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Chapter 2. Social Media and Station Operations in a Disaster
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Chapter 2. Social Media and Station Operations in a Disaster

One of the realities of disasters is that even though readiness manuals and disaster simulations are helpful, every actual disaster has idiosyncratic elements that could not have been predicted and therefore must be dealt with on a real-time basis and using those resources that are still immediately available, and practical.

In addition, we have learned from past disasters that ordinary chain of command structures may be impossible to maintain: as happened on 9/11, key managers may be victims themselves or unable to physically reach the facilities due to the circumstances.

2.1. Experiment now

Being able to share real-time, location-based information during a disaster is critical. It's even more important to know how to communicate effectively even when there is limited bandwidth. That is part of the reason why social applications such as Twitter have become so popular in disasters: they use almost no bandwidth, so Tweets can get through when other messages cannot.

However, your station staff can't wait until a disaster happens to begin using these tools: the learning curve is simply too steep to have to learn a new app AND handle the crisis.

Therefore, we suggest that you begin using these tools now: both so that your staff will be familiar with them in advance (so that staffers will automatically turn to them in a disaster), and so that your audience will be accustomed to engaging with your station in the social media space.

This emphasis on web-based communication is a significant shift from past practice: in many disasters, traditional phone use is the worst communication tool both because of the bandwidth it requires and because it is primarily used for one-to-one conversations. However, many staff members may still instinctively turn to the phone unless they are comfortable with the alternatives.

There's another attractive reason for exploring social media tools now. More and more organizations find that social media tools are as valuable to share information on a daily basis as they are in a disaster (for example, using a wiki can result in dramatic reductions in email volume; [10] and Yammer, a Twitter-inspired tool for secure instant communication within corporations, allows instant updates on staffers' location and activities).

[10] Hof, Robert. Something Wiki This Way Comes. Bloomberg Business Week, June 7, 2004.

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Chapter 1. Introduction  Table of Contents  Chapter 3. Principles of Social Media Use in a Disaster