The rapid sharing of real-time information through social platforms remains one of the most beneficial resources to emergency management intelligence and situational awareness. While vetted social media intelligence can be tough for emergency managers to wrap their arms around, the benefits are worth the taking the time to have a solid process to collect and use this information. The process of creating a solid foundation for social media info collection can level up an EMA’s situational awareness internally, assess the real-world impacts during response phase, and allow for a place to learn from other professionals who have personally dealt with a flood crisis in their own jurisdiction.
Agency Readiness and Awareness
The key to a successful emergency management flood response is having the ability to collect readiness information from reputable partners, subject matter experts, and the media. This can be done through the development of a designated social media account and feed. Emergency managers can follow other emergency management and government accounts to be aware of what partner agencies may be doing before an incoming flood event. Agencies such as the National Weather Service (NWS) and United States Geologic Survey (USGS) share weather forecasts, graphics, watches, warnings, and up-to-date scientific info on natural hazards. While these accounts focus on public information for safety, you can also find many valuable data accounts to assess items like rain gauge amounts, rainfall rates, and storm damage reports. Building a solid awareness is key to leaning forward before an emergency or disaster. Below are some helpful accounts to start with:
- NWS: An account that represents the National Weather Service as an entirety on a country level: https://twitter.com/NWS. Also be sure to follow your local office for specific forecasts and warnings for your jurisdiction. There are also quite a few regional specialized accounts, such as the Storm Prediction Center (https://twitter.com/NWSSPC) and the NWS River Forecast Center (https://twitter.com/NWSMARFC).
- USGS: There are several accounts that specialize in certain geologic hazards (earthquake/volcano info). USGS also is very active in flood monitoring. Check out USGS Water Resources (https://twitter.com/USGS_Water) and USGS StreamStats (https://twitter.com/USGSStreamStats). Lastly, Texas has a bot feed that automatically tweets precipitation stations (https://twitter.com/USGS_TexasRain).
- Local Media: Having a beat on local stories is essential. Follow all media stations and consider following newspapers as well. In the past, I have learned about flood complaints from media articles and interviews before I ever had the resident call my office to report a flood issue.
Resident Preparedness and Response Needs
Let’s face it — sharing experiences via social media is here to stay. People communicate with each other more than ever this way, so it is expected to find a majority of storm reports, resident needs, and perception of disaster on these platforms. Utilizing social networks can help an emergency manager understand the flood impact outside of the office. With proper networks and tactics, EMs can find real-time flooding along rivers, lakes, dams, and roadways which can prompt emergency decisions such as closures, evacuations, or the need of additional flood recovery resources (muck and gut teams).
Resident perception of response can also be monitored. The success of disaster response and recovery is often based on the judgement of those affected. A jurisdiction could be following correct response tactics and doing everything correctly for the response, but if resident and media perception of the response is negative, it will be deemed as a failed response. Monitoring perception can help an agency craft public information to better display all of the actions being taken during disaster by the government, especially since many emergency management actions are taken behind the scenes. Messaging can also be crafted to correct incorrect perceptions that develop based on misunderstanding of disaster law, response tactics, or misinformation and rumors.
Lastly, using the social space for flood outreach and education is a plus. While many of us wish we could be out conducting outreach in our communities every day, many agencies are short on staff and have long to-do lists. Social media gives us an ability to educate the public on items like flood insurance, flood mapping, flood myths, and flood watches and warnings. For an example of a flood myth campaign, check out the weekly item we did for National Preparedness Month 2021: (https://twitter.com/BaltCoEmergency/status/1440318259476058116)
Learning From Others
As emergency management professionals in a challenging field that is constantly evolving and changing, having a learning attitude is essential. While flooding is a rising threat in the United States (especially due to climate change), not every emergency manager has experienced a significant flood response. Social networks allow emergency managers to connect with others to learn about incident lessons learned. Many EM professionals are passionate and excited to share their experiences on social platforms. This enthusiasm allows EMs to take impacts, mistakes, and lessons learned back to their own jurisdiction to enhance preparedness, planning, and continuity for a local flood response. While tuning into large flood disasters on Twitter, EMs can learn key info about critical facility failure, public information, notification wording, evacuation processes, damage assessment, and other tripping points. This is valuable. It allows emergency managers to think through some of the common issues BEFORE they are faced with those same issues during their own local response.
While social media may seem like a time drain, it is worth developing a professional platform to monitor and share information. Emergency managers don’t have to be in the PIO role to take full advantage of social platforms, either. By creating a timeline, list, or platform dedicated to work-related accounts such as agencies, subject matter experts, and scientific data feeds — the emergency manager is mentally ready to lean forward and make decisions well before the storm or community impacts arise.