My blogging colleague Eric Holdeman wrote this morning about a lack of trust that is building and the need to build trust between individuals, organizations, and community partners. Eric suggests that "we must first have a relationship with the people from the other organization...then we must be 'trustful' and do what we say and mean what we say". Additionally, he concluded his thoughts by saying: "Generation Y can smell a phony a mile away".
While I agree with Eric, I'd like to take his observations a step further. Emergency managers have long understood (even if they didn't do it well) that trust was necessary between organizations and response partners, but we have often misunderstood the importance of trust with the general public. We often make the mistake of thinking that we are trustworthy simply because we are government officials and have a default responsibility and control over the constituency. This type of approach -- particularly in light of growing expectations in, around, and from social media (see American Red Cross survey) -- can create a significant divide between a community and its emergency managers.
Instead, emergency managers can utilize the openness and transparency associated with social media before, during, and after disasters to eliminate any trust barriers that may exist from previous events (ex: public scandals and cover-ups). It is the equivalent of asking yourself where you find trust -- sitting in a one-on-one conversation (ex: social media) or when someone stands on a stage and tells you their are trustworthy (ex: traditional government approach).
Eric is right that improving trust is critical. But you don't have to read the hundreds of books available on amazon that he aludes to in his post. Just cruise over to Twitter and Facebook and start engaging in open, honest, and transparent dialogue. The rest will take care of itself.