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Using New Technology to Gauge Threats

Monday, April 18th, 2011
Seal of the US Dept of Homeland Security and Twitter

The Dept of homeland Security is using social media to alert the public about disasters.

Very shortly, news network viewers will no longer find out about updates via color-coded threat levels from the Department of Homeland Security. The current threat-level chart will be replaced by a two-level threat system known as the National Terrorism Advisory System. The first threat level will be coined “elevated,” and would warn about a credible threat, but not list possible targets.

A distinct difference to the previous system is that the two-level system will provide a start and end date for the threat. The second level will be “imminent” when law enforcement officers working with DHS determine a credible threat will very likely be attempted against certain targets. This level of alert would continue for not more than seven days, but could be extended. DHS will also incorporate social media alerts into the two-level system, recognizing the reach and the importance of such networks in the fast sharing of information.

First put into use in March 2002, the current system (officially known as the Homeland Security Advisory System), was established in response to the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks. The system initially came under frequent criticisms, with many individuals claiming the threat level was often raised for political motives to incite citizen unrest. Others claimed the threat level did not move sufficiently to recognize actual threats, and was often held at an elevated status level.

According to DHS, the risk of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil remains, and citizens are encouraged to remain vigilant and report suspicious behavior. Law enforcement is continually training for possible attacks, even participating in testing exercises to measure readiness.

This type of readiness was evident in the thwarted New York’s Time Square bombing attempt in 2009, where a quick-thinking street vendor alerted authorities to a smoking van. The terror alert system reminds citizens about the threat of terrorism and encourages common sense as well as a broader sense of civic responsibility.

Government officials announced that terror alerts and information about threats will be distributed via two primary social networks when deemed appropriate, Twitter and Facebook. The department’s Twitter alerts page is @ntasalerts. The Department of Homeland Security’s Facebook page can be found at Facebook.com/HomelandSecurity. In some cases, distribution of specifics regarding an alert could jeopardize ongoing investigations. In such cases, information about terror threats might not reach the public until after the alleged terrorists are captured and the threat has been mitigated.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

 

Disaster in Japan: How You Can Help

Monday, March 21st, 2011
clock with "Time to Share"

There are lots of ways for you to help the people affected by the recent disaster in Japan.

The earthquake and ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan brought unimaginable destruction to all facets of the country. Calamities of this magnitude also show people’s ability to give and the global concern for those in trouble. For our part, we would like to provide information about how to make donations to help. We would like to encourage you to contribute to the Japanese relief efforts and also share some thoughts about the ways that technology and social media are changing communication and fundraising efforts following natural and manmade disasters.

While the donations have been pouring in, they still fall well below similar donation levels given for Haiti and Hurricane Katrina. A week after the devastating quake, donations reached $87 million for efforts in Japan, compared to $275 million in Haiti and $522 million for Hurricane Katrina. With millions of Japanese citizens are without power or ready-access to food, more donations are needed to provide just basic necessities.

Organizations such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar provide information about how individuals can give to the charity organizations that use donations most efficiently. These websites also detail those organizations that pool together donations to be used for disasters when needed. This is helpful since, in some past disasters, nonprofit groups end up with an overflow of funds that they are required to spend on specific relief efforts even if those monies might be better used elsewhere.

Easy ways to donate to reputable charitable organizations using the latest technology:

Be careful of scams! Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people try to exploit other’s suffering. So be very wary of replying to any incoming text messages that request credit card information or other financial information.

Technology in Action

In addition to enabling faster and easier donations, social media proved useful for rescue efforts and to quickly spread vital information.

  • While mobile phone lines were overloaded during and after the quake, sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Skype chat worked well and provided vital communication links.
  • A schoolteacher in England reported chatting with her young cousin in Japan after the quake via Facebook chat. The child couldn’t reach their parents a few miles away, but was able to communicate quickly with a relative on the other side of the world.
  • In the hours immediately following the tsunami and subsequent earthquakes, 50,000 people in Japan downloaded a Smartphone flashlight application, which they purportedly used to navigate through rubble.

Technology is opening new avenues for finding lost loved ones and learning more about the latest problems.

  • Google launched a Google Person Finder tool to locate people who are searching for loved ones. After the Red Cross’ Family Links site was overloaded, Google stepped in to help. Searchable in both English and Japanese, the site provides information for specific people including photographs and updates on their well being.
  • Twitter Hashtags (#) including #prayforjapan, #tsunami, #japan, and #textREDCROSS are providing a steady stream of information for victims and loved ones in real time.

As helpful as technology and mobile communication have become, it’s important to remember that these tools can be positive influences to help us quickly connect with people during a disaster as well as a potential tool for criminals to exploit. So be wary of posting too much information about your personal and professional activities online, or you risk alerting thieves when your home is vacant. This is just one example of how proper planning and careful attention to detail is crucial for safely managing situations when disasters strike.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

 

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BE SAFE: How Social Media Saves Lives

Monday, February 14th, 2011
Globe Cloaked in Social Media Protective Banner

Social Media is not just for social interaction anymore.

While some might think that websites like Twitter are only good for tracking celebrity exploits, they are proving incredibly useful for disaster preparation and emergency management.
For example, FEMA is adopting social media websites to share information about disasters and coordination efforts. Created in response to the successful use social media following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the FEMA initiatives aim to harness the power of social media to spread life-saving, instantaneous information.

Social Media in Action

During the recent floods in Australia, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook were instrumental for organizing-efforts. The emergency services in Queensland relied on social media sites for real-time updates on conditions in different areas. This data was used to allocate limited resources and aided in overall disaster planning.

The Australia floods highlighted the particular strengths of Facebook and Twitter, the two most popular social sites. Twitter proved most valuable as a way to spread information very rapidly and widely. During the floods, there were an estimated 1,200 flood-related status updates to Twitter “Tweets” per hour. The short (140) character lengths and ability to quickly “follow” those who were posting pertinent information allowed many residents to stay safe.

Facebook was utilized for providing more detail and acting as a way to manage relief activities. One of example of this occurred when an area animal shelter was at risk of flooding. Facebook was used to find homes for all of the displaced animals.

In all instances of the use of social media in disasters, the public becomes a valuable resource for helping the efforts of emergency management professionals. Acting as “first responders,” the general public can provide immediate information which can be used to affect the routing of emergency supplies and other emergency management efforts.

For emergency management officials, it’s important to keep an eye on the information flowing from the social media universe. Any grossly erroneous information should be quickly rebutted from official sources since one downside to the speed of social media is that misinformation can proliferate. So it’s important to monitor the social conversation. According to a Red Cross survey, 69 percent of respondents fully expect emergency management agencies to actively monitor and respond to emergency requests via social media sites.

Another recent use of social media was during the January blizzard that affected the Midwest. In Chicago, road clearing management personnel posted real-time progress of plowing efforts using phones or tablet devices. The National Weather service was also involved, through its efforts in spreading alerts through Twitter and Facebook.

Social media use during the floods and other disasters also act as aggregators of public sentiment and concern. Officials can use social media data to prepare official videos or flyers that address particular needs.

Usage of social media is a great medium for members of the general public and official emergency agencies to work together for the common good. By responsibly using the platform, the public can quickly learn what is happening and where they can go to help, while emergency officials can discover where to send rescue teams and allocate resources.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit rjwestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.