Social Media in SAR Management: Getting The Word Out
I’ve been reading about “SMEM,” or Social Media in Emergency Management. It’s quite a buzz word, and there’s a LOT of talk on the internet about it. Our SAR team has had a few instances where it’s been useful, and I’ll talk about one context in this post.
Getting the Word Out
On a recent search we were looking for a missing person. The RCMP had put out a press release on their web site about his disappearance, but the local media had not noticed yet. Since this was an urban search, it would be useful for the public to know his description. While in the command truck, we posted a link to the press release on both Facebook and Twitter, and within 20 minutes the local radio was reporting it, and by the next day the information was in the newspaper.
Now what makes this a success story?
The key element of any piece of information is it’s veracity — is it true. On the internet, some information can become “viral” in that it spreads very quickly. News about a missing child is an example of this — in a recent case of a missing boy in BC it seemed that news of his disappearance was spreading across the country to places where he could not possibly have travelled to. What was troubling about that event was that the information that was being sent was not linked to a verifiable source — it did not have a citation.
As a SAR team, it’s not enough to post the information, you absolutely MUST link back to an authoritative source. Where the information came from is almost as important as the information itself. There are several reasons for this.
Linking to the Source
In the case of the missing man, our team posted that the RCMP had requested us to look for a missing person, and we included the link to the RCMP web site where the press release was posted. We resisted the urge to copy the information wholesale to our own web site, which would have driven traffic there and possibly increased the profile of the SAR team, but at the expense of clarity and veracity.
The reasons for insisting on posting the link to the authoritative source are:
- People receiving the tweet or Facebook update could easily verify the information by the link back to the original.
- There was no possibility of error introduced by transcription, or typos.
- If any of the information changed, it could be changed by the authorities responsible. Updates to the original release often lag of there are many locations that need to be updated.
- If any tips come in they should go straight to the police, not the SAR team. The possibility that the information could go “viral” could swamp the team’s email and twitter with tips. The police are better suited to deal with this.
- Responsibility for the disseminating the information clearly lies with the police.
Information disseminated by a SAR team sometimes has the appearance of coming from an authority, but in BC we derive our authority from the police of jurisdiction. SAR teams have no authority to perform searches or release information without being directed by the police, fire department, ambulance service, or coroner’s office.
In particular, any releases of information identifying the subject should be clearly labelled as originating from the relevant authority, and should whenever possible link back to the originating request on the authority’s web site.
No SAR team should request that people look for information on their web site, Twitter or Facebook account; that is not SAR’s responsibility.