In the past week, I have seen several stories that reflect changes in cultural, social, and technological values within society. For example, stories have been released about the death of AM radio, elimination of cursive writing education, and the death of Twinkees. In each case, I often saw doom and gloom statements associated with each -- "Our kids will never get to experience that", "How dare they stop that?", "This is just another example of how we're on the down slide", etc.
While it is understandable that we all fondly look back on these types of components that defined how we grew up and learned about the world, I don't think their elimination is a sign of anything more than change. In most cases, these changes are a result of something new replacing it. For instance, the use of AM Radio has declined with the rise of information on the go through the internet and social media. Likewise, cursive writing has been replaced by typing emails, texts, and other digital messages. Rather than being melancholy or downtrodden about the loss of these items, these types of news stories are opportunities for us to reflect on how fantastic the future may be.
This is particularly true in emergency management and disaster response. It is exciting to me to think that through the use of new (or yet to be developed technologies) and communication systems such as social media and crowdsourcing, the needs of disaster survivors and those impacted from emergencies may ultimately be addressed more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Likewise, to know that each and every person in the community is becoming more and more empowered in the emergency management process through more openly shared information is fantastic.
So while I do reflect on my past when things change, let's all try to reorient that energy to pushing the future and the possibility that a generation (or two) from now can look back and enjoy new memories of a network of communities who embraced changed for good.
Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy was a noteworthy event for many reasons. However, one of the more interest facts that came out was related to the use of social photos to document the disaster. For example, photo-sharing service Instagram released statistics showing more than 1.3 million photos were shared during the event with a peak average of 10 photos posted every second. Clearly this trend is worth exploring related to how it impacts emergency management and response.
The increased use of mobile devices to document disaster response and recovery activities is helping personalize the impacts of the event. While traditional media have always provided large-scale perspective about major disasters, smaller events and personalized issues are being projected much more quickly and efficiently through social photos.
While emergency managers already struggle with managing to assess the overwhelming amount of information related to a disaster, social photo sharing is an additional source to provide both primary information about the disaster as well as secondary confirmation. The confirmation capabilities are particularly important as limited emergency services resources can be better allocated if they do not have to provide confirmation about particularly issues in a given location.
Whether emergency managers like it or not, a growing (and significant) portion of their communities leverage social systems to communicate, commiserate, and ultimately emotionally cope. Much like traditional sharing, people often benefit psychologically from sharing hardships and challenges -- particularly those faced during disasters. Often they find others who have experienced similar hardships or who can provide clarity to the situation. When localized support systems are damaged, social systems often continue to function with little to no interruption. Sharing photos in social environments like Instagram is just one example of this.
Clearly, social photo sharing will continue to be an important part of disaster response and recovery. The faster emergency managers figure out when, where, and how that happens the more efficiently they can help their community recover -- physically and emotionally.
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Perhaps it's still a pipe dream, but according to this article published on Quartz, the possibility of tablet computers as low as $25 each is less than 12 months away. While the article in question primarily focuses on the international impact in countries such as India, Thailand, and China, the practical applications would be profound on bridging the digital divide that still impacts many communities. This divide is particularly true for emergency notifications. Specifically, emergency managers in communities of all sizes and shapes sit at a crossroads where a significant portion of their community have shifted to sending and receiving information through digital methods (ex: social media and text messages), while other components still utilize (and expect) traditional methodologies such as television, radio, and print media. But with limited resources, how do emergency managers maximize their efforts?
Traditionally, there have been a variety of hurdles toward full digital adoption including comfort with technology, infrastructure availability, and device speed and functionality. Starting in reverse order, this type of low cost (nearly disposable) device will nearly eliminate this consideration. Even for those uninterested, well meaning friends and family may purchase them and force the consideration of adoption. As for infrastructure, Pew Internet has reported that broadband internet adoption is approaching 70% with only 3% of Americans utilizing dial-up internet at home. Likewise, many others are utilizing mobile devices and cellular plans to access web-based information on the go. While comfort with technology is a person-by-person issue, saturating communities with low cost devices and easy access will push this limitation to its limits as well.
When (not if) the scales tip toward nearly full mobile utilization, emergency managers can begin to refocus limited resources on leveraging these devices to their full potential and possibility. So perhaps next year, the emergency management community can give thanks for the widespread development (and hopefully) integration of low-cost devices that will further improve emergency notification. If not, we can keep dreaming until it does.
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