Thursday, September 17, 2009

Learning from emergency managers and what happens when Facebook replaces 9-1-1?

Just returned from spending time with 200 emergency managers at the Kansas Emergency Management Association conference where I was honored to be the keynote speaker. Thanks to Chuck Magaha, in-coming president and Andy Bailey of the National Weather Service for the invite. Since I usually deal mostly with PIOs and communicators, it was a wonderful opportunity to hang out with emergency managers and try to see information management from their perspective a little more. I was very pleased with the response and their openness and interest in the dramatic changes taking place in public information management.

One of my key messages was in this instant news world and world of social networking, it is critical to be fast but you cannot really be fast enough to beat the way information is spread today. Several came up to me after the presentation with real life examples of this. One told me that the night before the conference he had responded to a double fatality accident of teenagers driving out in the country. Before the authorities were able to gather the information needed to notify the parents, they found that the parents were already at the hospital. The information networks just work too fast for authorities to keep up with them.

Another issue we briefly touched on was the emerging issue of liability and public expectation around use of social media such as Twitter to call for help. I raised this issue on Crisisblogger a while back when the Coast Guard blogged about the issue, asking the question: are we expected to respond if someone Twitters that they are in need of rescue? Then, this morning the story about what just happened in Australia came to my attention. Two young girls, ages 10 and 12, got caught in a drain. Instead of dialing Triple Zero (Australia's 9-1-1) on the cellphone they had with them, they texted to their Facebook page. Some friends saw it, called the authorities and the girls were rescued. I explored this issue a little further on today's Crisisblogger, but I suspect this issue of liability to respond and more importantly, public expectations about using these new forms of communication for cries for help will not go away soon. I don't think we will be able to shrug it off easily. I'll be watching for the media outcry that may come when someone complains "well, I asked for help but they wouldn't respond." More to come on this issue, for sure.

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