Social Media in Emergency Operations Blog Series: A Model for Aligning Integration with Existing Doctrine

Fresh batch of tweets for you, Ms. @ScreenDoorLadyPerson. Wish there was a way we could get ’em to you quicker.

I’ve explored the question of social media integration into operational decision-making during this blog series. I started by introducing readers to the white paper, “From Concept to Reality: Operationalizing Social Media for Preparedness, Response and Recovery,” developed by the Social Media Working Group for Emergency Services and Disaster Management – or SMWGESDM. I followed up with a discussion about the key obstacles, why those obstacles are worth overcoming and, in the last post, I dug into how emergency managers could start overcoming some of those obstacles.

I’m closing out this series by diving back into the white paper that served as the impetus for these posts and summarizing the SMWGESDM recommendations for overcoming arguably the most prevalent obstacle to integration: the lack of clear guidance aligning the use of social media with existing processes and doctrine, like the U.S. National Response Framework and/or the U.S. National Incident Management System Incident Command System.

To this point in the evolution of social media in critical incident response operations, the bulk of social media functions have typically defaulted to the Public Information Officer staff (or Emergency Support Function #15), but if the goal is to operationalize social media, this will not always be the best or only placement. A PIO is trained to gather, package, disseminate and evaluate information from a public information perspective – she is looking for certain types of information based on the public information goals of the response. The type of information gathered, how it’s evaluated and how it’s packaged may not entirely be of value to incident management team planners or operational decision makers.

Likewise, the information the planning section is gathering, evaluating and packaging for use by the incident response organization is not always of value to the PIO.

This is a primary reason the Joint Information Center will have it’s own situation status board, independent of the one maintained by the Situation Unit Leader in the planning section.

Successful integration is not dependent upon the degree to which social media is leveraged across the agency, but the degree to which it supports an agency’s mission, objectives, activities and requirements.

The SMWGESDM suggests the process of aligning social media with, “… existing methods used for coordination, information gathering, processing, action-planning and other operational standard …,” begins with recognizing that, “… social media is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Whether for communications or operations, each agency should determine in which ESF related responsibilities should fall.”

The working group developed an integration model to guide agencies on where they should begin and what they should be focusing on as they start to or continue to integrate social media into operations, because some organizations and agencies are more integrated than others.

The model lays out a phased approach for incorporating social media into all common practices, including planning, training, exercises, education, hiring, policy development and agency response structure, and is ultimately predicated on the idea that, “Successful integration is not dependent upon the degree to which social media is leveraged across the agency, but the degree to which it supports an agency’s mission, objectives, activities and requirements.”

To save time (mine mostly,) I’ve inserted links at the end of this post to the pages of the white paper that specifically discuss the integration model and its phased approach, along with two integration case studies. I urge you to take some time to peruse each, as well as the paper in its entirety.

In the meantime, I leave you with these thoughts:

Getting our collective hearts and minds around the application and impact of new technology on operations is a centuries-old challenge.

Government agencies and public servants in 15th century Europe were confounded by the promulgation of the printing press – a new technology that gave a voice to people who previously had none and that allowed information to travel more widely and quickly than anyone had previously seen.

The telegraph, the telephone, the television, the satellite, the Internet and social media – all cultural and technological advances that meant information was going to flow faster and farther than ever before, with the ability of individuals to control that flow decreasing exponentially.

With each new advance we struggled to define what it meant to our operations and how to leverage it to support the mission. With each new advance there were those who raced to embrace it and those who saw it as a threat and worked to resist it.

Spoiler alert: resistance has ultimately proved futile.

Links as promised:

Social Media Integration Maturity Model

Integration Case Study: Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness

Integration Case Study: New York City Joint Information Center


Image: By Smithsonian –, CC0,

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