Tornado damage

FEMA Administrator Wm. Craig Fugate on Social Media at GEOINT 2011

Even with all of the media coverage of social media and its importance, I still find occasions where I’m debating or explaining the merits of a network like Twitter or Facebook to someone who’s still skeptical of the benefits. That’s why it is fantastic to hear from someone who has seen the benefits of social media, and even more so when it’s done for the public service.

William Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, spoke last week in San Antonio, TX at the GEOINT 2011 Conference. Mr. Fugate is probably one of the most effective advocates for sharing information with the public and the use of social media in the public sector that I’ve seen.

Among the points in his speech:

  • Twitter has an enormous impact at FEMA:  As cell phone networks went down and a communication channel was lost following the Virginia earthquake this past August, FEMA monitored Twitter to determine the extent of the tremors.  This, in turn, informed their preparation and response to Hurricane Irene the following week.
  • Social media allows the people on the ground in the aftermath of a disaster to get critical information out to disaster relief efforts and other responders.  He mentioned the tornado in Joplin, MO as an example.
  • The government is doing a poor job so far of sharing data with the public, and that needs to change.
  • They need to ensure when they make data available that they are cognizant of the formats that will allow this to be viewable on mobile devices.
  • A challenge for government: Writing a press release that is relevant to the public.

I was particularly struck by the importance of his remark on mobile devices.  Earlier in the conference, General Keith Alexander of United States Cyber Command made the point that by 2015, there will be twice as many internet devices than people on the planet.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the much-criticized response by FEMA to that disaster, I found the comments by Mr. Fugate refreshing, and hope his vision continues to gain traction as he pushes for more open government.

Flickr Photo credit to Kansas City District