in the emergency communications process
By Doug Page
Emergency communication has become more than a static, one-way link between command elements. A recent study looks at the role of the public as a participant in the process of emergency communications through the vehicle of social networking.
The paper, which appeared in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, proposes a four-channel model of communication, incorporating newer mobile technologies such as cell phones and Internet-based tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Google Maps as a way to build a more robust emergency management communication structure than currently found in command centers for large-scale emergencies.
"The benefit of approaching emergency communication using the four-channel communication model is that it emphasizes the dynamic and transactional features of communication, and multiple and emergent audiences that occur during an emergency response," said Laura Pechta, of the Department of Communication, Wayne State University.
Pechta said that as the use of new mobile public networking technologies continues to expand, it creates new opportunities for emergency management agencies.
"Emergency response agencies and emergency managers must begin to view the public and media as partners in providing information for collective problem-solving," Pechta said.
Doing so is necessary in an age of new interactive technologies and a public that seeks a larger, more dynamic role in communicating about these events, she said.
Social networking capabilities can be leveraged to increase situational awareness for incident commanders and to create partnerships with the public. In this way, agencies, the media and the public are all viewed as participants in providing the most accurate information, so the best decisions about disaster response and recovery can be made in a timely way, helping to avoid resources being wasted or unnecessarily duplicated.
The four-channel communication model builds on the fact that the public generates its own information and shares it through various forums and technologies.
Pechta told Homeland1 that the increasing use of social media in public-to-public communication during crises and disasters puts the public now at the center of a crisis, conveying important information and response needs.
"The application of new social media or Web 2.0 technologies increases the speed and richness of information shared across groups," Pechta said. "Monitoring and use of these approaches by agencies will be necessary to maintain the most up-to-date and robust information to make decisions and respond to ongoing disasters."