The explosion of social media has fundamentally changed the way emergency management officials approach their jobs.
No longer do they have to hold news conferences and wait for the traditional media to spread their message. They send information out immediately on Twitter and Facebook and post it on their own websites.
Of course, they still ask the media for help in explaining situations and reaching the less plugged-in residents. And one of the best places to cut through all of the social media chatter and find information compiled in an easy-to-understand format is at http://www.thestate.com.
But the big difference for emergency officials is they no longer wait to put out an update every four hours like they once did.
“For us from a crisis communications and an emergency alert standpoint, it’s been the biggest game changer since the telephone, even more so than the Internet,” Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said of social media. “We’re communicating directly not only with the media … but also with citizens at home.
“When you talk about a snow storm or a severe thunderstorm, a lot of people are scared. They have a lot of questions, and they’re at home and they can’t leave. So what do you do? You go to Facebook, you go to Twitter, you look at the media.”
While emergency managers can shoot out one message on various social media platforms, they don’t have the staff to respond to every Tweet or Facebook message. But they do have somebody reading them to get a better picture of the situation outside the four walls of their offices.
Websites tend to be more important than social media for other state agencies that deal with weather emergencies — especially the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety. The leaders of those agencies often get information about traffic accidents and road conditions as quickly from their own staff on the roads as from public Tweets.
As for getting the word out about accidents and tie-ups, the details don’t always fit in 140-character tweets, so their social media messages often include links to their websites for the full details of traffic accidents DPS is working or to webcams showing major road conditions. Hits on the DOT website went up five-fold during the most recent storm in late January, the agency said.
For those of you seeking to keep up with the progress of, and damage caused by, the storm, here are some of the top social media connections and websites.