Emergency 2.0: Twitter helps public services speed up ahead the government in crisis situations
August 9th, 2007

Since its birth, Twitter seems to have been controversial to people. It was highly recommended and supported by some, while others yawned in response to it, considering it another shinny, but rather empty package in the world of Web 2.0 services. So, it was hyphened and repudiated altogether, sometimes by the same user, successively. As an example, not long ago, the charismatic Metaverse Evangelist Nick Wilson, after months of intense and enthusiastic use of Twitter, during which he acted like a Twitter propagandist, he made a U-turn and screamed his lungs out of boredom, calling Twitter a sucky dead service, and publicly proclaimed his oath of usage to other social network services. Still, today we find him very active on the same Twitter. Changes of heart in terms of moods and preferences are human and understandable.

While Twitter made some people very passionate about it and left others in cold indifference, questioning its usefulness and even survival on the market, these last days Twitter proved itself worthy of the term “social web service.” In one of his recent posts, David Stephenson, homeland security, e-government, and crisis management strategist and theorist, pleads as defense attorney for Twitter’s social strengths by presenting two illustrative cases, as exhibits before a virtual jury: LA Fire Department 2.0 and Red Cross 2.0 in Birmingham, AL.

When it comes to strategic and adaptive ingenuity, California was always to stand as a pioneer, setting foot for one step ahead, often visionary and sometimes even going against the Washington main current in terms of civil, social, green policies and not only. LA Fire Department is clearly raised in the same spirit, as the people working there quickly absorbed the Web 2.0 tools into their activity to make it more effective and people caring. Along the blog, LAFD_ALERT service, Flickr Photo Gallery, YouTube Channel, and the podcasts and show notes at BlogTalkRadio.com, the LA Fire Department inserted Twitter into its online panoply of citizen services and set its designation as a reliable tool for emergency response in ordinary or crisis situations. Brian Humphrey and Ron Myers from LAFD said that the attributes the Web 2.0 tools possess — “desirable, beneficial, justifiable and sustainable” — motivated their choice. Twitter has the greatest success so far with 190 followers, perhaps, among other reasons, due to its simplicity and mobility of use, given the fact that “not everyone who is in need of information in times of distress will be sitting in front of a computer,” but will most probably have a cell phone at hand.

Following the same pattern, Red Cross Regional Director of Communications and Government Relations Ike Piggott is also using Twitter, having registered two channels: redcross and safeandwell. Redcross will be a test channel that will serve to spread information during a mass evacuation: evacuees will text ‘FOLLOW REDCROSS’ to 40404, and sign up to get updates about where the shelters are, distribution sites, and other contact info. Safeandwell is going to be more for incoming communication, meaning that people who text ‘FOLLOW SAFEANDWELL’ to 40404 will automatically be followed back, thus being able send their private information as a Direct Message to the American Red Cross database.

Finally, Stephenson invokes his second law: a truly innovative technology exceeds the imagination and expectations of its creators by being adapted to the particular needs of its users, thus becoming a seed for evolution. In the area of online activism, the perpetual goal is to go beyond the existing official policies and strategies in order to meet all kinds of uncovered specific needs at global and local levels. Web 2.0 definitely enhances the chances to reach that goal and improve the quality of the public services offered to citizen. In this concern, as Brian Humphrey and Ron Myers are saying from the position of the ones who responsibly offer such services, “We can no longer afford to work at the speed of government. We have responsibilities to the public to move the information as quickly as possible … so that they can make key decisions.”

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