Social media great new tool in disasters

Conference emcee Halina St James with keynote speaker Tim McInerny of the Australian Red Cross
Conference emcee Halina St James with keynote speaker Tim McInerny of the Australian Red Cross

Communications during an emergency is one of the themes of a disaster management conference organized by the Canadian Red Cross in Halifax, NS.

Tim McInerny spoke of the lessons the Australian Red Cross learned from the devastating flooding in Queensland earlier this year, after torrential rain and a subsequent cyclone.

He talked about the need for innovative leadership, particularly to rally communities devastated by a catastrophe. In Queensland the floods covered an area the size of France and Germany, 22 towns were inundated, and more than two million people were affected.

McInerny, who was on the front line dealing the with Queensland flooding, also talked about the importance of social media. That was especially important, he said, for recruiting volunteers to help with the recovery program.

The theme of tapping into social media was expanded in an afternoon session by Podium Coaching’s Neil Everton.

He spoke about how the Haiti earthquake had been a game-changer for humanitarian organizations in their approach to social media. He quoted the experience of Medecins Sans Frontieres, who’ve massively expanded their social media activities (Tweets and Blogs and Podcasts and Facebook and YouTube) in the light of Haiti.

But the support generated through social media could stretch aid organizations’ resources. Neil quoted a United Nations Foundation report that said humanitarian organizations were not prepared to deal with the massive influx of data from two new sources.

One was victims themselves. In Haiti, for the first time, people were texting their plight from under the rubble.

The second influx of data came from a global swarm of individuals offering to translate the messages and log them on maps they were creating using on-line tools (since there were very few reliable maps for the relief workers to use).

Embracing social media was vital, said Neil. We’d seen that in the Manitoba flood. But organizations who embraced it properly needed to ramp up their information management systems to ensure that important data wasn’t lost.

Podium Coaching was delighted to be doubly involved in the conference. Our founder Halina St James was the emcee for the event. The event wraps up on Wednesday.



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