Social Media and Emergency Management

I’m married to an EMT who would prefer to live off the land in Maine somewhere, so survival and emergency planning are frequent topics of conversation in my house. And whenever an emergency situation of any sort comes up around the world, like the riots in London, we talk about it, the response of the authority (or lack thereof) to it, and how we think we would respond to it.

Part of that discussion, for me, always involves social media. Twitter especially but almost every web application you can think of has impacted how emergencies of all kinds around the world play out. For example, the Metropolitan Police in London are using Flickr to crowdsource the identification of suspects involved in the rioting. In May, representatives from FEMA attended a Senate hearing on the use of social media in emergency situations – which is pretty forward thinking for the Senate in my opinion.

That’s not to say social media has replaced traditional methods of emergency communications – I’m terrified that people could think to tweet instead of call 911 for example – but, as it has in so many ways, social media is augmenting what we already do and opening up channels of communication. Which is a good and important thing: the more people who receive information from the CDC, and the more people who provide information about the situation on the ground back to the CDC, for example, the better.

Thinking about social media in this light creates an interesting juxtaposition between the life-saving usefulness during an emergency situation of the same intrusive technologies we worry about. Take, for example, the use of Google Earth as an emergency response viewer, instead of as a creepy way for Google to catalog images of your neighborhood.

The social web is new territory and our expectations and definitions of privacy are changing as we explore it. Does posting a suspect’s face on Flickr presume guilt instead of innocence, for example?

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The Heart of Online Innovation

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows how much of a The Next Web (TNW) junkie I am. It’s absolutely my favorite place for online industry news for many reasons, not the least of which is it’s coverage of international and political online industry news as well. I am a political news junkie too, you see, which is why I follow a few pet news stories, like how the Chinese government is negotiating the fine line between economy-stimulating online innovation and communist top-down control. One of my pet new storylines is the explosion of online innovation in Africa. The the middle class is growing rapidly and that is creating a huge new population of consumers that love their mobile phones.

So clearly, this story from TNW this morning about the launch of Kenya’s first mobile apps development lab caught me eye. The new m-lab is designed as the next level for web innovators who incubated their ideas at Nairobi’s iHub.

It’s incredible how developing nations can skip the steps that today’s developed world took to reach its current level of economic development and the way populations of those developing nations grapple with the implications of such leap-frogging, and navigate uncharted territory, is fascinating. But aside from being and interesting news item, this is crucial information for every smart online professional.

There are still huge opportunities online for anyone in the US alone, in addition to developed Europe and Asia. There was a hullabaloo in early June about the Pew Internet and American Life Project report that said 13% of Americans use Twitter, up from 8% one year previously.  That’s a fantastic increase, but folks—that’s still a tiny number of Americans. So when I tell you that smart online professionals are thinking about how to take advantage of opportunities in Nairobi, don’t think I don’t realize just how much untapped potential exists closer to home.

But the fact remains: the long-term future of the internet and web-based business lies in tapping the growth of developing nations like Kenya. Smart online professionals are thinking about that, and that’s why you’re here.