DHS Social Media Planning Tool Supports Enhanced Emergency Management Operations and Communications Nationwide

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently collaborated with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Office of Response and Recovery (ORR), External Affairs, and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI), as well as various public safety and emergency management practitioners, to develop, pilot, and launch a single page web application called the Social Media for Emergency Managers (SMEM) Guidance Tool. The SMEM Guidance Tool will increase first responder and emergency managers’ ability to deliver messages to the public before, during, and after an incident by providing social media planning templates, resources, and best practices to first responders, emergency managers, and public information officers (PIO) looking to develop effective social media emergency operations programs and better reach their community where they are.

To create the SMEM Guidance Tool, DHS S&T funded Corner Alliance to perform original research into social media best practices. Corner Alliance interviewed communications teams and stakeholders from various emergency management agencies at multiple levels of government, synthesized the research and interviews into planning guidance focused on the emergency response community, and researched effective delivery mediums for their findings. Through that effort the team identified common gaps in communications planning across response agencies, formulated the structure of the SMEM Guidance Tool, and validated the tool with potential users prior to delivery.

“The SMEM Guidance Tool will change the way our public safety community prepares for, responds to, manages and recovers from emergencies,” said DHS S&T Program Manager Denis Gusty. “It’s easy-to-use, free, automated, web-accessible and mobile. And, thanks to the research that’s gone into the development of this tool, it is uniquely tailored to provide the social media best practice guidelines that our public safety organizations will need when implementing their social media guidance plans.”

In June 2019, S&T launched a pilot of the SMEM Guidance Tool in coordination with FEMA EMI as a way to supplement their existing course offerings and resources for the PIO training. Since then, a broad spectrum of first responders and emergency management agencies have used the tool, producing planning documents to prepare and plan their operations for future incidents. Those users have been providing S&T with feedback about the usability and functionality of the tool. One PIO user from the State of California said “I was impressed with the [SMEM Guidance Tool] because it made me think of [social media planning concerns] I may not have considered and I liked how easy and user friendly it was to fill out.” The tool has also been featured at conferences such as the Social for Safety Conference and the Government Social Media Conference where stakeholders have continued to validate their need for the tool.

The current version of the SMEM Guidance Tool transitions the Social Media Business Case Guide and Digital Volunteer Program Guide to a web-application. The final beta version, to be released by August 2020, will also include the Social Media Plan Guide, completing the core components for a fully operational social media program at any emergency response agency. More specifically, the tool will provide customizable, downloadable planning templates that demonstrate how to:

  • Build a business case and secure leadership buy-in and support in the form of financial resources and advocacy;
  • Develop informed social media emergency objectives;
  • Form a social media planning team, including the use of trusted, trained volunteers; and
  • Develop new or updated communications plans for ongoing emergency operations.

S&T and FEMA plan to make the final SMEM Guidance Tool available to the general public by August 2020 and are examining opportunities to continue collaboration on further SMEM and crowdsourcing resources.

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