Tips and tricks for public authorities

A. Pre-Crisis Phase

1. Develop a social media strategy

To utilize social media effectively, it is important to consider what your goal is: who do you want to reach and for what purpose?  Do you want to gather information to e.g. increase your or your first responders’ situational awareness? Or, do you want to alert, provide information or provide action perspectives to the population or to specific... Read more

Key steps:
  • Determine your social media goals in relation to your crisis management activities: who do you want to reach and with what purpose.
  • Compile a social media strategy that provides direction and guidance members of the organization as well as citizens:
    • Why, when and how social media applications will and should be used (during a crisis) by members of the organization and who will handle the social media accounts.
      • Assign specific roles e.g., address who is responsible for monitoring social media coverage by citizens during crises.
      • Think about who is allowed to respond to posts on social media. 
      • Decide if there is information that needs to be shared through a high-ranking official, e.g., a public officer, Mayor or elected politician.
      • The creation of a social media expert team responsible for communicating with the organization’s stakeholders through social media could be of great importance.
      • Why, when and how social media applications should and can be used (during a crisis) by citizens.
        • Determine when and how citizens can contribute via social media.
        • State that capturing pictures and sharing information should not interfere with the on-site emergency work.
        • State clearly that in case of an emergency, social media applications will not replace the emergency number.
        • Consider and address if there are exceptions, e.g., when traditional warning methods are not functioning, and how to proceed.
  • Be explicit about who is allowed to communicate what kind of information. In essence, communication officers may be explicitly allowed to communicate factual information that is already visible for the public or journalists.
  • State explicitly in the social media strategy that uncertainty and ambiguity should be accepted.
  • Develop an associated social media data protection policy entailing data handling procedures; what will be done with information provided by citizens, how long will it be stored? To whom is it accessible? (See the next tip on privacy considerations)
    • Develop rules of conduct that ensure that images or footage captured in ways that are unethical or violate a person’s privacy unacceptably are not used.
  • Consider the social media landscape of your country: explore which forms of social media are most popular and assess which platforms can be used to reach the largest audience. For example, look into statistics of social media usage per age group, and learn that Twitter is a suitable mean to reach young people in the UK, and could be used to inform them in a typical crisis, while being less suitable to reach elderly people.
  • Use popular social media platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Google+) to increase citizens’ involvement with your organization.
    • Create and start using social media accounts that are most popular amongst your target audience in an everyday situation.
      • Consult the social media analytics tools in order to identify which social media platform is most popular for your target audiences.
    • Observe how others use the social media application you are using. Ensure that you take a similar approach that fits with the tone of that application.
    • Make it clear that you will use this social media account in crisis situations.
  • Consider the usefulness of interoperability between different accounts to help streamline your use of social media within crisis management. For instance, Twitter accounts can be connected to a Facebook account so that when a Tweet is sent it also appears on Facebook.
  • Design and test a comprehensive risk and crisis communication strategy that highlights the interoperability of different communication systems you are choosing to use to reach your audience.
  • Use analytics to track progress and adjust your strategy if needed.
Example:

Walmart is an example of a private organization extensively using new technologies during crisis situations. In particular, in the crisis of hurricane Katrina Walmart established one of the first online Emergency Contact Services to be accessed through any in-store kiosk and through its website, helping the public to locate and communicate with their friends and families. Walmart has also developed specific guidelines which are available online for both associates and customers to follow in a crisis situation.

(Walmart, “Media-information: Wal-mart’s response to Hurricane Katrina”, Walmart website, 2014. (Online) http://news.walmart.com/news-archive/2005/09/04/media-information-wal-ma... [Accessed: 28 September 2014]. Walmart, “Walmart’s social media guidelines”, Walmart website, 2014. (Online) http://corporate.walmart.com/social-media-guidelines [Accessed: 5 February 2015].)

2. Ensure privacy & data protection

Using new and social media to interact with and collect, store and use data relating to and from citizens might warrant privacy concerns. You should be aware of the right to privacy and should therefore address such issues in your strategy and associated data protection policy and investigate and implement measures to meet the national and... Read more

Key steps:
  • Consider running an independent Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) in order to ensure that applicable privacy related risks are identified and met adequately.
  • Consider employing the principle of “Privacy by Design” (PbD) when designing and developing new ICT tools for crisis management purposes, to ensure that technologies are respectful of privacy considerations, which can in turn help to build trust in user’s engagement with tools.

