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Social Media + Emergency Management: Talking with Tech Leaders on the West Coast


Yesterday I had a very productive day in California talking about social media, technology, emergency management, and ways to assist the public in getting prepared, by using the tools they use on a daily basis. Check out this short video to see who I met with:

In addition to meeting with fellow “Craig”, Craig Newmark (the founder of Craigslist), I also met with editors from Wired Magazine, Twitter, Apple and Facebook.

Some of the things we discussed included:

  • The need to provide information to the public as data feeds, because they are a key member of our emergency management team;
  • The importance of referring to people impacted by a disaster as survivors and utilizing them as a resource; 
  • The importance of providing good customer service; and 
  • How we, as emergency managers, need to stop trying to have the public fit into our way of doing things and receiving information, but that we should fit the way the public gets, receives and seeks out information.

There are a lot of discussions and conversations taking place about social media, text messaging, etc, and how these tools can be used before, during, and after a disaster. 

There’s no question that these tools have already changed the field of emergency management – and will continue to. As emergency managers, we will have to be flexible and agile and quickly adapt as new technologies and communications tools emerge. What’s exciting is that these new tools, if we embrace them and leverage them effectively, will continue to help us better serve our customers – the public.

As the conversation continues, and as you use these tools on a daily basis, there are things that you can today do to prepare yourself, your family members, and your colleagues at work. 

Communicating during or after an emergency
How are you communicating with each other if a disaster or emergency occurs?  Are you going to call each other, send an email, text message, or update each other via a social network site? The disaster or emergency could be something like a blackout in your city or a school closure; all disasters aren’t large earthquakes or hurricanes.

Receiving updates on your phone
How are you receiving updates from local officials? Have you signed up for text message or email alerts?  If you’re on Facebook, did you know that you can signup to receive text message updates from Facebook pages you follow?  If you are a fan of FEMA on Facebook or your local emergency management agency, you can receive our update as a text message right on your phone (and just like with any text message, standard rates apply).

Leverage Twitter without creating an account
And here’s another small tip: if you are thinking about using Twitter, did you know you can receive text messages updates from someone you’re following without having to create an account?  For example, if you wanted to receive our updates as a text message to your phone, just text FOLLOW FEMA to 40404 (this is Twitter’s text message number and of course, standard text message rates apply --- the lawyers require me to repeat this).  You can do the same for your local emergency management agency.

Our meetings in California generated great discussions and ideas and I’m excited to explore how we can move forward on them. In the meantime, I’d like to hear how you use these and other social network sites to communicate with friends and family before or during an emergency, so we can all utilize these tools to fullest capability, so please leave a comment below, or visit our ongoing challenge at and submit your ideas.

- Craig

Last Updated: 
06/18/2012 - 11:10


// <br /><br />This link is to my entry in the

Craig Fugate, you are most definately a fresh wave of ingenuity when it comes to FEMA and disaster education. I love to see what you're doing with the emergency communications community. We are all part of the solution, and working with strategic social media partners will help in a big way during an event. During Hurricane Ike, a neighbor-to-neighbor program was launched that worked beautifully. Someone needed a ride to work, someone offered a ride to work. Someone needed help with debris removal, someone with a truck answered that request. When we work together, we form a powerful solution. Thanks Cragx2.<br /><br />-Cat

Social media tools do indeed help in emergency situations. While I suggest calling 911 first if you can get a signal on your phone, remembering that social networks can help too should always been in your mind. <br /><br />I had a bike accident in the woods in July 2010. In short, I crashed and needed help. I couldn't get a signal strong enough on my smartphone to make a phone call, but I could get an internet connection and I tweeted for help. Result? I was rescued. <br /><br />See my story.<br /><br />//<br /><br />Its great you're talking with tech leaders and its even more great that this issue is being elevated so more and more people can understand the technology and how it can aid in disasters and emergencies.

