Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Age of Social Media: A Look at Emergency Management

Happy New year to you all. It has been a while since my last update on Project Spatial and in that time quite a bit has happened within Australia and the Spatial industry. As with each new year in Australia, extreme weather conditions seem to be a norm and bushfires are ever prevelant.

Recently in Western Australia, bushfires have ravaged the town of Toodyay, multiple fires are burning all over Australia which makes me think of a round table discssion i participated near the end of 2009. Under the Gov 2.0 taskforce a project emerged on how the government could use Web 2.0 technologies within the social media sphere to help the management of incidents such as bushfire, flood and alike. http://gov2em.net.au/

The project which only ran for a little over a month has delivered its report on how government can use social media tools to help premare and manage emergency situations. The key to it’s findings is that government needs to be able to convey trust, transparency and timeliness. In some situations, accuracy and reliability can be traded off against timeliness of information. Getting a message out there stating the threat can be more important than knowing exactly where the threat is. Of course you don’t want to instigate panic. J

I’ve talked about mashups in previous posts and the abilty to provide timely information can easily be mapped. Take the Landgate Firewatch service coming out of Western Australia, this data feed can be combined with othe feeds to create a ‘mashup’ of incidents happening around Australia. http://www.aus-emaps.com/fires.php is a good example of this where RSS feeds from NSW and Victoria are combined with Firewatch, BOM Weather and other data into a simple map.

Further out from Australia we are even seening new and exciting uses of social media for EM. For example, in San Francisco there is a twitter account setup for the earthquake prone area that people can subscribe to.  http://twitter.com/earthquakesLA. Combine this with TwitPics (see: http://mashable.com/2010/01/09/eureka-earthquake/) and you have a detailed account of an Earthquake, providing more timely information and shared accross many users faster than traditional media sources.

What is needed in Australia is a coordinated approach to 2.0 technologies in areas such as Emergency Management. Setting standards and policies will help ensure that information is not abused or worse becomes mis-trusted.

The key really is to keep it low tech (another finding of the Em 2.0 report) although as technology evolves very quickly and newer generations are turning away from normal media channels (radio, TV) any impementation of 2.0 technologies needs to stay consistent, reach a broad range of users and be simple. Technology isn’t a barrier although controling how much technology is used will remain a factor. Remember they say you only have 8 seconds to capture someones attention through the Internet so information related to EM incidents needs to stay clearly articulated and remain accessible.

Interesting Case Study on the Victorian Black Saturday Fires: http://gov2em.net.au/twittersocial-media-during-the-victorian-bushfires-february-20009-a-case-study/