3. Prepare for increased communication and information flows during a crisis & take preparations to monitor these information flows

Crises are often accompanied by a much higher influx of and demand for information, while such information can be insecure and dynamic: it changes constantly, and may need to be related to many parties. Additionally the traditional communication channels might cease to be reliable during crises, leading to an increase in citizens contacting... Read more

Key steps:
  • Provide back-up capacity to monitor all the information streams, requests etc.
    • Consider a possible temporary internal re-organization (of people and rotas) to be able to respond to an increase in communication via social media.
    • Consider training all staff on the know-hows of working with social media, especially those who are used to working with traditional media.
  • Ensure staff access to additional mobile phones, tablets, or computers if needed.

4. Facilitate information sharing by first responders

First responders (EMS, police and fire service) have to be able to share the crucial information about the situation (e.g., the location and size of the disaster site) in order to advance their situational awareness and consequently the decision-making capacities of tactical commanders. For this and to be able to involve citizens and other... Read more

Key steps:
  • Equip first responders with smartphones that have access to Internet and social media applications.
  • Create an infrastructure in which information from social media applications can be shared with front line first responders and vice versa.
  • Make explicit how first responders should use the information from social media applications.
  • Make sure that all first responders know what information they are allowed to share with citizens.
  • Make explicit that time is of essence when it comes to communication with the general public.
  • Take into account privacy issues and address these in an appropriate policy and associated social media strategy.

5. Establish collaboration and communication channels with relevant organizations like (other) public authorities before a crisis

The development of strong relations, or partnerships, with other organizations that will or might be involved in the crisis management efforts before a crisis will better enable you to gather and disseminate accurate and consistent messages from credible sources during a crisis.

Key steps:
  • Identify and build partnerships with the most relevant public authorities, local businesses, critical infrastructure providers, community representatives etc.
  • Lay the groundwork: determine your goals and expectations (e.g., common agreed hashtags, key points of contact etc.).
  • Build trust through meetings and regular contact.
  • Get an oversight of the most preferred communication channels of each organization.

6. Practice the relation between internal and external communication processes regularly

Find out how information from the outside can flow effectively to those inside the organization who may benefit from it.

Key steps:
  • Discuss with first responders what they would like to know when dispatched to, or at work, at the scene of the event and examine whether this information can be obtained from social media. However, be aware of the danger of information overload. Do not provide emergency responders with too much information derived from social media – rather this should be condensed into information that is essential for operational activities.
  • Examine how information from inside the organization can be communicated in a timely manner to those outside who are involved in the crisis response.
  • Exercise regularly the communication processes, e.g., by tabletop exercises, simulations or Twitter exercises. Use exercises to improve your social media strategy and training.

7. Advertise!

The more followers you have the greater the impact you can have, so make use of different communication channels to promote your presence on social media. As a public organization be aware that you have the ability to reach your audience via the services you provide to the general public. Also, the use of the social media applications in a pre-... Read more

Key steps:
  • Consider the different ways in which you have or can get in touch with your audience and choose the best approach to continuously promote your social media accounts.
  • Ensure that advertising motivates citizens to engage with you via your social media applications.  
  • Consider where you could gain greater visibility through your social media accounts. For example, a retail organization can link promotional offers to the social media account they use. Public authorities can also use one of their more popular social media accounts to promote the use of a specific, less popular, social media application (see the example provided in the box below).
  • Ensure that your public website and promotional materials provide audiences with links to your social media accounts.
Example:

The American Red Cross uses their Facebook page, which has over 648,000 ‘likes’ to promote the use of their Flood App, through which they communicate information on crisis management related to floods.

The Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (UK) uses their fire trucks to promote their Twitter channel. Furthermore, as citizens regularly visit their municipality to request new travel documents or a driver licence, these visits can be used by the municipality to promote their Twitter channel or Facebook page.

8. Be careful with using participatory actions to increase follower engagement

Especially on Twitter, public organizations activities aimed at follower engagement may be vulnerable to “trolling”. That is, social media users who are posting off-topic messages.

Key steps:
  • Share positive examples, in order to gain and keep a positive flow of your messages.
  • Monitor your organization on Twitter and intervene only when you think it will attract positive follower attention.
  • Delete or replace off-topic messages.
Example:

“The official @NYPDnews Twitter account made an attempt at social media outreach [see right picture] only to get promptly torn to shreds by users resisting the PR push. Hijacked hashtags are a common Twitter phenomenon, but tend to be played more for giggles (“trolling” some call it) than to make a coherent political statement. With #myNYPD, however, a harsh pattern emerged right away [see lower picture].”

