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How Social Media is Changing Incident Command


Incident commanders understand the ins and outs of managing an incident. With years of training and experience, there’s nothing they can’t handle. Yet there is one factor of incident management that can be the most difficult to prepare for of all: onlookers. Whether you call them rubberneckers, lookie-loos, or simply a bystander, incidents have a way of attracting attention (imagine that!).

Yet in today’s age of social media, those who witness an incident play a whole new role, and it’s affecting the jobs of incident commanders (IC’s) and public information officers (PIO’s). Eyewitnesses can now text pictures, tweet details, or post a Facebook status regarding the situation. Within minutes, information is spread to thousands of communities, regardless of whether or not the information is accurate.

People want to know what’s happening, what’s being done to eradicate the problem, and what they should do to stay out of danger. With a sense of urgency and the increasingly fast-paced travel of breaking news, people look to social media for answers rather than waiting for the 5 o’clock news.

If bystanders are so eager to re-tweet a news agency or to share a friend’s Facebook post concerning the event, then they can just as easily take the same action in response to an informational and accurate social media post written by a Public Information Officer.

What does this mean? In order to prevent the spread of inaccurate information, PIO’s now have an additional duty. Responding to an incident now also means responding via social media. If the public has no information, they will make up their own. The pressure is on for PIO’s to quickly communicate to the public now more than ever before because that information is now being demanded within minutes, if not seconds.

In a reactionary industry, it can be difficult to prioritize actions that are proactive. However doing so can prevent many future headaches. By being the first to give an account of what has happened, the adverse effects of many incidents can be mitigated. Without this explanation, there is a risk of miscommunication, which can lead to panic and fear. Waiting too long before posting information regarding an incident can add to this dilemma. It’s possible to have a nationwide audience via social media in less than 30 minutes. Therefore, it is important to provide concise and precise information in a timely manner.

The future for PIO’s consists of an effort to stay dependable with information and curb unverified public opinions. Controlling panic through social media is going to be a great task in the future for PIOs using social media.

Part of working social media into incident management is having a controlled command post. With a centralized station that’s accessible, organized, and protected from the elements, Incident Commanders can use their time more efficiently. This can help free up those precious, extra few seconds that can be used to effectively get the critical incident information to the PIO in a timely manner.

Bumperchute can help do exactly that. Taking a few minutes up front to set up the vehicle canopy saves you time later by helping you achieve the most efficient command post possible.

We’d love to talk more about how social media has affected your incident command and see if Bumperchute could be a good fit for your team, give us a call today!

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