The Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, has signalled a growing role for social media and other communication technologies to play in helping governments manage natural disasters.
According to a communiqué issued by McClellands's office, and following the convening of an extraordinary meeting of the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management – Emergency Management (MCPEM-EM) on Friday, technology will be a major discussion point as state and federal governments begin assessing ways to improve the nation’s resilience following summer’s natural disasters.
“[The National Emergency Management Committee (NEMC) will] convene a forum to consider new and emerging technologies that could be harnessed to assist with preparedness, response and recovery to natural disasters, with an initial focus on floods,” the communiqué reads.
“[The NEMC will] give particular attention to the emerging role of social media, as part of the work on communicating with, and educating people about risks, under the [Council of Australian Governments] National Strategy for Disaster Resilience.”
Despite the proven use of tools, especially Twitter, in the recent Queensland floods, the communiqué offered a caveat for social media use during natural disasters.
“Noting the value of the telephone-based warning systems, Emergency Alert and StateAlert, and the work that is being undertaken on the location-based warning capability, the Emergency Management Council emphasised that these technologies can only supplement emergency warning and information that is delivered primarily through radio and television, and also through a number of other mechanisms,” the communiqué reads.
The use of social media in disasters was also noted by Melbourne IT’s CTO, Glenn Gore, who told Computerworld Australia that despite Twitter substituting as an information source for localised information during the Queensland floods, it was still essential that government websites stay up and running during disasters.
“One of the best ways of keeping up to date was following some of the feeds [on Twitter] but that highlighted some problems,” he said. “For one, you get a lot of rumour or non-factual information… so people tried to correct that by telling people to go to authoritative sites.
"What you saw was that some sites couldn’t handle the load, which meant people couldn’t get authoritive information and then the rumours spun out of control," he said.
“Whereas keeping sites up and running meant that those rumours were killed off quickly. It’s interesting to see how the two interact and it shows the need for an authoritive source of information people can go and check.”
The communiqué also noted that the NEMC will also assess the effectiveness of arrangements between all Australian jurisdictions for communication, situational awareness and liaison, and additionally flagged a growing role for geospatial technologies via Geoscience Australia’s mapping of areas of risk relating to riverine flooding, flash floods, storm surge and coastal inundation.
In related news, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said in January that fires, floods and hurricanes will be predicted more accurately with the introduction of a data modelling system which could deliver precise seven-day predictions.
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