9. Encourage citizens to support disaster management capacities by using social media when crises occur and provide them with guidance to help fulfil your needs

Use social media and an associated publicly available guide to explicitly promote and advise how citizens can help your organization by using their own social media accounts during crisis situations. Providing guidance about the usefulness of the sharing of content may help mitigate undesirable activities on social media.

Key steps:
  • Make it explicit that citizens can help public authorities and companies by sharing content on social media with a focus on factual information.
  • Clarify what citizens can and should do, especially how they can support crisis management activities. Try to avoid emphasizing what citizens should not do.
    • Create and promote a short list of do’s (and don’ts) in social media usage during crises, which can be easily shared and distributed through social media, and that is available on your website.
    • Share Tweets and Facebook posts in which followers are encouraged to share pictures and factual information about emergencies.
      • State what to include rendering such information useful, e.g., when sending a picture of large hailstones to include an object to determine the relative measure.
    • Communicate explicitly to citizens when it is appropriate to take pictures and share information about the emergency.
    • Thank citizens for their contributions.
    • State that taking pictures and sharing information should not interfere with the on-site emergency work.
  • Create a digital platform, e.g., a website or Facebook page, on which information is provided for citizen journalists how to act during a crisis situation.
Example:

The website SF72 acts as a hub to build resilience and emergency preparedness in San Francisco.  Created with the initiation of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, the platform encourages citizens to use social networks to stay connected as a community and with public authorities. The platform also provides tips about how social media should be used to prepare for a potential emergency and how it can be used to help crowdsourcing and rescue efforts.

10. Create awareness for responsible and effective use of social media during crises by citizens and employees

Social media education and training can increase the awareness of threats (e.g., incorrect information or violating the privacy of individuals) following the sharing of information in online networks and the awareness of methods that can be used to protect the privacy and physical safety of individuals. Ensure all personnel accessing social... Read more

Key steps:
  • Actively spread the social media policy and associated strategy, by e.g., workshops and training.
  • Train your staff on how to effectively use social media and assign roles.
  • Provide details on where to find further information or instructions.
  • Make an online list of social media training suppliers.

11. Stimulate recognizability of information and ensure continuity

Information is key during crises and steps need to be taken to ensure the circling information is relevant, accessible, clear and fully understandable. Therefore thought should be given to the (iconic) language and symbols to be used, while also trying to make it uniform and make the public familiar with your approach. While no single incident... Read more

Key steps:
  • Appoint social media watchers and communicators that will analyse and manage the information flow on social media during crises.
  • Examine and adapt to broadly accepted language and/or symbols that other relevant parties, especially official authorities, use.
  • Start creating unique, compact and simple hashtags for high probability crises in your area.
    • Consider liaising with other authorities and organizations to ensure a central hashtag is being used.
  • Seek canonical symbols and icons for issuing disaster warnings.
    • Seek unambiguous symbols representing certain crises.
    • Start using these symbols in crisis-related communication prior to a crisis to ensure people are familiar with the symbols and their associated meanings.
    • When operating in cross-border crises, keep in mind that these symbols can vary between countries.
Example:

Consider establishing hashtag standards as developed by UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

12. Use social media accounts to prepare citizens for high probability hazards and to inform them of the hazards they face

Citizens only prepare for those crises that they perceive to present a significant and imminent threat to themselves or their relatives; in the absence of danger, individuals do not like to think about any possible negative consequences of a crisis situation. Crisis situations related to frequently occurring (natural) hazards allow more scope... Read more

Key steps:
  • Consider developing a smart phone social media application that keeps citizens informed about the hazards in their local environment and preparedness measures they can take.
  • Promote the use of this smartphone application through the social media accounts of your organization.
  • Monitor the hazards, and if the risk of such hazards increases, take timely precautions and communicate by social media.
Example:

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has created a smartphone application for public use. The goal is to educate, notify and distribute and collect information to citizens across all U.S. States and territories.

Walmart used its own hurricane tracking software to track hurricane Katrina. Based on their observations they got emergency supplies, including satellite phones, ready to deal with a crisis situation.

