In my July newsletter I briefly discussed the Ushahidi Program as an example of the growing use of social media in disasters using. On August 9, the Red Cross released a survey showing just how important social media is becoming. The results are striking:
69% of respondents believed emergency responders should be monitoring social media
74% expected a response in less than an hour after a tweet or Facebook posting
20% would contact responders through digital means if 911 was not answering
If respondents knew of someone in trouble, they would also turn to social media.
44% would ask social media contacts to notify authorities
35% would post a request for help on an agency's Facebook page
28% would send a direct Twitter message to responders
Another finding that isof interest to emergency managers is that more web users say they get emergency information from Facebook than from NOAA weather radio.
I believe it no no longer matters whether emergency managers choose to take social media seriously. We really have no choice. Our profession is driven, to a large extent, by public expectation. In this case, that expectation is clear - the traditional methods by which we communicate with the public are no longer sufficient.
Effective emergency management begins with an assessment of risk. The problem is in identifying hazards and their potential impact on the people and organizations we serve. It seems there's a never ending stream of hazards.
Some of them are not very noticeable. According to NASA, on August 1 there was considerable activity on the earth-facing side of the sun: a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts.
The activity also included two coronal mass ejections (CME), one of which sparked a G-2 (on a scale of G-1 to G-5) magnetic storm on earth on August 3 that lasted 12 hours. Sounds ominous but it did little more than spark Northern Lights over Europe and North America. The second is still on the way and, according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, may produce a major magnetic storm tomorrow.
Here's NASA's definition of a CME:
CMEs are large clouds of charged particles that are ejected from the sun over the course of several hours and can carry up to ten billion tons of plasma. They expand away from the sun at speeds as high as a million miles an hour. A CME can make the 93-million-mile journey to Earth in just two to four days. Stronger solar storms could cause adverse impacts to space-based assets and technological infrastructure on Earth.
So what's my point? As I've said many times, risk is relative. For most of us, solar storms have no discernible effect, beyond putting on a natural light show. However, large scale storms have the capacity to damage power systems, disrupt communications, and degrade high-tech navigation systems. If you work with or rely on these systems, you should at least be aware of the potential impacts of solar storms. Monitoring solar activity might be cheap insurance.