Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Twitter and Social Media in Drills

Just working on some planning issues with a colleague on one of the major national-level drills being planned for 2010. There is a debate going on about incorporating social media into the drill or not. Clearly some would rather not for understandable reasons--the sound of worms escaping from cans is clearly audible.

My position is clear: if the purpose of a drill is to create a realistic practice situation, you cannot possibly do a communication or Joint Information Center (JIC) drill these days without social media. Period. For the simple reason that almost any conceivable significant event will not only involve social media, the communication side will largely be driven by social media.

Reasons: 1) the media all monitor Twitter and social media for what's happening and no more so than during a major event. They will be reporting mostly what they find online.
2) 300 million or so "citizen journalists" with cell phones and cameras are increasingly the first reporters of major events (witness USA Airways Flight 1549 reported by Twitter user)
3) Social media is a primary component of how communities affected by an event come together, support each other and get the latest info--not from official sources but from each other (check out J. Sutton's papers on this website for proof)
4) Social media including problem tweeters and bloggers will be the source of significant work required of the JIC

Emergency managers have a huge problem in dealing with this. They typically know almost nothing about social media. And they don't like to deal with things they don't know anything about. Especially when their abilities are being publicly tested in a drill. Keep the circumstances controlled.

PIOs and communicators themselves are having a heck of a time trying to get their arms around it. Where do you find the consultants and experts who can help figure out how to deal with this stuff, let alone how to plan a realistic exercise that incorporates these things? It's a lot easier to stick your head in the sand and pretend these issues don't exist. But, then, the real world jumps up to bite you in a real event and everyone looks at each other and says, why didn't we know about this? Why didn't we prepare for this?

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