B. Crisis Phase

1. Communicate regularly, quickly and with honesty, candour and openness

Crisis situations create a huge need for immediate, up-to-date information, while the available information is always ambiguous to a certain degree. As such uncertainty and ambiguity have to be accepted and communication should be deliberate in a timely and accurate manner. Providing information and responding to citizens’ concerns of risk and... Read more

Key steps:
  • Share factual information as soon as possible.
  • Be transparent in what you do and do not know.
  • Share information as factual as possible.
  • If you share unconfirmed information, make sure that this is clear to your audience.
  • Provide pictures and links if possible.
  • Respond quickly to concerns and questions from citizens: state e.g., what can be verified and what not.
    • Monitor what people are saying (about you) on social media, to be able to respond in due time.
    • Act upon concerns from citizens by stating what can be verified and what not.
    • Respond to victims’ requests for communication through social media.
  • Create an online frequent asked question list and keep this as up to date as possible.
Example:

On May 2012, a 30-year old male threatened to cause a massacre in the Rotterdam Zuidplein Mall. The threat led to a stream of messages on Twitter, while the defendant himself did not use that application.  Some Twitter users posted an old picture of police vehicles in front of the shopping mall. Other Twitter users suggested a terrorist attack was taking place. A number of shops in the mall closed their doors for precautionary reasons. The Twitter messages were also picked up by regional and national news media. The regional television station RTV Rijnmond even dispatched a live-broadcast vehicle to the scene of the event. This example shows that rumours can easily be considered truthful. Response and counter information can reduce the influence of rumours.

2. Ensure information reaches your target audience & differentiate in communication channels

Communicate in a way that fits your target audience to make sure they receive the message. Your network expects you to interact with them via the communication channels you used prior to the crisis (the pre-crisis phase). For example, if you use Facebook in a pre-crisis situation, your followers will expect you to also use this type of media... Read more

Key steps:
  • Disseminate information directly to relevant parties: authorities, support organizations and/or citizen groups.
  • Communicate through old and new communication technologies.
  • Be consistent! Use your pre-existing social media accounts to communicate crisis management information to your network. Avoid starting to use new social media applications during crisis situations.
  • Ensure that the information you share through social media is relevant for both your target audience and the social media platform.
  • Ensure that the information you share is easy to understand.
Example:

The international private organization Partners in Health (PIH) used social media  extensively during the Haiti earthquake in 2010. It was able to disseminate information from its colleagues in Haiti immediately after the disaster.  Having a social media plan in place greatly facilitated mobilizing the online resources immediately.

PIH’s activity during the earthquake greatly enhanced its network.  “PIH’s Facebook group jumped from 4,000 fans before the disaster to nearly 50,000 since, and their Twitter account, @PIH_org, has added nearly 500 followers per day since the quake.”

During the Boston Marathon Bombings the American Red Cross used Twitter to disseminate information to the public. They also used their ‘Safe and Well’ website for people in the crisis area to enter information regarding their welfare so family and friends could check their wellbeing.  Both Twitter and the website had been established prior to the bombings.

3. Ensure clear, effective, to the point communication and continuity

To enhance the clarity of information and increase its uptake the symbols used in crisis communication must clearly relate to the crises addressed and/ or be iconic or common. This is increasingly so when such symbols and language are used in a consistent manner and by all relevant parties. So it’s important to try and join existing practices... Read more

Key steps:
  • Use the same canonical symbols and icons in communicating crisis information as used when issuing warnings.
  • Adapt to broadly accepted language and symbols that other relevant parties use.
  • Use existing, canonical Twitter hashtags for specific crisis situations rather than creating your own
    • Identify and determine which hashtags officials use in the crisis/ are well established.
    • Use the same hashtags and promote the use of these hashtags to facilitate information sharing.
    • Otherwise create unique, compact and simple hashtags.
Example:

The Pacific Disaster Center uses the same symbols for warning and actual crises - the difference is indicated by the colour of the circle around it.

During the 2011 floods in Queensland, Australia the hashtag #qldfloods rapidly emerged as a central mechanism for coordinating discussion and information exchange related to the floods, leading several official sources such as the Queensland Police Service (OPS) to quickly adopt the #qldfloods hashtag for their own tweets. The QPS even amended its social media strategy: they started using Twitter rather than Facebook in lieu of some difficulties stemming from the Facebook medium.

