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into emergency management, business continuity and continuity of operations planning in Canada, is not much different than what we observe in the United States. The same obstacles can be found along the road: organizational, generational and technical. In many of the key agencies and organizations involved in EM in Canada, there is still significant reluctance to truly embrace the power of social media. Key among the perceived threats are the lack of data validation, uncertainty about volunteer training, the absence of standards among the volunteer technical community and the hesitation to engage in conversations on SM platforms. Another major obstacle is the obvious reluctance and hesitation by public sector organizations to establish a social media presence. In government, there is generally a risk-adverse approach to communications and outreach with citizens. There is progress being made in Canada in that regard but it is still a long process. Also, many senior EM practitioners are of a generation that still sees SM as a novelty and seems to be unsure of its benefits. Although this perception is lessening, there are many who still need to be convinced to take the first step in the adoption of SM in EM programs: that of emergency information tools. Finally, there is a great deal of variation in the penetration of broadband and the most modern cell phone technologies in many rural and northern areas of Canada. The cost associated with expanded use of mobile technology by emergency management agencies can be a major dissuasive factor in the adoption of SM by smaller organizations in remote areas. The relative slow integration of social media in Canadian emergency management practices should pick up pace as Canada is among the most networked countries in the world. Social networks are leading destinations on the web north of the border. More and more Canadians turn to the web and social networks to get the information they need. In the next few pages, we’ll look at how different Canadian governments, organizations and agencies have introduced the use of social media in their emergency management practices. At the federal level There are significant obstacles to the most efficient use of social media by federal entities. Overburdened by a strenuous approvals process, hyper-centralized communications practices and a very risk-adverse mentality, federal departments mostly use social networks as old fashioned one-way information tools. The Canadian counterpart to DHS is called Public Safety Canada and has oversight of emergency management, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service among others. It plays a key role in
the coordination of federal response to security threats and the response to emergencies. However, the department has a social media presence that could be called nascent at the very best. There are ongoing pilot projects to use social networks but the only useful application of SM has been as a tool to disseminate emergency preparedness information. Other department or agencies fare a bit better. Health Canada has a more robust presence on social networks but is still limited in its engagement. In fact, as the CDC is widely recognized as a leader in the use of social networks in the US, its Canadian equivalent leads the movement toward modernization of communications within the federal realm. The website of the Public Health Agency of Canada offers many ways for citizens to stay informed and know about threats to their health. In all cases, very few, if any, federal departments or agencies engage in meaningful conversations on social networks which is the stepping stone for the most effective use of these tools. Security is a key explanation behind this situation. Federal government computers have been attacked in the past. The most recent unauthorized access came from servers based in China and left departments in Ottawa scrambling to address the issue. In the aftermath, internet access, including to key SM sites, have been severely restricted for federal civil servants and most mobile devices issued by the government do not allow web browsing or access to social networking platforms. So, access to social media represents a big issue for most civil servants in Ottawa and those who work for the federal government across Canada. Recent work at the federal level on Canada's Capability Based Planning does not bode well. The chapter on emergency information and alerting (see tab 28 in link above) does NOT include a single mention of social media. The draft document still refers to news cycles whereas most forward thinking crisis communications experts contend they no longer exist. Overall, Tab 28 of the document seems to have been written for another decade, if not another century. It does not reflect the reality and expectations among Canadians that authorities at all levels, WILL use social media to communicate with them during disasters and emergencies. At the provincial level Emergency management in Canada is a provincial responsibility. Each province and territory has an emergency management organization. Their use of social media varies greatly. At one end of the spectrum, Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) is embracing social media at a slightly faster pace then its provincial counterparts. EMO now uses Twitter and Facebook as emergency information tools as part of the Ontario Emergency Public Warning System. It monitors social media during disasters to help gauge its response. It has launched a YouTube channel to complement its social media portfolio. These channels are primarily used as an emergency information tool. However, last winter, EMO partnered
with CrisisCommons Toronto and put a link on its official website to a crowdsourced “snowmap”. Although the anticipated blizzard did not materialize, this was the first instance of such collaboration between a governmental agency involved in emergency management in Canada and the crisis mapping community. Another leader is Manitoba. That province experienced serious flooding in the spring of 2011 and social media and emerging technologies were among the resources used by its emergency measures organization. Among these were live streams and videos of key points on the Assiniboine and Red rivers. Despite the innovative use, in Canadian terms, of live streaming by the Manitoba government, there has not been any official linkage between the provincial emergency measures organization and the technical volunteer community that produced a very effective crisis map of the floods in that Prairie province. The British Columbia government is taking a broader approach in the use of social media by public servants to reach out to the public. This applies to emergency management as well where specific social media channels exist to inform residents about the potential dangers of forest fires (on Facebook) and for other types of emergencies. Other provincial and territorial governments use social media in a more limited way. Again, primarily, Twitter is used as an emergency information channel. Such is the case in New Brunswick. Most other provinces showcase very static website with very little interactive content or social media links, if any. To explain such a paucity of social media integration in provincial emergency management program, one has only to look at policies that regulate access to SM platforms by civil servants, In most provinces, with the notable exception of British Columbia where guidelines on the use of social media by government employees were published and well received in 2010, there are technical and policy obstacles to the use of social networks. For example, the vast majority of employees in the Ontario Public Service cannot access Facebook. YouTube and other key social networking sites from their work computers. When such access is deemed necessary, a business case must be made to obtain a dispensation and be able to use a proxy server for wider web access. The current state of affairs is unlikely to change soon. Public perception of public servants is fickle at best. Senior officials are hesitant to break down existing barriers on the use of SM both for policy and technological (bandwidth) issues. Media coverage in the later part of 2010 only served to exacerbate the situation. Outside government Key Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) involved in disaster response in Canada are among the most trusted entities in the Canadian public sphere. The Canadian Red Cross, St John Ambulance and Salvation Army all play important roles in emergencies. Their support to first responders and emergency management officials is critical in improving
