Means to facilitate communication

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Multi-directional communication flows are a characteristic of communication in the new media. This means that technology can support active cooperation between response organisations and the public. Communication in crisis or emergencies has traditionally been viewed as information flow from the emergency authorities to the public. Nowadays, instead of being mere recipients of information, publics can take the initiative, and communicate and share information about ongoing incidents – including criticism of the management of the emergency – through various new platforms (internet, social media applications). The new communication channels also create new possibilities for authorities to follow the public debate and interact with citizens, building an interactive relationship with the publics. Moreover, the new media channels bring with them new expectations regarding what citizens can do for citizen actions and new responsibilities for response organisations.

Because information flows online and in the social networks of citizens, response organisations need, for various reasons, to be aware of what is being discussed online. Merely informing people makes no sense if the effects of doing so are not monitored. Are people acting according to recommendations, were the instructions clear enough, and did they take public perceptions into account? Did the public see the recommendations as an answer to their questions about what to do, or did the instructions issued fail to answer those questions and do they have new and different problems? It is also important to monitor social media content to the circulation of detect false rumours early on and help prevent the further spread of misinformation. Such initiatives can enhance the sense of security and reduce uncertainties among individuals. The benefits of engaging in interaction with citizens, from both the organizationals’ as well as individual point of view, have been widely recognized, and the practice is becoming more commonplace.

The need to interact and share opinions during emergencies can be met by establishing platforms through which individuals can seek and receive information and emotional support, and share their experiences. Communication platforms, such as social media services, can be used by local communities to organize themselves, request help and identify existing needs in crisis situations. Participation by citizens is also encouraged and coordinated by various non- governmental organisations (NGOs). Communication technology enables the public to contribute and participate in community resilience and citizen response. Digital volunteerism, crowdsourcing and microtasking are technical means to facilitate the participation of citizens in collaborative resilience.

In addition to facilitating direct information and multi-directional communication flows, technology can be used for data gathering with respect to the information provided and shared by the public online. Individuals using social media can function as sensors and information providers, combining both human knowledge and the available communication technology, including mobile devices equipped with positioning technology and useful tools for interaction such as cameras. Technology enables social media services to support time- and place-indexed data, and consequently the users of these services will create a large amount of time-stamped and geo-located data. These data can be used to improve the quality of information for decision-making processes and situational awareness, for example, by incorporating trend examination techniques. Social media services provide a database of user-generated situation reports, and with GPS-enabled mobile communication devices these reports can be geo-located and mapped (Chae, Thom, Ebert, Bosch, Ertl, Yun & Maciejewski 2012, p. 143). In recent years, data volume regarding emergencies has exceeded the capability of manual evaluation, and special tools to screen, filter and analyse large amounts of data have become necessary.

It is important that the emergency authorities take part in crisis communication flows. The information shared and disseminated through social media needs to be verified and monitored by responsible actors; public authorities need to gather information and monitor the situation at hand, so as to be able to use this knowledge, not only as a basis for their own actions, but also in collaboration with citizens to further resilience. It is important to that a multi-channel approach is taken in crisis communication: it should not rely on single source, channel or device. Crisis communication should be inclusive and take into account very different public groups with different needs, for example individuals with disabilities and vulnerable groups, and therefore cannot adopt a ‘one channel fits all’ approach.

What is needed

  • Personally relevant, targeted information, in understandable form, that reaches individuals in a timely manner, and takes into account their needs and e.g. location.
  • Ways to exchange information and share experiences to further community resilience.

How technology can be utilized

  • New platforms offer ways for the public and authorities to gain and share information, and therefore improve crisis management and collaborative ways to increase safety as a co-production of response organisations and individual citizens and public groups.