FEMA To Embrace Social Media To Help During Disasters

Facebook and Twitter have helped everyone connect socially with our friends and family, and now the social media platforms may help us when people are in dire need of help. Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has announced that they will be expanding their reach during emergencies by having a place for people to send their calls for help and comments through social media.

The announcement was made by FEMA administrator Craig Fugate in a keynote address at the ESRI’s Government User Conference in Washington D.C. Fugate used the earthquake of 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti as an example of the power of social media. In Haiti rescue workers and those in need used social media to communicate with each other to point out areas that needed assistance during the chaotic days following the disaster. FEMA will be creating a new position titled “Geospatial Information Officer.” This new position will be in charge of organizing the efforts of assistance through social media.

FEMA has met with many of the largest technology companies in the United States to learn what the best method of action would be for the agency. Fugate has met with Google, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter and other companies to discuss possible ideas. FEMA has also set up Challenge.gov in order to receive possible ideas from the public or any company that would like to supply a possible tool to help during disasters.

Following the keynote address Craig Fugate stated, “One of our assumptions has been that when there’s a big disaster, we lose all communications, we lose all wireless. Haiti was sort of a validation that that’s no longer the case. We can adjust much quicker if we can figure out how to have this two-way conversation and if we can look at the public as a resource. The public is putting out better situational awareness than many of our own agencies can.”

FEMA is attempting to resurrect their reputation after the slow response following the devastation of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region in 2005. Creating an open forum for the public and major companies around the country to supply ideas to help the agency is a starting point but more work maybe necessary. The true test will come next time there is a disaster in the United States. Will the actions taken by FEMA truly help the situation or will the over use of social media distract the agency from effectively assisting those in the most need?

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