responses and the lives of those affected by disasters. The Canadian Red Cross is putting together a social media policy based on the successful implementation of SM by sister agencies throughout the world. A key element of their approach is the need to conduct sound social media monitoring thus being able to identify influencers who help shape public opinion of the organization. The experience of the deployed Canadian Red Cross personnel in Haiti also played a big role in fashioning their SM policy. While the Red Cross is leading the way, the Salvation Army is devoting more resources to social media as part of their disaster relief programs and for fund raising activities. The St John Ambulance has a more modest social media outreach. Key among the non-governmental players pushing the use of social media in disasters and in emergency management are the technical volunteer communities. Canada is a hotbed for the crisis mapping phenomenon and a crowdsourcing nexus. CrisisCommons Toronto is one of the centres of excellence for this worldwide movement. Many meetings, crisiscamps and Random Hacks of Kindness events have been organized in Toronto but also in other cities. Other communities (CrisisMappers, Standby Task Force, Sahana Foundation, Ushadidi) are also well established in Canada. Generally, digital volunteers in Canada come from a variety of backgrounds although academia, the IT industry and emergency management are still largely represented. The spring of 2011 also marked a first for volunteer technical communities. After many international deployments, ranging from Haiti to Chile, from Christchurch to Japan, digital volunteers addressed disaster relief data crowdsourcing and crisis mapping right here in Canada because of severe flooding in Manitoba and Quebec in particular. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Important projects such as mbfloods, skfloods and inondationsqc have received attention. In all cases though, there has been very little interest from official emergency management agencies in sharing data, or using data and maps, provided and assembled by digital volunteers. Again, many of the same old arguments are heard among senior emergency managers: we need to validate the information provided by volunteers or we need to standardize their training. Sometimes, the hesitation to forge links between volunteers and official agencies is borne not out of mistrust but rather out of ignorance on both sides of the divide. It's also important to note that media outlets have started to put their own crisis maps together based on crowdsourcing and data collated from official sources and volunteer organizations. Relevant examples include an interactive map of the Manitoba floods in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper and on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's website. The French-language daily La Presse in Montréal had also put a map on its website during the worst of the flooding of the Richelieu River between the US border and the St Lawrence
River. The map has since been taken down. These maps of the 2011 spring floods in Canadian media represented the first foray by large media outlets in the world of crisis mapping and crowdsourcing data provided by the community and volunteers. Current trends All the efforts to integrate social media in emergency management practices across Canada are indicators of growing public participation. In this country, as in many others, people no longer just want to be witnesses or victims. Technology and social networking platforms now allow them to participate and make valuable contributions. The strength of Canada's digital volunteer communities is solid evidence that this trend will keep gathering momentum over the next few years. It is also catching the eye of government officials from the federal, provincial and municipal levels. There are ongoing discussions in including crisis maps created by volunteers, and data provided by volunteer technical communities, in the national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System or MASAS.
The vision for MASAS is to become a national network of incident management and geographic information systems, connected through standards-based interoperable interfaces that form a seamless map of emergency events and decision-supporting tools across Canada. MASAS enables emergency management practitioners to manage the impacts of emergency incidents and to reduce risk through the timely sharing of spatially referenced information. The goal is to improve situational awareness by mapping incidents and supporting risk assessment, alerting, coordination, infrastructure, and recovery.
There are obvious opportunities for volunteer technical communities to play a role in MASAS supported mapping during emergencies in Canada. Whether or not these opportunities are realized will depend on the level of acceptance by various government officials. Hope can be found in the simple fact that collaboration between governments and volunteer organizations is simply being entertained. Summary Canada is one of the most “connected” countries in the world. Its population is generally tech savvy and Canadians are early adopters of new technologies. Given these facts, the future points to an increased integration of social media in emergency management programs throughout the country. A small, but growing, group of emergency managers realize the importance of embracing the age of social convergence and accepting public participation via social media and crowdsourcing during disasters. They are working hard to push for the adoption of policies that would allow civil servants access to social media sites for example. They are also working to build strong evidence-based case studies showing the benefits of SM during disasters and overcome the lack of knowledge by some senior officials responsible for emergency management in Canada. Finally, they are working with digital volunteers to
provide basic emergency management training (such as IMS) to help bridge the gap and standardize participation in disaster response. In conclusion, the social media experience in the emergency management world in Canada is one marked by growing pains. However, most observers predict the inevitability of the integration of SM into EM and a brighter future for preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery efforts, based on community-based situational awareness made possible by social media tools, mobile technologies and volunteer participation.