In the days following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) launched a “Rumor Control” operation to dispel the considerable gossip that emerged from the massive storm, a top FEMA official said during a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.
FEMA senior manager of digital engagement Shayne Adamski outlined FEMA’s increasing use of social media before the Committee on Homeland Security subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response and communications.
Social media, Adamski said, is becoming the best way to communicate to the public in emergencies and the fastest way to get help to them in an emergency.
After Sandy hit, said Adamski, “Rumor Control” used every one of FEMA’s online platforms to dispel inaccurate information being shared online. Information was readily available on fema.gov and m.fema.gov (FEMA’s mobile website).
“The center listened and identified rumors circulating online, from logistics information to specific disaster assistance programs, and moved to quickly correct the misinformation,” Adamski testified at the hearing on how social media and new tech are transforming preparedness, response and recovery disasters.
FEMA createdits Rumor Control page on fema.gov as well as answering questions through Facebook and Twitter, Adamski said.
In addition, FEMA held “virtual town halls” using Twitter chats in which it discussed such issues as, “How do homeowners get the amounts they need to rebuild.”
Adamski also said FEMA used social media accounts to help its partners – including federal, state, local, tribal territorial and private sector partners – to share key messages.
FEMA also shares what its private sector partners are doing during a disaster such as posting information about “Tide Loads of Hope” locations, where survivors can wash their clothes and “Therapy Dogs International” that provides specially-trained dogs to comfort survivors.
In addition, Google regularly included data in their Crisis Maps with information about open Disaster Recovery Centers.
That same kind of outreach also was employed after the disastrous tornadoes in Oklahoma in May when FEMA used social media to blast out key messages in the wake of those catastrophies.
After the ruinous tornadoes completed their destructive ramapges, FEMA posted a message on Facebook to remind people to use text messaging to check in with family and friends as well as the American Red cross. The message was seen by more than 230,000 people.
Sergeant W. Greg Kierce, director of the Jersey City Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, also testified that emergency responders are some of the biggest beneficiaries of social media.
“The public use of social media in crises is growing,” Kierce said, emphasizing that “Social media gave us situational awareness on the ground.”