INSCT, Moynihan present social media findings to local emergency managers

Mergel, Ines

Ines Mergel, Associate Professor of Public Administration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and a Senior Research Associate in the Center for Technology and Information Policy, has been leading a long-term research project on the use of social technologies in government emergency management. Part of this wider Social Technologies in Emergency Management (SoTechEM) project is a review of the online practices of Central New York emergency management organizations. “Social Media Practices in Local Emergency Management: Results from Central New York” uses a web-coding approach to track the behavior of these organizations on five social channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare, and Instagram).

Central to the project is the concept of the “whole community approach” to emergency management, which recognizes the role citizens play during a crisis. Many times the immediate response to a natural disaster or human emergency comes not from the fire department, ambulance corps, or police but from citizens. They are often first at the scene, they call the authorities, they offer first aid to victims … and increasingly they report their observations on social media.

Social media is becoming a critical communications tool for emergency managers. They can use it to get field reports in real time from “first-first responders” (as the Federal Emergency Management Agency calls first-on-the-scene citizens), to connect and coordinate with other emergency organizations, and to answer citizens’ questions and concerns during a crisis. Sometimes they must counter false rumors and misinformation spread via Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels.

Mergel—along with Randy Griffin, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Public Administration, and Keli Perrin, Assistant Director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT)—presented her findings to an audience of local emergency managers at the SU College of Law on Nov. 18, 2014. The review and training session was sponsored by the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs at the Maxwell School and INSCT (through the Andrew Berlin Family National Security Research Fund).

The audience for the evening event was drawn from throughout the five counties analyzed in Mergel’s research—Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, and Oswego. In attendance were representatives from the New York State Police, Syracuse Fire Department, Manlius Police Department, Oswego County Emergency Management Office, WAVES Ambulance, and other local organizations. 

“Many emergency management organizations operate with a limited budget and focus all their skills and resources on responding to emergencies and saving lives,” says Mergel. “Few local organizations can maintain a 24/7 social media team, and informing the public in real time during a crisis is often a challenge. Our training session emphasized the importance of transferring good practices developed in other parts of the emergency management system and learning across organizations.”

The session—as well as the SoTechEM team’s Executive Report, found online at http://sotechem.syr.edu—reviewed local social media tactics and content during the Preparedness, Response, and Recovery phases of the emergency management cycle; highlighted best social media practices by other local governments during crises; and illustrated how local emergency managers can design a social media strategy, measure their social impact, and efficiently use social technologies in a two-way conversation with the public. 11/25/14