Retweet, like, or share: How social media is changing the face of emergency management

November 3, 2014

It’s no longer unusual to learn about a severe weather warning or police manhunt through a “tweet” or a “wall post”. These words refer to common practices on Twitter and Facebook, but were not part of our vocabulary a decade ago. Today, whether it is for personal or professional reasons, the majority of Canadians are engaging with one another through social media websites every day.

Despite their overwhelming popularity, emergency management and first responder organizations are just beginning to use social media for their daily business. These platforms provide them with another way to quickly communicate alerts, warnings and preparedness messages to the public when time is of the essence. They can connect with citizens at the click of a button and the public also has a new way to reach out to first responders. The benefits go both ways.

Over the last few years, there have been many real life situations that have demonstrated the value of connecting with the public through social media.

In June 2014, a young man shot and killed three New Brunswick Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers. Almost immediately following the shooting, alerts were sent out to the public through the New Brunswick RCMP’s Twitter account. Updates included information about the armed individual, what streets were blocked off, and even images of maps indicating search areas. Local citizens also used their own social media accounts to post safety warnings and photos of where the shooter had been spotted.

The previous year, in June 2013, Calgary experienced severe flooding. This led to the evacuation of over 75,000 citizens. Media outlets, relief organizations, City services and politicians used social media extensively to support response and recovery. But most of all it was used by Calgary’s citizens. On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Albertans shared critical information, organized community groups, and offered their support to those in need. Over 15,000 volunteers were coordinated, through social media, to help with clean-up efforts.

Emergency management has traditionally been reserved for select officials and large institutions within industry and government. But scenarios like these illustrate how social media has allowed civilians to informally participate during emergency and security responses. It has also created the opportunity for volunteers to join virtual groups like the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHNetwork). This organization is leading the way in volunteer-driven “crisis-mapping” and “crowd-sourcing”. During a crisis, these digital volunteers collect key information from hundreds of on-line sources and display the most critical data through a computerized map.

Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, DHNetwork’s involvement has become a key part of the international community’s response to major disasters. In addition, several countries have now formed Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs). These local emergency management organizations perform a variety of digital support services such as monitoring, filtering, and mapping of relevant information.

The use of social media has far reaching implications for Canada’s emergency management community not all of which are fully understood. This includes formalizing how virtual volunteers collaborate with emergency management communities.

Recognizing the importance of this issue, the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP) is funding the Social Media in Emergency Management (SMEM) project. This ongoing project is exploring how social media can support emergency management efforts. One of the project’s main goals is to identify best practices for improved cooperation between official responders, virtual volunteers and the general public through social media tools. Ultimately, this will improve information-sharing and build stronger communities at both the local and national level.

As part of the project, Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) partnered with the City of Calgary and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) to hold Canada’s first Expert Roundtable on Social Media for Emergency Management in October 2013. This first stage allowed the participants to collaborate and exchange views on the way forward for SMEM in Canada.

Jason Cameron, CEMA’s Manager of Business Continuity & Recovery Planning, shared, “It was an amazing opportunity for CEMA and the City to participate amongst national leaders in disaster innovation.”

The next milestone of this two-year project will be the Digital Volunteer-Supported Disaster Recovery Experiment scheduled to take place in Halifax during the Canadian Red Cross’s Disaster Management Forum in November 2014. This experiment will look at how emergency management officials, the Canadian Red Cross and virtual volunteers from Canada and the United States can use social media tools to coordinate a more effective response by working together during the recovery phase of a major disaster.

horizontal rule

Read More News from DRDC

Astronauts do have to be strong swimmers and comfortable in the water because much of their training take place in the pool. Thomas Karakolis swimming during one of the aptitude tests that is part of the astronaut candidate selection process.

Defence scientist was contender for spot as Canadian Astronaut

Defence Research and Development Canada scientist Thomas Karakolis was one of 72 candidates in the running to be one of the next Canadian Astronauts.
March 24, 2017

Operators from the Canadian Army’s 21 Electronic Warfare (EW) Regiment simulating offensive EW operations against virtual forces during the JNEX-1 experiments.

Canadian and Australian experts run experiments at Shirleys Bay

Canadian and Australian electronic warfare experts conducted the first Joint Non-Munitions Effects Experiment. The experiments will help the Canadian Armed Forces develop joint targeting based capabilities that help them use munitions and non-munitions based capabilities to neutralized terrorist attacks before they happen.
March 14, 2017


Statement - First workshop of the new Institute for Research in Defence and Security

Statement by Dr. Marc Fortin, Assistant Deputy Minister (Science &Technology) and Chief Executive Officer of Defence Research and Development Canada
February 27, 2017

Firefighters use foam to extinguish crude oil fire.

Exercise ATHENA photo gallery

Exercise ATHENA trains firefigheters and first responders to improve Canada's response to incidents involving flammable liquids transported by rail at the Institut maritime du Québec in Levis, Québec.
February 27, 2017

A mixed platoon of Canadian and New Zealand soldiers participating in the U.S. Joint Staff-led Exercise BOLD QUEST, a demonstration and assessment that took place from October 24 to November 3, 2016 in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Canadian Army uses science to enhance multinational interoperability

Learn about defence scientists at the Centre for Operational Research and Analysis who evaluated technology that supports interoperability during two U.S. led multinational exercises.
January 18, 2017

See more news
Date modified: