November 22, 2017

From Brittany Smith, Build Social, LLC

During an emergency or disaster the one thing that everyone wants is information. People want to know whether or not their loved ones are safe, they want to know what’s going on, the best way to stay safe, and how to support those affected. This is universal regardless of the type of emergency taking place. Communities and the organizations serving them can take steps to prepare for this need during an emergency by establishing a presence on social media now.

As a social media expert, the Eagle Creek Fire that started in early September, leaving hikers in a popular spot in the Gorge stranded, was a reminder of the importance of social media during an emergency or disaster. Social media can and should be a part of every individual and organization’s toolkit in an emergency—but we all need to take steps now to be prepared.

As a digital marketer I watched with interest to see how social media was used during the Eagle Creek Fire. Like most Portlanders the Gorge is an important place for me. I have a lot of memories there and want to build more in the future, so when the fire broke out I was ravenous for news. I wanted to know what was happening as it was happening. News agencies weren’t keeping up fast enough for me and I felt like there was a lot of misinformation out there so I wanted correct, up-to-date information right from the front lines. I knew that the best way to get this information was via social media. I hopped on Twitter and Facebook and found the appropriate organizations to follow so that updates would come directly to me and I could know, not only what was going on, but how I could support those affected.

Like a lot of people in Portland at the time I was worried about the air quality so I found the Oregon Smoke Blog, a blog run by several city, county, tribal, state and federal agencies that provides up-to-date information on wildfires in the area and how they’re affecting the air quality. I felt so relieved because this was information from a source I could trust. I knew exactly what to do to protect myself and my family, and made sure to share that information with my community—via social media. This example illustrates what individuals can do to help support community resilience during emergencies and what steps agencies and organizations need to take in order to support communities during these difficult times.

What Individuals Can Do

Because there is so much information out there, and a lot of misinformation, the best thing we can do as individuals is to find the right sources and get information from them and then share that with our community. Right now, when there isn’t a disaster, take the time to follow important agencies on Facebook and Twitter so that when an emergency does happen you don’t have to spend time searching, you’ve got it right there at your fingertips. Keep in mind that institutions tend to share information faster, so definitely follow them. Here’s a general list of the type of accounts you might want to follow:

  • Oregon Office of Emergency Management
  • Oregon Department of Transportation
  • National Weather Service specific to your area
  • FEMA Region 10
  • Local Fire Department
  • Local utility departments
  • Local social service agencies
  • Friends and neighbors

Here’s a more detailed guide that individuals can follow in order to be prepared to use social media during an emergency or disaster. SAMHSA also has a useful, brief guide for individuals.

What Agencies and Organizations Can Do

To support community resilience, agencies also need to take steps now to be prepared to share vital information during an emergency or disaster. This information can range from updates about the emergency/disaster, to how to support those affected, to tools to support mental health after a traumatic event. The most important thing to do is create accounts on popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter and post regularly so that your audience can find out about you.

Facebook is far and away the most popular social media platform out there so it’s important to have a presence there, however, be aware that Twitter is uniquely suited to distributing information during a disaster so it’s essential to have a presence there too. For some guidance on how to develop a strategy for using social media during an emergency check out this comprehensive guide from the Department of Homeland Security. To see an example of the type of guidance the State of Oregon gives to agencies during an emergency check out this social media toolkit they developed for the 2015 Pacific Storm.

Getting your agency set up to support community resilience and provide valuable information during an emergency is a complex process that will take time. All the more reason to get started now! If you have any questions or want more tips and tricks post them in the comments below.


Brittany Smith is the web developer for Trauma Informed Oregon. She provides digital marketing services to businesses, non-profits, and government agencies at Build Social, LLC.