Open and shut: social networks can improve your information picture

“Last year all this was surrounded by water”

Not surprisingly the emergency planners of Wales are very interested in flooding. The received wisdom is that the biggest risk to communities is from the sea but the astonishing weather of 2012 brought rivers into the homes of thousands of folk many of whom have yet to return.

I was at the Spring Conference of the EPS Wales Branch. I was there on a speaking gig but I would have gone as a delegate. The fact that the committee managed, once again, to deliver a quality event that really meets the needs of their members should be an inspiration to other branches and other societies.

I won’t go into detail about many of the presentations because some of them were the no-holds-barred stuff you get amongst peers and may not suit broadcast on a public blog.

But two presentations did seem to link together to tell a story.

We heard from a local authority emergency planner who had been involved in the response to a significant series of flooding event. Some things had gone well, some had gone less well but thankfully there were no deaths and low levels of injuries.

As has happened in every emergency I have ever been involved in they had struggled with the information picture. Sitting in your office while storms rage around you and teams of people on the ground are very concerned with operations and less concerned with sit reps can be a frustrating experience. But without the picture it is harder to make good decisions.

Then we heard from the excellent Barry Jones (until very recently at BBC Wales) about how the BBC had approached the coverage of several emergencies across Wales last year. This was in itself fascinating but most striking was his analysis of the social media traffic around the specific incidents discussed above.

He had no doubt that there were sufficient data in social networks to build a much improved imformation picture around that incident.

There is a presumption amongst those of us who work in this sphere that monitoring social media should help responders to understand what is going on. In the UK many emergency planners and responders continue to rely almost exclusively on traditional models for collecting and analysising data. It is practically hard to prove that there is data available that they are missing by not monitoring the onlibne environment.

But this was an open and shut case.