Imagine a disaster has just struck your region, maybe it is a wildfire that has crossed several fire districts, a tornado that has touched down in several communities, or a hurricane that has caused extensive flooding; whatever the situation, organizations and citizens across the impacted area will be using social media to talk about the event and to look for information.
From the perspective of your response organization, you can obtain valuable content from response partners via social media that you would not be able to determine otherwise, even by using WebEOC. It is worth noting, for example, that most volunteer organizations (with the potential exception of the American Red Cross) do not have access to WebEOC in order to update their activities. Increasingly, these same volunteer groups as well as spontaneous volunteers, are posting what they are doing on their Facebook page and Twitter accounts.
In order to take advantage, or even make sense of content posted on social platforms, you have to find it first. It is ALWAYS best to determine the “players” before a disaster occurs: you would not want to be exchanging contact information with other responders after a crisis–that same principal applies to social media usage. This process, finding who is using what social platform, is something we call determining the “lay-of-the-land.” By completing a lay-of-the-land you will have a much better picture of who can help spread your message, understand and identify potential collaborators, and understand who might provide content on these platforms during a crisis–who you should be “listening” to.
There are two overarching steps–#1 find social accounts by using the search process we have outlined below and then #2, share your curated list with other response partners so that they are not re-creating the wheel.
Step 1: Find Local Social Media Accounts
Where to look? For the Western Homeland Security Region we have started building a “Lay-of-the-Land” already. Look above at the tabs “Web-Based Communications by County” as well as the tab State and Regional Social Media links. The list of hyperlinks can be copied and pasted for your own use, or you can copy and paste from this google doc (anyone with the link can view the Google doc but cannnot edit it. If you have an addition or deletion please let us know in the comments section below.) These lists contain every social site we could find that relate to the 10 homeland security disciplines. We have even provided a link to the main website of each community or city. We will be adding more news organizations and volunteer groups as the information becomes available.
- Start with websites: Are there any social symbols on the city’s or organization’s landing page? Check each agency’s page because, for example, the Fire Service might have a Facebook, Twitter and YouTube “connect” button, but the city’s homepage might not.
- Visit Facebook pages of similar organizations and agencies: once you find one agency, or an organization such as the Humane Society or the local hospital, select “See All Likes” (provided they have enabled this feature). Agencies and organizations will often “Like” each other, finding one can lead to similar groups.
- Do a search in Facebook: this is especially useful after a disaster event because volunteer groups often form (e.g. Monson’s Street Angels) and event-specific pages are also stood up. I often use the town’s name in the search, or the name of the event.
- Activity–search the term “Hurricane Isaac” in Facebook. What did you find?
There are many ways to search Twitter, specifically:
- Find the popular hashtags used in your community. In Western Massachusetts the tag most often cited is #WesternMA–especially for general information (currently there are several politicians including that tag in their tweets). Once you find the hashtag it is easy to see the most active participants.How do you find popular tags? There’s an App for that!
- This blog post by Spout Social list some good online tools including: Hashtags.org, What the Trend, tagdef, and Trendsmap.
- Do a search on Twitter of your town or region’s name: https://twitter.com/#!/search-home
- Be flexible, though, after a crisis many different tags gain popularity–such as #irene after Hurricane Irene or #MAWX (for Massachusetts weather). Repeat your search using key words after an event.
- Go to the Twitter page of an organization or person you trust, choose “Lists” and look for lists that apply to your organization. FEMA, for example has a list titled “Local Emergency Management Agencies”
- Activity: Check to see if your local EM is on this list. If not, send FEMA an @FEMA message to get them to include you.
- For more information about Twitter lists go to the help page here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/76460-how-to-use-twitter-lists
- Look at MEMA’s Twitter page, who do they follow that you should consider following as well? Check other organizations or trusted sources to find who they are following.
Step 2: Share the information
Make your “Lay-of-the-land” accessible in an easy-to-view format for others to see and use, such as the maps we included in the blog. Or at a minimum, post the content in a Google Doc and invite other response organizations to the document. You can also create your own Twitter lists.
If you want to formalize this process during an activation, you can develop a Modified Social Media Communications List (ICS 205A). (The hyperlinked example can be copied for your own use. This document cannot be edited, but your copied version can–simply choose “File”, “Make a Copy”). The ICS form 205A was developed in order to record methods of contact for incident personnel. We have modified this form in order to record all responding organizations (including volunteer) social media pages and accounts. This form can function as an incident social media directory.
Good Luck! If you have any questions or comments please let us know.