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Social media urged as strategy for emergency notifications

Oct 30 2012
Saturday's earthquake stemmed from a strike-slip fault line, involving two slabs of the Earth's crust rubbing against one another. Strike slips cause far less movement of the ocean surface than when one plate is pushing under another. That is why the wave created by the quake off Haida Gwaii was small, despite the 7.7 magnitude. 

Saturday's earthquake stemmed from a strike-slip fault line, involving two slabs of the Earth's crust rubbing against one another. Strike slips cause far less movement of the ocean surface than when one plate is pushing under another. That is why the wave created by the quake off Haida Gwaii was small, despite the 7.7 magnitude.

Photograph by: Source: U.S. Geological Survey and Earthquakes Canada , timescolonist.com (October 2012)

Local emergency-service agencies should update their plans to include better use of social media, say some Victoria-area mayors in the wake of this weekend's earthquake.

"This morning I said to the fire chief and the administrator that we need to convene a meeting just within Saanich just to take a look at our use of social media in events like this," Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said.

"Saanich emergency programming has 100 new TWTR.Widget({ version: 2, type: 'search', search: 'PostmediaNews', interval: 6000, title: 'Postmedia', subject: 'News', width: 300, height: 600, theme: { shell: { background: '#9fd4ed', color: '#ffffff' }, tweets: { background: '#ffffff', color: '#[theme.tweets.backgrounds]', links: '#1985b5' } }, features: { scrollbar: false, loop: true, live: true, hashtags: true, timestamp: true, avatars: true, toptweets: true, behavior: 'default' } }).render().start(); followers - which is a pretty small footprint," said Leonard, who retweeted the Saanich emergency tweets about the quake to his 1,800 Twitter followers and his 5,700 Facebook friends.

"Then it was being repeated so it was reaching thousands and thousands of people as opposed to [just] the 100," Leonard said.

"So we've got to think about our social media strategy in events like that for the future."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said, overall, she was pleased with how information was being rolled out after Saturday night's 7.7-magnitude quake off Haida Gwaii.

Because it was just a heads-up, she said, she did not re-tweet or post any information she was getting from the fire chief and emergency co-ordinator.

"We have a tremendous group of volunteers. We have ham radio as well as other ways of communicating, but I think there's always more in terms of communication that can be done," Desjardins said.

Desjardins and Victoria's acting mayor, Coun. Chris Coleman, agreed use of social media is important in such situations but worried about the accuracy of the messages.

Leonard and Coleman both said it's important to use clear language and to try to impart to the public the difference, for example, between a tsunami advisory and a tsunami warning.

Coleman said the earth-ake was a learning expe-nce.

"Every time something happens in Christchurch [New Zealand] or in Japan or Haida Gwaii, you have to do a debrief on it and you have to learn. So we're better than we were 15 years ago but we still have lots to do," he said.

Leonard agreed with media reports that the province was slow in getting information out.

"I was getting more by watching CBC on television than I was by trying to get provincial information on Twitter," he said.

Leonard said it wasn't helpful that a local media representative tweeted that a tsunami warning was in effect as opposed to a tsunami advisory. The tweet was quickly repeated before it was corrected.

"But that's kind of in-house lingo. And for a lot of citizens, laymen following it, they don't know the difference," Leonard said.

"So the people in the emergency-management business need to break down their lingo and get it into plain-speak at times like that," Leonard said.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said had it been necessary, Oak Bay emergency and fire personnel would have used "old-school" methods to alert residents of a tsunami danger.

"We would have joined with radio and TV in getting that out. But in addition, our firefighters and police would be marshalled to do it the old-school way, which is also the effective way. That essentially is going door to door - going down to the marina, people on boats or people on beaches, advising them about any impending emergency," Jensen said.

"It's old school but it's effective school," he said.

As one who lives in West Bay Marina, Desjardins said the earthquake has brought home the need for a better communication system within the marina itself.

"I've asked staff to look into doing some sort of education session down there [to explain] how do we do it better with respect to those who live on water, who will have no idea of anything happening on land," she said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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