I recently participated in a conference call hosted by DHS. The other participants were heavy hitters in the EM and social media world. The purpose was to identify and discuss ways to convince DHS and other interested parties of the importance of integrating the social media conduit into an upcoming BIG National Level Exercise (NLE). I spent most of my time listening as they shared their perspective on how SM could be leveraged to monitor and gather intelligence related to a simulated large earthquake on the New Madrid Fault. The contractor facilitating the call wanted to explore how SM would – and should – be used in this drill, so she can make a strong case to have it as a key exercise component. It sounds like she may be facing an uphill battle in convincing other exercise contractors and agency representatives of the need to use SM.
The experts on the call focused on SM’s obvious use in crisis, mostly damage assessment. Some expressed frustration in convincing some of their key EM agencies and governments of the importance of using SM tools during crisis. There is no doubt SM is an effective tool in helping gain situational awareness for operational purposes, like assessing damage to critical infrastructure, buildings, transportation corridors, etc… This was the focus of much of the discussion. I was surprised and somewhat perplexed that no one mentioned another key aspect of situational awareness that must be monitored and maintained; Political impact.
Maintaining continuity of government during crisis is critical, and not necessarily affected by superhuman responder efforts. Confidence in government and elected officials depends on public perception of the effectiveness of response efforts. Policymakers get this. During a crisis, I have operations folks hard at work dealing with the strategic and tactical operations to make problems go away. This allows me to focus some of my attention on making sure command staff are creating and preserving positive public perception of our efforts. In today’s world of instant news and rumor, the reputation and confidence in government and politicians can plummet like the glide path of a toolbox if this reality if ignored. One of the fastest ways this can happen is to not monitor, assimilate and quickly engage. Rumors and misinformation spread at the speed of light on SM, and ignoring this fact can seriously damage political careers and undermine future government support. A good IC (or elected official) understands this and should be making sure close attention is given to monitoring perception in real time, and engaging key stakeholders in real time. Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker gets it. I hope the NLE exercise team gets it too.