HAMNET Report 9th January 2022

During a disaster, many people turn to social media seeking information. But communicating during disasters is challenging, especially using an interactive environment like social media where misinformation can spread easily.

Now, University of Georgia researchers have developed a social media tool better to help local emergency managers disperse information to community members during a disaster.

Led by recent graduate Dionne Mitcham, a team from the Institute for Disaster Management at UGA’s College of Public Health has developed a communication framework that local emergency managers could adopt to support crisis communications.

The proposed framework is a spoke-and-wheel design that utilizes community-based public information officers (PIO), emergency management professionals, and/or trained volunteers to communicate information from the operations team and command and control team to the public, traditional media and other stakeholders.

The framework aims to aid local emergency management agencies that lack access to resources state and federal emergency management organizations typically have, such as risk communicators, social media strategists and full-time PIOs.

“There is a lack of both communication frameworks and guidance on the use of social media as a crisis communication tool that was tailored specifically for use on the local level,” said Mitcham. “The framework uniquely leverages local emergency management agencies’ close relationships with stakeholders to help amplify the distribution of uniform disaster-related messaging via social media.”

Incorporating social media into a local emergency management department’s communication plan allows emergency managers and PIOs directly to engage in quick information sharing with the public. This improves the efficiency of information dispersal and prevents potential misrepresentation of information due to the information being posted directly from the source, said the authors.

Local emergency management departments have a unique opportunity to establish and nurture relationships within a community before disaster strikes. These relationships help to reach the whole community when a disaster happens.

“By collaborating with diverse community organizations, the hub framework assists local governments in understanding and meeting the actual needs of the whole community in real time. Formalizing these partnerships prior to a disaster ensures that all members of the community will receive urgent information,” said co-author Morgan Taylor, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics and research assistant with the Institute for Disaster Management.

There are pitfalls when it comes to using social media. Platforms are not designed to support emergency response and crisis communication: Messages containing critical information can get lost in the influx of messages. False information can spread quickly. Sometimes different community stakeholders can have conflicting messages.

“My co-authors and I hope local emergency managers and their teams use this article as a starting point for considering how to get stakeholders involved in the distribution of crisis communications. In addition, we want to show that uniform distribution of communication messages via social media can be utilized at any level of emergency management—from local to federal,” said Mitcham.

Similarly, the Star Newspaper in Malaysia reported on Thursday that the government will set up a task force to improve the existing communication system and create a faster and effective early warning system for disasters for the benefit of the people.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa said the matter would be discussed in detail by the Communications Ministry secretary-general and the relevant agencies, including the Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) and the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID).

“The Cabinet is of the opinion that the communication system and information delivery to the people need to be improved.

“That is why we strive to have a better system including by adopting the concept of SMS blasting so that we can send early warnings quickly and accurately to the people in disaster-affected areas,” he told a press conference after delivering the 2022 New Year’s message for the Communications Ministry at Angkasapuri here on Thursday the 6th of January.

In the message, Annuar also acknowledged that there were some weaknesses in the existing methods of information delivery during disasters.

Your writer likes the term “SMS blasting”, and wonders whether we in South Africa could ever set up a system to allow wide-spread emergency notifications. In Malaysia, of course, the tsunami of 2004 must have got the government thinking long and hard about how to warn the masses of impending disaster.

An organised system in South Africa for example, to warn all the people living on the West Coast of the Cape to avoid the sea because of Red Tide, or the people living near Kruger Park of a rogue lion on the loose, or the people living in Durban North of a swollen Umzinduzi upstream about to cause the Umgeni to burst its banks, would clearly be of benefit. I wonder if our telecommunications agencies would be able to put a plan like this into action. No harm in dreaming is there!

Our friends at Southgate Amateur Radio News tell us that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant of nearly $50,000 to Nathaniel Frissell, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics and electrical engineering at The University of Scranton.

The grant will support “The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) 2022 Workshop,” which will take place on March 18 and 19 at The U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. The conference, which will take place in-person, also has a virtual format option.

The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) is a collective of professional researchers and licensed amateur radio operators (a.k.a. hams) with the objective to foster collaborations between the amateur and professional communities for the purposes of advancing scientific research and understanding, encouraging the development of new technologies to support this research, and of providing educational opportunities for the amateur radio community and the general public.

The workshop will serve as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project, which is a $1.3 million NSF funded project previously awarded to Dr. Frissell. The project seeks to harness the power of a network of licensed amateur radio operators better to understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

The theme for the two-day HamSCI workshop is “The Weather Connection.” The fifth annual workshop will feature prominent leaders in space weather, atmospheric weather and the connection between them. And this workshop is open to everyone, and is free.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.