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Keven Moore on Insurance: Despite limits, social media key to emergency management


If you talk to any military general schooled in the art of warfare, they will tell you that to win a war, you must control the communication of your troops and disrupt then eliminate your enemy’s ability to communicate. Communication is the key to survival in military conflict, as well as in many other endeavors, including marketing, commerce and public relations.

In the last few years, social media has revolutionized how people, businesses, government agencies and more communicate with one another. Social media has been called a lot of things – good and bad – and regardless of whether you like it or not it, we have to admit that it is here to stay.

I have embraced social media. A good friend and I were talking last week and agreed that it has allowed us to expand and deepen relationships with others, helped us with our careers, and enabled us to keep up with all those who share their lives on Facebook and Twitter.

Although social media is most commonly tied to networking, marketing and socialization, it’s important that we don’t overlook the potential that it has in other aspects of life, including emergency management. With the ability to reach a large audience in mere seconds; government agencies, corporations, cities, local municipalities and nonprofits are turning to social media for emergency preparedness and communications.

To prove my point, consider what happened in Atlanta this past January when parents, schools and city official used social media to work through the snow storm that shut down the entire city.

As it turned out schools tried to dismiss early, but the traffic was so horrific that most buses were unable to get children home and instead had to return them to school. Parents who usually picked up their children found themselves stuck in traffic that was an eerily reminiscent of the scenes from the Atlanta-based TV series The Walking Dead.

As the day and evening progressed, a shelter-in-place order was issued and thousands of students and staff was forced to spend the night on gym floors due to the unsafe and gridlocked roads. If such an event had occurred back in my day, parents would have gone into a frenzy worrying about their children as a result of the communication gap between parents and school officials.

However, the Atlanta schools’ communications team provided a superb example of how to handle such an emergency disaster by disseminating the necessary information to parents via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

They quickly addressed parents’ questions, rumors and concerns on their Twitter account. As the day progressed, the school district encouraged parents to reach out to their children allowing all the students to use their phones, thus dispelling that argument to your elementary-aged children that they don’t need a phone at their age.

By controlling the communications and being directly involved, they were able to address disgruntled parents and the spread of rumors and half-truths.

The choice to prominently exhibit social media posts into their school blog and website was made well before the storm, and it definitely came in handy during this disaster. As shocking as it may seem to your kids, not everyone engages on social media, so the school websites were still the most popular go-to resource for parents. But by integrating social media it into the website, it provided an opportunity for non-social media parents to read real-time interactions during the height of the event and participate if they wanted to.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Atlanta Public Schools decision-making process regarding closures was severely scrutinized, but the school’s communications team got an A+, serving as an example to other school districts how to effectively manage a full-blown emergency by utilizing social media.

The use of social media in emergency management has evolved with every disaster. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, Iphones had not even arrived on store shelves, Facebook was the new kid on the block and Twitter did not exist. By the time Hurricane Sandy slammed the Eastern Seaboard in November 2012, social media had become a vital part of disaster response.  

Filling the void in areas where cell phone service was lost, millions of Americans looked to resources including Twitter and Facebook to keep informed, locate loved ones, notify authorities and express support. When it was all said and done, they estimated that there were more than 20 million Sandy-related Twitter posts, or “Tweets,” despite the loss of cell phone service during the peak of the storm.

The convergence of social networks and mobile phones and tablets have thrown the old emergency response playbook out the window as it relates to disasters. As the use of social media continues to evolve, gone are the days of one-way communications by news outlets and government officials to issue bulletins from the Emergency Broadcast System.

Social media is not a one-size-fits-all and still has its limits, but it is a great tool to have in the emergency management planner’s toolbox. Nevertheless, researchers have begun publishing data on the use of social media during disasters, and lawmakers, government agencies, local municipalities & cities, school districts and security experts have all begun to assess how emergency management can best adapt and utilize this new form of instant two way communications.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) & the American Red Cross has started to invest heavily into social media with their disaster preparedness to allow them to better respond more efficiency during future disasters. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube & text-based notification system will all be leading the way to recovery after the next natural disaster. So remember to keep your phone & tablets handy because as strange as it may sound, social media just may someday save your life.

Be safe, my friends.

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.


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