How to perform an emergency drill using Social Media

I used to say, when I cooperated with the National School of Civil Protection in the International Coordination Course, as a media expert, that I love emergency drills because whatever happens no one would be hurt. I am not sure anymore of this statement. Let’s make myself clear, I still love drills because, generally speaking, it is still true the former statement, but what may happen when we run a drill though social media and it is not clear the difference between fiction and reality?

To avoid this happening, I’d like to point out some general outlines based on a wonderful drill performed beautifully by the city of San Francisco, in the USA. As you all know, they practiced the response and recovery to a simulated magnitude 7.8 earthquake during the 2013 GoldenGuardian exercise last May 15th. They counted on Twitter accounts @SF_emergency, @EM4SF. The first of them has nearly 60,000 followers and is used for sending out both urgent and non-urgent messages.

They also utilized Facebook and blogs as well as the web page, where it is possible to learn how to face a quake though the quakequizsf and meet SFHeroes, an interesting way for young people to get involved using an amusing app.

San Francisco Heroes

Besides expressing my congratulations, I wish to explain what they did so well as an example of best practices.

Advise the media.

To me this point is crucial. Sometimes people tend to forget that the “old” media are not only the way many people get the news but, moreover, they are a key point because they infom the community and also reproduce what it is being delivered through social media. If they ignore that an exercise is going on it is possible that they believed, as the rest of citizens, that the messages shared in an official account are real, especially if authorities, first responders and relevant stakeholder don’t use any especial #hashtag for the event.

A different topic is whether it is preferable to use the official account, as San Francisco did so well, or to create a specific profile for the exercise. Personally, I like the second idea because if we create an account with the word “drill “or “exercise” in the profile people would know what is going on, as @LuisSerranoR, Madrid 112 PIOs prefers,  though it is also true that in this case people need to identify the acccount. Pros and cons to be evaluating depending on the circumstances, aim of the drill, etcetera. I use it myself when teaching social media and the idea is just getting the students familiar with social media.

Use all channels

As the Public Information Officer for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, Francis Zamora said “It’s great that we can push messages out to different people, but not everybody’s on social media and so we use [more traditional] tools to do that.”
Great! That’s the idea. Use all channels. Social media is one more tool in the toolbox. No need to insist on this.

Involve (and informe) all relevant stakeholders

Pretty obvious, but still, well done. If in a real emergency all relevant stakeholders participate it is a good idea to involve them to be prepared before it happens. So, the appropriate integration of all relevant stakeholders, the better.

Update social media

It is necessary to update information as it changes within the exercise but also not to forget the rest. If we didn’t create a different account there should be a way to ensure that information related to the exercise is classified as belonging to it, so citizens know that all the rest is real information. Any one reading the timeline should be able to get updated information and must have a certain idea of what is reality and what is not.
It is also quite useful to make a summary of the event and analyze what went wrong and right to improve the response of the emergency services.

Inform when the exercise is over

As simple as this. We say when the exercise begins and when it is over. Still the same. We know what we are up to and that is always good. The more certainties we have, the better.
Any more ideas?

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