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Published on October 20th, 2015 | by EJC


A Guide To Social Media And Emergency Management Exercise Planning

The following piece is an extract from Humanity Road‘s Guide To Social Media And Emergency Management Exercise Planning. Republished with permission.

On August 6, 2006, a small earthquake struck the San Francisco area. The event triggered a discussion instantly in a new tool called “Twitter”.  In that defining social media moment, two-way communications inspired the public not only to communicate status in real time but also to be active in their own preparedness and recovery planning.

The rapid growth of public dialogue on social media platforms presents challenges as well as opportunities for the emergency management community.  Exercise planning should include testing the effectiveness of mechanisms to coordinate the response of different sectors and agencies in emergencies.  Agencies also must test plans as well as evaluate, adapt, and update them before and after an actual event. Social media using new interactive communications presents multiple challenges for effective exercise planning.  Social media offers a broad option for surveying the impacted population as well as guiding those who wish to help.  The outpouring of aid offered as a result of the publicity social media generates can overwhelm governmental entities and organizations if they are not prepared to handle the inundation.

Any time there is an opportunity to crowd source there is an opportunity to influence the crowd and reach them before donation management issues arise.

This document will share a few examples of social media and emergency management exercises and points to consider when conducting social media exercises. In just a few short years, emergency management agencies jumped many hurdles to start their social media monitoring, practice and engagement. Craig Fugate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) championed the cause by encouraging government agencies to empower the agency’s presence in social media.

“People respond to emergencies the way that they have trained.  This puts the onus on governments and organizations to implement their social media policies and procedures and exercise their plans before an emergency occurs.  Participating in exercises provides staff and volunteers the opportunity to validate and make corrective actions or improvements to their emergency operations plans, and to identify any staffing or training deficiencies” – Allyson Kuriger, Humanity Road Emergency Management Team Lead.

The First Social Media Exercises

The first notable social media exercise was a drill for the Great California Shakeout launched in 2008 and implemented in Twitter in 2009.  Public engagement via social media with a short, simple safety goal, “Drop, Cover and Hold,” contributed to the Shakeout’s rapid growth since its inception.

Using social media in daily operations is still a relatively new process.   Public Information Officers who wish to learn how to inform the public but also engage the public have a lot of options today.  However, information available in social media can help improve disaster response if effectively monitored and reported.   Thus, social media exercises and drills are critical to operationalizing emergency management in this new venue.  Humanity Road was launched in early 2010 as a digital public charity to help fill the gap as emergency management and response partners began to learn the power of Twitter and social media.  In September of 2010, students at the Immersive Visualization Center (VizCenter), San Diego State University in California conducted an experiment on how to use new methods of communication by hosting a virtual Humanitarian Aid/Disaster Response (HADR) event in Twitter called Exercise 24.  In response to their event, over 12,500 people from 79 nations responded.  Their responses were simulating offers of aid to the community.  Humanity Road collaborated with San Diego VizCenter providing media monitoring for simulated situational awareness, identified simulated urgent needs and publishing information on what to do before, during and after an earthquake, including tsunami standard safety messages from the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This experiment shined the light on the challenges and uses of social media in disaster.


Including social media operational partners in exercise, planning and design can enhance an exercise by bringing additional elements such as crowd and crisis map simulation.  One example of Humanity Road activations supporting social media in a full-scale field exercise took place at Ford Island, Hawaii in 2012.

Read the full guide here.

About the Organisation:

Humanity Road disaster preparedness and response information to the global mobile public before, during, and after a disaster. Providing aid information helps individuals survive, sustain, and reunite with each other and with their pets. Humanity Road strives to close the disaster communications gap through process improvement, collaboration, partnerships, education and training. Follow on Twitter: @HumanityRoad

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