Social media should play role in emergency warnings: Vic Flood Review

Report calls for further trials into how social media can be used as an information tool in emergency situations

Success rate of the emergency alert

Success rate of the emergency alert

A review of the 2010-11 floods in Victoria has urged the state government to ramp up its use of social media with the establishment of a standard social media policy to underpin its emergency warning and public information system.

[[xref:http://www.floodsreview.vic.gov.au/images/stories/documents/review_20101011_flood_warnings_and_response.pdf |The review (PDF)| Review of the 2010–11 Flood Warnings & Response|new]], commissioned by Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu in February this year, was led by former Victoria Police chief commissioner, Neil Comrie, and investigated all aspects of flood response and recovery, emergency warnings and evacuations.

Among other findings, the Victorian Flood Review (VFR) found the interaction between agencies and the community using social media could be critical, as people have come to expect timely and reliable information through these mediums.

It recommended the government not only increase its use of social media in the emergency and warning system, but also to further research opportunities in which to use the medium as a source of information to and from the public during an emergency.

“Social media can provide emergency managers with opportunities to directly communicate with the community and for the community to engage in emergency management topics,” the report reads.

“Many Victorian agencies such as the CFA [Country Fire Authority], VicPol, MFB [Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board] and VicRoads have embraced social media as part of their warning and public information strategies. However, a coordinated whole of government approach or policy has not yet been developed.”

The report also noted that as the use of smartphones continues to grow and support social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter, the need to use mobile devices and social media for official communications is likely to grow.

It notes both the CFA and VicPol’s use of Facebook and Twitter for the distribution of general information and official warnings of emergencies, as well as the use of RSS feeds.

According to the report, the benefits of accessing information via social media has been highlighted in various trials during other emergencies, most notably by VICSES, and further research into using social media as an information source to support flood intelligence is recommended.

VFR research found that approximately 14 per cent of householders regularly communicated and obtained flood related information through Facebook and Twitter, with 18 to 34 year olds recorded as the most prevalent user of the medium.

“The challenge for government and emergency service agencies is to ensure resource capacity to support the adoption of social media as one method of reliable, timely and accurate two-way communication.”

In addition, the review found the current emergency alert (EA) system, used to send alerts to both landlines and mobile devices, is still unable to leave messages on answering machines and has no call-back option. It is also still not supported by the teletypewriter device used by the deaf or those with hearing/speech impediments.

“The EA system may be impacted when a high volume of text messages are being sent and the capacity of the network is significantly reduced.”

The VFR has urged the government to develop and implement standards for EA which will ensure the consistent use and proper training by accredited operators within agencies across “all hazards”. It also recommends the establishment of procedures to inform the community of the intended purpose of the Emergency Alert warning system.

“The VFR believes further education is required to enhance agency and community understanding of the functioning of the current system and may help to redress unrealistic expectations of receiving an EA warning.

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