The Path Forward Report by the American Red Cross

This past summer was a watershed season for integrating social media into crisis response. The term coined to described how social media can be crowd-sourced into providing situational awareness in crisis situations is Crisis Data (#crisisdata). The American Red Cross was at the forefront of this movement, and (in addition to sponsoring a wonderful survey on the public’s expectations regarding social media and disaster response) on August 12th, convened an Emergency Social Data Summit intended to develop next steps toward bringing social media and disaster response together. This post was developed using the after-action report found here.

Conference coordinators identified seven key questions that would guide the next steps in this process.

  • What can we do to prepare in advance of a crisis?
  • Who should have custody of social data? How should it be used?
  • Can we codify a solution?
  • What about the Issues of Accessibility?
  • How do we avoid duplication of effort?
  • What is the best way to authenticate requests?
  • How do we manage citizen expectations for response?

These are all great questions, and the document deals with them all in depth. I, however, would like to focus on two of them: issues of accessibility and managing citizen expectations.

Accessibility is something that I think about often at work, so I was particularly interested in learning more about what came out of the discussion. It was, frankly, a bit underwhelming, but still addressed a key part of the discussion by focusing on income and racial considerations. (I said it was underwhelming because of the lack of mention of the various disability communities in the document.) Heather Blanchard (@poplifegirl) gave the closing keynote and mentioned the need to include “mobile” as part of any proposed solution. I think this is important because of the ubiquity of mobile phones in poor and minority enclaves. Earlier this week, I posted a document by Ogilvy PR that addressed the amazing levels of social media usage by minority populations (African-American and Hispanic) in mobile situations. By ensuring that mobile is a key part of any solution, we ensure that traditionally under-planned-for communities are able to participate.

As I mentioned above, earlier this summer, the American Red Cross released a study on citizen’s expectations on how response agencies should utilize social media. At the time, it was viewed both as a huge victory while providing a sobering realization. Response agencies would now have to monitor social media and provide response to tweets or Facebook posts, it seemed. Given the current budget crunch and resulting staffing levels, you can see how out of sync these expectations are with the reality of response capabilities. One particular solution that was proposed and made it into the final report suggested utilizing existing volunteer organizations, like CERT, could provide surge capabilities for social media monitoring. I think this is a great idea, both to provide the capacity, but also to engage our volunteers in a response. For the health folks out there, consider the MRC as a potential avenue.

In all, this was a very interesting document and is a necessary step in an absolutely necessary process.