Alternative hashtags such as #bnefloods and #thebigwet did not become equally prominent established. Most likely as Twitter users were trying not to fragment the conversation, but establish one official hashtag.

   

4. Work with others to gain information, encourage the sharing of information and the building of situational awareness

For an adequate response, during or in the aftermath of a crisis (also in terms of accountability), information about the crisis situation (areas seriously affected by the disaster, related needs and request for help, etc.) is key. Seek out (other) organizations, governments and emergency services, involved in the crisis management or citizens... Read more

Key steps:
  • Monitor relevant communication channels, e.g., websites or Twitter accounts of (other) emergency services or (citizen) journalists.
  • Cooperate and interact with the sources of information to elicit more specific information for key issues.
    • Pose questions that will help you to get a clearer picture of the situation.
    • Ask your sources to recommend more sources.
  • Make it explicit that citizens can help public and private organizations through sharing content on social media. State explicitly what will be done with this information and how long it takes before emergency responders will use the information.
  • Clarify what citizens can and should do, especially how they can support crisis management activities. Try not to emphasize what citizens should not do.
    • Distribute a short list of do’s (and don’ts) in recording and sharing content about the crisis situation at hand, which can be easily shared.
    • Share Tweets and Facebook posts in which followers are encouraged to share pictures and factual information about emergencies.
    • Specify other contributions that are needed and where to find explicit directions
    • Communicate explicitly to citizens when they are allowed to take pictures and share information about the emergency.
    • State that taking pictures and sharing information should not interfere with the on-site emergency work.
  • Make clear that social media applications will not replace the emergency number.
  • State when there is an exception, e.g., when traditional warning methods are not functioning, and how to proceed then.
  • Ask your target audience to provide updates about the situation and related needs.
  • Stay in touch with those harmed that contacted you by social media but are not receiving help yet.
Example:

The Greater Manchester Police has a disclaimer on their Twitter page stating crimes have to be reporting through the appointed telephone numbers and that their feed is not monitored continuously.

5. Encourage citizens to inform and help others

Help is most often very needed during a crisis and many citizens are willing to help others, but do not know how they can. By specifying this need and providing some directions where and how citizens can assist others they can be effectively engaged. For instance, via social media users can be requested to inform their neighbours about a... Read more

Key steps:
  • Define different kinds of help that could be provided.
  • Advise citizens on what they can do and what they are not supposed to do.
  • Explain to citizens where there is a need for help.
  • Ask followers on social media to encourage others to help each other.
  • Explain the importance of the information getting to the least informed and provide if possible examples of who this might be.
Attention point: Social isolation is a key risk factor for citizens during crises. This was also the case during the 2013 Heat waves in the UK. Older people, in particular, need to rely upon their social networks to ensure good health during heat waves.  Keep in mind that over-reliance on social media versus traditional communication methods may increase social isolation for those who do not use new technologies, and could adversely affect the most vulnerable during this type of crisis.

 

Example:

People who might be able to help with discarding fallen trees need other “skills” than someone who can help out by transporting a neighbour to a shelter. It is important to provide options and state what help is needed where.

On the right different requests for help during the 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake that were tweeted are depicted. The lower one even specifies how people from overseas can help, other than by donating.

   

6. Stimulate the flow of information & add value

The better someone’s information position is in a crisis, the more adequate his or her situational awareness will be and the more effective he/she, citizen or emergency first responder, can respond to the crisis situation. Therefore the spread of information is important, especially when the information is important for a broader audience. By... Read more

Key steps:
  • Mandate and enable emergency responders in the field to share information directly to other active parties and civilians.
    •  Specify which information they are allowed to share.
  • Where possible, include a hashtag, picture or web address to your messages.
    • Make sure your hashtag is general but directed at the crises, so that it can also be used by other organizations.
  • Connect to individuals with impact: online opinion leaders, (citizen) journalists.
  • Ask people who post on your social media accounts to re-share the specific information, e.g., by retweeting it, to reach as many citizens as possible.
  • Ask the public explicitly to share the information through other channels if they can.
  • Explicitly thank citizens for sharing information (via social media).
  • Point out the added value of their sharing information during the crises, also retrospectively so that people will be encouraged to participate during the  next crises.

7. Be transparent in how you use data & address copyright and privacy issues

In the pre-crisis tips and tricks we advised developing a social media data protection policy. Privacy is a key right; therefore you should pay attention not to violate others’ privacy.

