An Excerpt from the April 2012 Online Bulletin of the
International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)

Here’s a plain text version as well:

A Primer in #SMEM
By Todd J. Jasper and Alisha B. Griswold

In March 2012, the American Red Cross (ARC) unveiled its new social media “Digital Operations Center” (DOC) as the “first social media-based operation devoted to humanitarian relief”. Among other things, the ARC DOC is designed to monitor social media during disasters and support disaster response efforts with resource management and rumor control.

Unfortunately, for those unfamil- iar with social media, the previous two sentences don’t mean much. For many in the emergency management field, social media is still a mystery without a clear definition or easy-to-follow steps for using it. This article is a quick reference guide for those who want to become more familiar about #SMEM.

What is Social Media?

Social media is a broad term that includes various technologies, services, brands, and communica- tion methods via the internet that are interactive in nature. “Social” refers to the interactive nature of the communication, while “media” refers to multimedia devices and communication methods rather than formal, news media. Services like Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, and various document, video, and audio sharing sites and blogs are all considered social media. While some services allow public sharing, most require users to have an account (almost always at no cost).

What is #SMEM?

SMEM stands for “social media in emergency management”. But there’s a twist, that # (or number sign) is called a “hashtag”. Particularly useful when using Twitter (we’ll cover this later) hashtags are used to denote a topic and makes it easier for others to search for it. So, if you wanted to send a message out to the world regarding social media in emer- gency management, you would write your message and then end it with #SMEM so that others could easily find it. For a hashtag to work though, you cannot use any spaces and people frequently use abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms to save space. For example, if you wanted to end a public service message with “the more you know”, you would use the hashtag #TMYK.

What Is the Importance of Social Media in Emergency Management?

Incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre, Hurricane Katrina, and even the recent tornados in the mid-west underscore the need for robust situational awareness, an ability to rebut rumors, and main- tain a mass emergency notification and warning presence and functionality. Indeed, with the develop- ment of the “Whole Community” approach and with the recent National Preparedness Goal establishing “Public Warning and Information” as a core competency across all NIMS phases, it is clear that our field is moving towards embracing new technology to communicate more openly and rapidly with our constituencies.

Cheryl Blesdoe, current president of the Washington State Emergency Management Association, explains, “Social media afford an awesome opportunity for emergency managers to reach out and hear from the communities and the world which they serve. The challenge is to listen and adapt to improve our practice.”

While adapting to new technology can be challenging, Pascal Schuback, the emergency management coordinator with the King County, Washington Office of Emergency Management and an expert in the development of social media capabilities for emergency management, sees SMEM as the natural progression of emerging technology in emergency management. He explains that “like the fax machine, Internet and email, the SMEM initiative is revolutioniz- ing the way we do business. Our global society is changing faster than ever before in the use of these tools. We have to integrate and use these technologies in order to effectively listen, communicate and respond to disasters for those we serve.”