Leveraging social media in large emergencies is now standard practice. It started in 2008 when Myspace was used to update citizens on Hurricane Gustav and in 2009 when, for the first time, a piece of news (a plane landing on the Hudson River) was published on Twitter before the traditional press.
Since 2010, social media has proved to be a key element in disaster management: the eruption of the Eyafjoll volcano sent air traffic into a tailspin and Twitter was used with the hashtag #getmehome to help stranded people return home. In 2011 Twitter was used during the Utoya attacks in Norway by young people to help be located by the police.
From that moment on, social media has become a vital communication tool, almost replacing traditional media for its ability to inform and update the state of the emergency in real-time.
But what are the strengths of social media in emergency management?
The above examples highlight the important role played by social media in:
improving disaster management from an early stage by providing a full picture of the situation
enhancing communications with citizens, which is now an exchange of information
responding quickly and more timely
On the other hand, unaware management can lead to severe damage. Not actively monitoring the narrative and the flow of information can give credit to fake news with unpleasant effects.
E-Citijens: the project between Italy and Croatia
The E-Citijens project stands out amongst other Civil Protection initiatives in regards to the use of social media to manage natural emergencies. The project is a collaboration between Italy and Croatia for the monitoring and response to natural disasters in the Adriatic basin.
E-Citijens began in 2019 to enhance the emergency management measures, social media usage, supporting the Civil Protection in the response and communication with the territory.
The three main objectives are:
increasing the safety of the Croatian and Italian Adriatic basin by decreasing the exposure of coastal and internal ecosystems and the population to the impact of natural disasters
promoting cross-border cooperation between the regional and national administrations of Italy and Croatia in strengthening the monitoring and emergency management measures
raising citizen awareness so that they become "active sensors" using their social media channels to communicate an emergency
It is important to note that the use of social media is linked to a context of transnational and cross-border cooperation, providing Civil Protection agencies with an advanced and efficient decision support system (EDSS).
The ultimate goal is to create a real-time communication channel between Civil Protection agencies and the population, to collect and use information voluntarily provided by citizens via social media (citizen journalism), for better disaster management.
The role of Beta 80 and the creation of EDSS
For the E-Citijens project, Beta 80 Group oversaw the designing, building, and testing EDSS: the tool that allows the Civil Protection to:
connect to social media
collect the user reports and information
interpret them and report them to the agency based on preset parameters
The purpose of the EDSS is to support Civil Protection agencies, not security services. The data collection is therefore anonymous: the goal is to collect messages exclusively dedicated to Civil Protection such as those published on Facebook pages or those that contain specific hashtags, avoiding civil protection operators having to monitor the pages, taking away time and resources for other urgent activities.
What are the benefits?
This innovative system has three key benefits:
collect messages from social networks, in particular Facebook, Telegram, and Twitter.
carry out the event classification (Flood, Earthquake, Fire)
present them to the operator who can then use them in the management of operations.
E-Citijens: the population awareness campaign
The E-Citijens project reached another objective: to increase population involvement, making them an active and aware part of the process. To this end, an awareness campaign was carried out to activate the participatory process of citizens and transform them into "active sensors", promoting correct behaviors and in-depth knowledge of risk issues in the event of dangerous situations.
The awareness-raising activities were carried out with Work Cafès, Info Days, and with the creation and participation in virtual social media communities. People were thus informed of the Civil Protection activities and safety regulations in case of disasters.
The e-Citijens project has achieved two important goals:
the creation of EDSS as a tool for social monitoring is now an effective reality that can be replicated, if necessary, by other nations and civil protection bodies.
the information and involvement activities of the population have made people more aware of the use of social media in an emergency.