Key steps:
  • Be transparent in your data use and handling practices during a crisis: direct your audience to your social media data policy. If you do not have such a policy yet state why you gather data, how you use it and how you process it.
  • Avoid collecting unnecessary amounts of data.
  • Remove personal information and weak identifiers (i.e., information that can be used to identify a person).
  • Provide some form of citation when sharing information to demonstrate where it comes from.
  • Integrate practices to gather informed consent before collecting data. If informed consent cannot be obtained rely on “legitimate interests”, which can be used in some EU Member States to justify data processing (i.e., is there a legitimate reason for the processing of data?)

8. Ensure information is correct: Verify, Validate and correct (mis)information!

When using and communicating information about a crisis, be sure that the information you present is as accurate as possible. You should therefore check all information you receive for accuracy, otherwise, there is a high risk of spreading rumours and falsehoods! Also counter and dispel any rumours and misinformation that might be circulating,... Read more

Key steps:
  • Use trustworthy sources.
    • Check how accurate the people or organizations you follow are.
  • Try to verify information as soon as possible:
    • Check the provenance, time and date of the information.
    • Crosscheck with other organizations in crisis management and information that citizens share. 
  • Correct misinformation:
    • Actively monitor for and counter any rumours or false information via social media and an associated webpage.
  • Pay attention to information that might misrepresent individuals and/ or communities:
    • Eradicate essentialist categories related to race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality.
    • Minimalize use of language of conflict.
Example:

During the response to Hurricane Sandy, Twitter users began posting tweets that claimed to be critical first-hand accounts of the situation on the ground, which were often retweeted hundreds of times. The highly discussed inaccurate report that the NY Stock Exchange flood had flooded with three feet of water and the Con Edison power company was cutting off power was even covered by mainstream media as a factual report.

In such cases, other Twitter users can be asked to verify or falsify these messages and requested to post pictures of the scene of the event.  For the examples given other users already spontaneously debunked it, while some asked for sources.

Rumour control by FEMA during Hurricane Sandy (2012).

 

InSTEDD and the Red Cross utilised Ushahidi during the Haiti Earthquake to crowdsource information from people on the ground in order for the gathered information to support coordination efforts between the various humanitarian relief providers.  Ushahidi is regarded as a credible source of information given that it provides accurate information by conducting checks and verifying reports received from a range of external sources.

9. Facilitate the (enhanced) communication needs

As the need for information is high during crises, there may be an increase in citizens contacting you through your pre-existing social media channels, especially when traditional communication channels cease to be reliable. Be prepared and able to deal with this to enhance the affected citizens’ wellbeing.

Key steps:
  • Consider a temporary internal re-organization (of people and rotas) to be able to respond to an increase in communication via social media.
  • Ensure staff access to additional mobile phones, tablets, or computers if needed.

10. Private companies: Monitor and cooperate with the (conventional) channels of crisis communication by public authorities to ensure that communication and advice directed at citizens will be recognized

To have the utmost effect, information circulation should be as uniform as possible. By adjusting your efforts to those by public authorities you can make your efforts more efficient and/ or adequate.

Key steps:
  • Make sure you stay up to date with information provided by public crisis managers. For example, you can download their apps and/or follow or connect with their social media accounts.
  • Exchange information on how you intend to intervene in the crisis to avoid duplication of work and to make sure affected citizens are not overlooked.
  • Consider sharing your social media network with public crisis managers to increase the chances that all citizens affected by the crisis are reached. If doing so, make sure you do not breach data protection policies that exist between you and your network.
Example:

In the USA, several major wireless carriers, such as T-Mobile, subscribed to the Federal Emergency Management’s Wireless Emergency Alerts. In the likelihood of a crisis, text-like messages are sent to mobile phones in the geographic area at risk.

