Widgets, Twitter to fuel FEMA emergency alerts

Social media strategy aims to disseminate disaster preparedness, response messages in near-real time

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced a new widget for disaster preparedness on its Facebook page page as part of a series of releases to publicize its social media and Gov 2.0 tools for emergency readiness and response.

The new widget, called "Ready,"  is one of 11 available from a FEMA widget Web site, including those for hurricanes, tornadoes and floods and for citizen volunteering. The widget applications are small, portable graphic interfaces offering Web links to useful information. The Ready widget, for example, offers links to Ready.gov

FEMA also has been posting information on its Facebook page about its other social media efforts, including use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS feeds, Google Books and a multi-media site with podcasts, photographs and other media.


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On June 16 FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration jointly posted a fact sheet about their social media efforts for hurricane preparedness and response. FEMA also set up a Facebook page for the recent Tennessee floods. Separately, the Red Cross also recently created a social media page on its Web site with links to its Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blog accounts.

FEMA’s goals in using social media are to provide timely and accurate information, give the public insight into the agency and to engage in a critical medium, the agency said in a statement.

“FEMA’s social media ventures function as supplemental outreach, and as appropriate channels for unofficial input,” the agency said.

On Twitter, FEMA maintains 13 feeds, including accounts for FEMA headquarters; Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator; and the U.S. Fire Administration, in addition to Twitter feeds for each of the 10 FEMA regions. This week, Fugate has been tweeting about his third visit to the Tennessee areas affected by flooding.

Socical media blogger Glen Gilmore believes that Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications are especially suited for disaster response because they provide immediacy, two-way interactions and an opportunity for citizen journalists to provide up-to-the-minute information on what is happening on the ground. For example, some of the most immediate photographs available on the airplane that performed an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York were tweeted by a passerby.

“These citizen journalists are everywhere and will be on the scene when a disaster strikes. They will have the best first-hand information and pass on critical information to those who know how to listen,” Gilmore wrote in a recent blog entry.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Wed, Jun 23, 2010 Glen D. GIlmore, Esq. New Jersey, USA

Alice, thanks for including me in your post. While governmental agencies at all levels are embracing the tools and networks of social media more and more, too many still seem to think that they are exempt from being "social" in a social forum. This is unfortunate as it deprives them of reaping the full the benefits of such networks and tools. Engagement is the key to social media success and governmental agencies need to muster the courage to enter the conversation -- their CHIEF Executive, the President, has certainly given them a green light, if not a mandate. Thanks for moving the conversation forward! Glen

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