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September 15, 2008


Federal Crisis Communication 2.0

by deirdrewalsh
Like millions of Texans, my family was directly impacted by Hurricane Ike.  While my parents evacuated to Austin, my younger brother is braving it out without power in Houston.  After assisting them during this crisis situation, I developed a few suggestions for how the federal, state and local government organizations can utilize social media for crisis communications.
Parent's House Post-Ike

Parents House Post-Ike

1. Regular Updates via SMS.

SMS is a fancy name for the internet protocol behind text messaging.  According to several mobile sites, the following statics about the mobile industry apply in the United States:

*79 percent of all Americans have a cell phone (source: CellSigns)

*There are 68.7 million text messaging users (source: CellSigns)

*SMS is available on 98 percent of cell phones (source: CellSigns)

*SMS is typically read within an average of 15 minutes after receipt and responded to within 60 minutes (source: Eyeline Mobi)

Now that this technology has become a standard, it is critical that the government embrace text messaging as a regular form of communication during crisis situations.

For example, nearly three days after Ike hit landfall, AT&T sent out the following message on behalf of the CDC:

“Urgent info 4 those in Ike area.   Don’t use generators indoors, near open windows or in garage. Drink bottled water only.”

This is an excellent start; however, it would have been more helpful if the cell phone provider and the government agency partnered earlier.  They could have provide information on evacuation routes, the hurricane’s exact location, and other information normally delivered over the radio.  In today’s age, several people, like my younger brother, rely solely on the internet or TV for news. Without access to an 80s-style, battery-powered boombox, these folks would have been left in the dark (literally).

2. Google Maps for Food, Power, Gas, Ice & Business Closures

For the past day, I’ve been using the KHOU Supply Blog and the CenterPoint Energy Storm Center to provide my family with regular updates on available gas stations and power outages across the city of Houston.  While both are helpful resources, it would be much more beneficial if they would relay this information via a Google Map.

Easily, the popular news station, KHOU, could take their list (see below) and turn in into a easy format for people to view on their Smart Phones.

It would also be helpful if they let the community collaborate on this map to ensure real-time accuracy on available supplies.

KHOU Gas Station List

KHOU Gas Station List

Sample Gas Station Map

Sample Gas Station Map

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. emiliekopp
    Sep 16 2008

    Excellent ideas, D. Especially the SMS text messaging. Even when the electricity goes out, people have bars of battery life left on their phone.
    The U.S. government could take a note or two from this post.

  2. Julia
    Sep 17 2008

    I agree on the Google Maps! My family was asking me to help find them places to go and I was at a total loss for where to start. I did use Google maps to check on traffic, but that was not always accurate.

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