I must say, this past week was unprecedented as social media news is concerned. The terrorist bombings in Boston, the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion and the subsequent gun battle and manhunt of the marathon terrorists made for a target rich environment from a social media perspective. Mainstream media channels continually exploited and mentioned social media as events unfolded.
I think these are seminal events as far as the integration and acceptance of the use of social media during emergencies, and a ton of lessons are ripe for the picking for those who have open minds. Those leaders in public agencies who have been either sitting on the fence or continuing to discount the power of the crowd had better move, and move quickly.
I, along with many of my #SMEM cohorts, followed the events via Twitter. Unlike many, I only occasionally tuned into the continuous TV cable coverage. Why? Simple… I got tired of reporters standing outside of barricades, speculating, re-speculating and regurgitating on what may be going on several blocks away. Blah, Blah, Blah….
Switching gears -The West, Texas explosion was frankly more horrific than the Boston bombings as far as loss of life, destruction and impact on emergency services. Having experienced the impact of what happens when responders are in the middle of the situation when it “goes south”, I had a visceral reaction to what I was reading. The disaster happened in a rural area, and regional TV affiliates were sending crews to the scene, and reporting minimal information. Meanwhile, Twitter was lit up with reports from local and regional citizens talking about what they saw and heard. Me and others with emergency response experience quickly realized this was a huge event, even though overshadowed by the Boston events.
I was struck by the speed by which information was shared from a relatively isolated and devastated community. The amount and breadth of information shared on SM channels in the early stages of the response was incredible. One of the key channels was streamed audio from the local fire/EMS/LE dispatch centers. It quickly became apparent that this was a cataclysmic event, with far reaching impact.
OK, I could write a book on what transpired over the past week. I’m too lazy to start right now. So, I’ll revert to my usual bullet point format to share my observations of - wait for it – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.
· The Good
o The direction from the Boston EMS/PD supervisor at the scene of the marathon bombing to get on social media and tell people what to do!
o Law enforcement’s use of social media in sharing the photographs of the suspects.
o Citizen posting of the West, Texas explosion smoke column almost immediately after it happened. For those in the fire service (or the military) we knew this was a BAD situation.
o The tweets from Dr. Brad Holland @drBradHolland, a surgeon called in to staff a local West, Texas hospital. His tweets provided real time insight into the readiness and confidence of the medical community to deal with the disaster. Seeing this perspective – in real time – was a unique experience.
o The people of Boston
o Massachusetts and federal law enforcement
o Boston Fire and EMS (you rocked!)
o Medical marathon volunteers (you rocked too!)
o West, Texas volunteer fire and EMS responders (….no words)
o Citizens who called in with tips, pictures and analysis of what happened (But, see below)
o The composure, passion and angst of the terrorist’s uncle. He courageously and eloquently represented his people on the international media stage.
· The Bad
o CNN’s pronouncement that a suspect had been arrested, and it wasn’t even close!
o Tweeting movements and tactics as officers sought the bombers.
o Relaying tactical law enforcement radio traffic – in real time – to anyone and everyone.
o Network talking heads talking live, providing “breaking” information that was at least 10 minutes behind what was being broadly shared on Twitter.
o Boston PD social media response. Ya got the order…But it took too long to get going.
· The Ugly
o Politicians going first.
o Law enforcement leaders going last.
o Law enforcement’s pleading with the public to not share “secure” radio transmissions. REALLY????!!!!! Why are we still discussing this issue after BILLIONS of federal dollars have been spent on encrypted radio communications infrastructure?
o Citizens playing amateur detective (watching too much CSI), who implicated innocent spectators via SM.
o Ann Coulter…’nuff said.
o West, Texas zoning regulations.
o State of Texas chemical reporting oversight.
I can’t express enough my admiration and respect for the job of the local state and federal responders of the Boston and Texas tragedies. You all have my deepest respect and gratitude.