11. Cooperate with and adapt to emergent group initiatives on social media during crises and encourage citizens to do so, too

After a crisis many citizens and organizations (for example NGO’s) will undertake immediate action and set up initiatives on social media to provide aid and information to others. Aligning with existing initiatives can increase the effectiveness by e.g., making it easier to find access to all relevant information shared by these initiatives.... Read more

Key steps:
  • Support emerging initiatives on social media. For instance, promote emergent initiatives that are helpful for citizens and support these initiatives with resources.
  • Promote the use of social media applications that are already widely used during the crisis situation through, among others, social media. For instance, you could encourage the use of Google’s Person Finder (an application which helps people reconnect with friends and loved ones in the aftermath of crises) instead of using a different application. 
  • When sharing information check if there are hashtags which are already in use and use those if possible.
  • Stay in contact with citizens who are already tweeting (or blogging etc.) about the crisis and have a great outreach to the public to share information.
C. Post-Crisis Phase

1. Direct people to after care initiatives & encourage them to care for each other

Crises can have a severe impact on the psychosocial well-being of citizens. Social media applications can be used to encourage citizens to take care of each other (e.g., to encourage self-help groups or story sharing through blogging). In addition, social media applications such as smart phone applications could be developed in which people can... Read more

Key steps:
  • Consider developing an application that people can use to see whether they should seek help:
    • Develop a list of symptoms which can indicate psychological trauma
    • Formulate questions in order to measure if citizens show these symptoms
  • Make sure that people can use this application in order to identify possible psychological trauma of others.
  • Provide information about where and how people can seek professional help if necessary.
  • Provide information on the ways to cope and about where and how to find relating initiatives, like self-help groups or story sharing blogs.
Example:

In 2006, several public authorities, including the Turkish Red Crescent, Social Service Experts Association, Turkish Psychiatry Association founded the Union of Psychosocial Services for Disasters. In the aftermath of the mine disaster in Soma (2014) the union quickly established a treatment centre to assist the public in the affected area. The Turkish Psychiatry Association used Twitter to disseminate a request for qualified volunteers to provide psychosocial support, including therapy sessions, to the community.

2. Elicit resources for the recovery

In the aftermath of a crisis, social media can play an important role in crisis recovery, for example for fundraising purposes. You can set up your own online initiatives, but also stimulate others to set up initiatives by e.g., creating awareness and providing information as to what aid is still needed. Furthermore existing initiatives, both... Read more

Key steps:
  • Set-up online initiatives through which citizens can contribute.
  • Inform communities and citizens what help is still required.
  • Inform citizens which initiatives exist and how they can contribute:
    • Distribute giro numbers for fundraising efforts.
    • List on-going volunteer efforts and opportunities e.g., in reconstruction or (mental) after care.
  • Thank communities and citizens for their contributions and show what they are being used for to ensure continuous willingness to help out.
Example:

The Red Cross’ Haiti relief fund raised more than $32 million through texting in just a couple of weeks.  People were able to donate $10 by texting to the American Red Cross.  Social media played a key role since Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were filled with messages from survivors and photos of the devastation as well as information about aid efforts.

3. Seek feedback from those you communicated with during a crisis situation

Feedback can help to improve future communication strategies. For example, you can report on your website what you did to manage the crisis and can provide readers with the opportunity to provide online comments or create an online forum to encourage discussions to take place.

Key steps:
  • Create a questionnaire or ask citizens to respond to posts via social media applications to gather opinions about the emergency response.
  • Ask if the opinions of citizens may be used in the emergency evaluation process.
  • Ask if citizens are willing to cooperate further in the emergency evaluation process.
  • Use the feedback to improve your social media strategy.

4. Maintain communication through your social media accounts

Avoid going back to minimal communication via social media if this proved to play an important role during a crisis that occurred. Citizens have come to know this as a useful way of receiving information.

Key steps:
  • Keep sharing information through the channels proven valuable.
  • Make clear what communication channels will remain in use after the crisis is over.
Example:

The American Red Cross is constantly active on Twitter. They do not only provide information about on-going disasters, but also e.g., statistics afterwards about the actions undertaken. They also thank people and organizations for their contributions and provide information about what is being done with contributions. Furthermore there is general information about e.g., all ways citizens can support the Red Cross, provided.

5. Utilize the momentum and inform citizens about the risks they face

Citizens only prepare for those crises that they perceive to have a significant threat to themselves or their relatives; in the absence of danger, individuals do not like to think about any possible negative consequences of a crisis situation. As such the momentum of a recent crisis can be used to educate citizens about this risk (and sometimes... Read more

Key steps:
  • Develop a (smartphone) application that citizens can use in case of crises or your organization can use to warn a specific target group who faces a threat.
  • Promote the use of this application through social media etc.
Example:

Earthquakes are (the most) prominent natural disasters in Turkey and therefore are emphasized in preparedness activities. The Prime Ministry Disaster & Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) of Turkey used social media (including YouTube) to promote its new smartphone application for earthquake updates.