Social media new tool during disasters

Sonny Long

May 23, 2012 at 12:23 a.m.

Emergency management coordinators have a new tool at their disposal when disasters strike.

The use of social media - especially Facebook and Twitter - has changed the landscape of information dissemination.

"The Victoria Office of Emergency Management uses a Facebook page to post important information," said Jeb Lacey, emergency management coordinator.

"Likewise, the city of Victoria has a page and other departments within the city have them as well.

"During a major disaster, the OEM page will become the primary outlet for disaster-related social media information," Lacey said.

The use of social media during disasters was the topic of keynote speaker Trey Duhon at the annual MidCoast Hurricane Conference in April.

Duhon, a Waller County attorney, created a Facebook page during a 10-day wildfire that consumed 10,000 acres in the county.

Duhon told the nearly 300 conference attendees that by the end of the week, more than 12,000 people "liked" the page, and it had more than 32,000 active users.

Statistics also showed that the page had more than 7.2 million post views.

It is that kind of activity on social media sites that is getting the attention of emergency management coordinators and government officials.

Point Comfort City Councilwoman Linda Brush attended the conference.

"Having been through Carla and seeing what a hurricane can do, having another tool to get information out is very valuable," Brush said.

Point Comfort Police Chief Richard Ramirez, also in attendance at the conference, agreed.

"Getting information out to the public is vital in these situations," Ramirez said. "Social media will be a good resource, especially with the Formosa plant we have here. It will certainly be useful.

"It was good to hear an example of what to do and when to do it, so we will be ready," he added.

Victoria has an active and informational Internet presence and O.C. Garza, city of Victoria public information officer, said social media would certainly play a role in times of disaster.

"The use of social media is in our emergency communications plan and we expect it to become more important as more citizens get 'connected,'" Garza said.

"Not only is social media the fastest way to push emergency information to our citizens, but it allows us feedback from them as well," he said.

Lacey said his department is always looking for ways to improve its use of social media.

"One of the things we are toying with is using social media analytics tools (such as TweetDeck and others) to better understand the dynamics of a disaster or major emergency as it is occurring," Lacey said.

"We are still learning how these tools can benefit us. Over the last two or so years, we have put considerable time into learning how some other organizations have done it successfully."



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