Craig, You are an innovative leader and this is just one example of why you are the best choice to head FEMA. Now, if you can just inculcate that attitude into the organization. Please take a look at the IAEM-APUS linkedin discussion about the roadblocks for entry to FEMA. Too many barriers against new comers with modern EM academic credentials and experiences. <br /><br />We are blessed with your leadership, however your organization appears determined to remain homegrown.

I'm a an old new-comer to using the social network. In a few instances above you mentioned that standard test messaging rates apply. Since I don't have an account for using text messages, I'm wondering if FEMA might work with the different cell phone providers to allow emergency messsages to be texted for free? They already do this with 911 calls. Maybe the phone companies would like to help out when there is the kind of emergency where FEMA is involved with responding. Below this message it asks me to select a profile. I don't know which option to select.Lucinda McWeeney, FEMA DRE, Rregion 1

Mr. Fugate, <br /><br />I think you're taking on the right subject at the right time. In Spokane, we had an interesting thing happen with Social Media. See story below. <br />Gerry, Spokane Emergency Management. <br />by<br /><br /><br /><br />Posted on January 18, 2011 at 4:48 PM<br /><br />Updated Wednesday, Jan 19 at 5:14 PM<br /><br />SPOKANE -- A disabled Spokane man turned to an online game to summon help when his home filled with smoke.<br /><br />He was unable to get out on his own because he has muscular dystrophy and is mostly immobile. The phone was out of reach and the only way he had to communicate was with his modified computer.<br /><br />The day started as usual for Bob Chambers. His wife helped him to the living room then got ready to leave the house to pick up her grandson.<br /><br />"She put a toaster strudel in the toaster and said I'll be back in about five minutes and it will be okay," said Bob.<br /><br />Minutes later the strudel jammed in the toaster and started to smoke. Bob has had muscular dystrophy his whole life and is mostly immobile. He was trapped in the house that was filling with smoke.<br /><br />"I was online playing one of these games through Facebook and I just started typing 'this is not a joke, I need help, there's a fire in the kitchen, can someone please call the Spokane Fire Department' and I put my address on the internet," said Bob.<br /><br />He types with the help of a stick and hoped someone would respond. The online game is Evony. He used the chat function to ask for help.<br /><br />"The host of the group I'm with wrote back 'are you joking?' and I said no. And four or five minutes later he said they're on their way," recalled Bob.<br /><br />Firefighters pulled Bob from the house and extinguished the toaster. Bob's grateful to the person who called 911.<br /><br />"You're always capable of doing anything you put your mind to and keep a cool head when you're in the thick of a fire," said Bob.<br /><br />Bob was taken to the hospital. He suffered minor smoke inhalation but is doing well.

Thank you so much for reminding us that we need "to stop trying to have the public fit into our way of doing things and receiving information, but that we should fit the way the public gets, receives and seeks out information" The sooner we can do this the sooner the public will "hear us"

Nice to know that the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA. Will use social media as a way of informing public about possible affected area.

Interesting and varied article, I have curiosity to learn more. I added your blog to my news reader.

its a great communication people wants to know how to use basic tools of in emergency

Many thanks for the article, it's extremely helpful.<a href="//" rel="nofollow">Perlunya Web Komunitas Event Organizer</a>

Excellent information, thank you very much. Congratulations on the quality of the website. Greetings from Chile.

Craig Fugate did such a great job in Florida, and I am proud as I see what he has done with FEMA. It is great to have a Florida Gator in charge.

What a great article thanks Craig, thanks for keeping us all posted social media is something that interests me and the disaster campaigns are really helpful, well done.<br /><br />Success,<br /><br /><a href="" rel="nofollow">Robert Bridge</a>

FEMA bought lots of campers when people lost their homes. Why are they scraping all the campers ? I found them in Marissa IL. at the scrap yard, when I ask if I could buy one or two campers I was told There wasn't any title and FEMA said to scrap them. I looked over some of them and all I could find wrong with them was they needed some work to clean them up. Now that is a waste of tax payer money ! There is a lot of Americans that could live in them, it beats living on the street. Why can't they be sold that way you could get some of the tax payer money back.

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