Case Study 2

CaseStudy 2

Questionone: What are the potential benefits of Twitter and other socialmedia for emergency and disaster communication?

Technologyplays an essential role in the modern society. The online socialnetworks such as twitter and facebook have become some of the mostimportant channels through which people are able to shareinformation. This has made them one of the most important tools inpassing emergency information. Thus, twitter and other socialnetworking sites have potential benefits in emergency and disastercommunication. Today, due to advancement in technologies, people canaccess social networks, mainly twitter and facebook through theirmobile phones. At any moment, there are millions of people around theworld who are either twitting or looking at updates in their twitteraccounts. The advent of social media has created a direct, timelessand borderless communication through which information is able toflow freely. This means that if an individual in a disaster sceneshares a photo on twitter or any other social media, within minutes,millions of people will have an access to the information. At least agood number of the people take the information seriously and take thenecessary action. It will also warn people around the disaster sceneto take caution. It is also important to note that some emergencyresponse organizations such as Red Cross have some of the most activesocial media accounts. This makes it easier for occasional socialmedia user to reach the disaster response team within a fraction of aminute. Another potential benefit of twitter and online socialnetworks is the ability to generate an online discussion about adisaster. Through twitter discussion, people are able to freely sharetheir own experiences and observations on the platform. Theinformation shared by the eyewitness for example can be useful to theemergency response team since they can be able to estimate themagnitude of injuries, number of casualties involved and theequipment required in the rescue operations even before they reachthe scene of the disaster. For example, shared photographs of thedisaster scene can give an overview of the scene. With convectionalcommunication channels such as emergency call may not provide suchinformation.

Question2: What are the potential risks of using twitter and other socialmedia for emergency and disaster communication?

Althoughthere are some potential benefits of using twitter and the onlinesocial media in emergency communication, there are some potentialrisks. There is no doubt that the global societies have fully adoptedthe internet technology as an essential means of communication.However, the challenges associated with social media and the internetis a potential risk in the use of these technologies in emergency anddisaster communication. Although emergency response organizationshave active twitter and facebook accounts, they may not have welldeveloped structures to monitor activities in the social networks.Therefore, an assumption that the rescue teams have receivedemergency communication through social media may be wrong. Thereliability of a post on facebook or twitter on disaster is dependenton whether a responsible person will see the information and useother convectional channels to contact the rescue teams. Some peoplehave argued that communications in the online social networks havenot matured to a level that it can be relied on in emergency anddisaster communication. The fact that online social networks havebeen successful in marketing does not make them reliable sources ofinformation. This is because emergency communication will originatein the opposite direction when compared to marketing. Therefore, theemergency teams are likely to respond to an exaggerated or hoaxreport from a kid or an irresponsible adult. Ethical issues have alsobeen raised against the use of social media in sharing informationfrom the disaster scene. Some of the photographs from the disasterscene that are shared on the social media are very graphic, whichraises ethical questions on its potentials uses in disaster response.

Question3: what types of education would be necessary at the user level tomake Twitter and other social media more effective for emergency anddisaster communication?

Theuse of online social media such as twitter and facebook as a means ofemergency and disaster communication has evolved into a standardoperation procedure. People will discuss disasters in the socialmedia, criticize or congratulate the authorities and rescue teams aswell as console with the victim or condemn them in the social media.Therefore, there is a need to analyze the weaknesses of this platformand mend the weaknesses. There is a need for the general public andsocial media users to be educated on how to use the social media as ameans of communicating emergency information. The website owners andinformation technology experts should take responsibility and supportthis course to increase the usefulness of social networks inemergence and disaster communication. They should be able to educatetheir users on the best ways to relay sensitive information and howto ensure that the information reaches the intended destination. Theusers also need to be sensitized on the images they can use to passinformation without causing unnecessary anxiety. For example, a photoof a stranded vehicle or rescuers at the scene will deter driversfrom going towards a flooded road. On the other hand, posting photosof serious injured or dead victims of an accident does not serve anypurpose. While this may look obvious to an average social networkuser, there is a need for the public to be educated about some ofthese basic unwritten rules of social media.

Question3: what would need to happen on the part of aid organizations andtraditional media for twitter and other social media to be effectivein emergency and disaster communications?

Rescueand emergency response organizations such as the Red Cross need toappreciate the fact that social media has become part of mainstreamcommunication channels. They should therefore implement strategiesthat enables them access information from the social media easily andefficiently. They should also be in the forefront in education thegeneral public in responsible use of online social media in emergencyand disaster communication. One of the most effective ways throughwhich rescue teams, aid organization and traditional media canincrease the effective use of social networks is throughestablishment of links with volunteers and key people in the society.This will require the organizations to have an active social networkaccount and engage people in different regions. These people will betheir contact persons in cases of emergency. The rescue team shouldmaintain a two way dialogue with the general public to increase theiraccess accurate to information on disaster. They should also liaisewith the websites administrators and information technology expertsin the development of software that can sieve and process emergencyinformation and direct it to the relevant authority.

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