BOX 6.1
State of Research on Social Media in Emergency Management

In her remarks at the February 2012 workshop on alerts and warnings using social media, Leysia Palen of the University of Colorado, Boulder, discussed the evolving application of social media for emergency management and the associated stages of research maturity. She suggested that growing interest in examining the role of social media reflects in part the progress that has been made toward their adoption, and that research together with learning from the practical application of social media will increase understanding of both possibilities and pitfalls and thus foster greater, more effective use.

From roughly 2008 to 2011 was a period in which the potential for using social media was first recognized and was marked by scattered grassroots experimentation, said Palen. In this first stage, publications by practitioners and researchers, workshops, and discussion developed a case that social media would inevitably play an important role in emergency management, although just how was unclear. Not all embraced the new technologies. Some felt that the use of social media was simply a passing fad, and even as late as 2011 otherwise knowledgeable people remained fearful about social-media-abetted change and sought to understand how social media could be “held back.” Still others embraced the trend but did not fully understand its grassroots and spontaneous nature; one result was attempts to shape it in order to gain commercial or tactical advantage.

Indications abound that both practice and research have since yielded significant advances, observed Palen. Local emergency managers are experimenting with how to incorporate social media into their daily practices, for example, and the American Red Cross has incorporated certified volunteers into its social media response plans. Formal policy discussions are being held worldwide.

and television.1 Comparatively little research has examined similar questions for messages disseminated via social media.2 One of social media’s

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1 National Research Council. Public Response to Alerts and Warnings on Mobile Devices: Summary of a Workshop on Current Knowledge and Research Gaps. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.

2 Research that has been done in this area includes Kate Starbird, Leysia Palen, Amanda Hughes, and Sarah Vieweg, Chatter on the red: What hazards threat reveals about the social life of microblogged information, Proceedings of the ACM 2010 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work(CSCW 2010), pp. 241-250, 2010; Kate Starbird and Leysia Palen, Pass it on?: Retweeting in mass emergencies, Proceedings of the Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management(ISCRAM 2010), Seattle, Wash., 2010; Leysia Palen, Sarah Vieweg, Sophia Liu, and Amanda Hughes, Crisis in a networked world: Features of computer-mediated communication in the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech event, Social Science Computing Review, Sage, pp. 467-480, 2009; and Clarence Wardell and Yee San Su, Social Media + Emergency Management Camp: Transforming the Response Enterprise, 2011, available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/SMEM_Report.pdf.



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