Twitter Hashtags and Emergency Management

(Updated November 11, 2011)  

While some emergency managers are embracing social media, others are still avoiding it. However, social media has emerged as an important tool for emergency managers. Emergency managers are using social media as a preparedness tool to engage the community, help with public information and as otherwise aid in dissemination of the preparedness message.  In addition, social media is emerging as an important tool for situation awareness during the response and recovery phases of an emergency.
It is important, in using social media for all phases of emergency management, to understand that it is not just about Twitter.  However, Twitter has clearly emerged as the most significant platform for emergency management engagement and situational awareness.  Twitter is simple; it is a micro blogging tool which is limited to 140 characters.  Anyone can follow what anyone else has to say.  This stream of  data (the Twittersphere or Twitter Stream) can be overwhelming based on the huge volume of silly Tweets that populate the stream.  However, the use of a “hashtag” (a short term preceded by the hash or # symbol) makes it manageable.  In addition, there are many Twitter aggregators and trend monitoring websites available; these use a variety of tactics to filter out what’s important or of interest to emergency managers. Currently some better software tools are emerging which may help automate the monitoring process.  Any monitoring or use of the Twittersphere will ultimately need to use hashtags. 

Hashtags are good to understand but hard to control; some say that hashtagging is a subtle art and I would have to agree.  As a user-defined tool, hashtags are both organic and rapidly evolving and there is no way to control them but there are some established ones to use and follow related to emergency management.  People will just start using a hash tag that seems to make sense given an emergency (Ex” #Joplin, #tornado, or #Earl) or use common terms like #hurricane. Hashtags help the public and emergency managers alike follow the conversation to see what I relevant to the event.  It will be interesting to see what emerges as an effective way to integrate Twitter and other social media in emergency management but it is clear that TwitterFacebook and a host of other tools are here to stay and these have already impacted the world of emergency management greatly.
Here is my list of commonly used hashtags (updated and in order of preference).
Hash Tag List
Emergency Management and Homeland Security
#HSEM – Homeland Security/Emergency Management - This is my clear favorite and it is becoming the preferred tag to use by many in emergency management and homeland security.  It is broad in meaning and well used.  In fact, the following hashtags are underused or used for different subjects as noted below.
#Disaster – Disaster related (also used often for trivial things like, “My hair is a #disaster!”)
#UASI – Urban Areas Security Initiative and anything relevant to those in UASI programs (past or present). Note: This started as a tag for the UASI conference but is now used to talk about relevant topics and Drive the #UASI Daily paper. However there are not many posts using it currently.
#DHS – Department of Homeland Security
#EM, #Emergency – Emergency Management – Used for many other (non emergency management) things and not used that often now for emergency management.

#Homeland – This used to mean that a post was related to Homeland Security but this has now been overtaken by those discussing the TV series Homeland and other things that are not relevant to Homeland Security. Instead, I suggest that you use #HSEM, #UASI, or #SMEM as appropriate. (This drives the #Homeland Daily but that is now all about the TV show.)

Public Health
#Outbreak – Disease outbreak
#H1N1 – The H1N1 virus
#Health – Health related
#BOLO – Be on the Look Out
#Quake, #Earthquake – All things seismic
#CBRNE – CBRNE is for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (or energetic) topics
#EMS – Emergency medical Services
#Fire – Fire and Rescue
#Hazmat – Hazardous Materials
#Missing – Missing person
#LEO – Law Enforcement Office or Organization
#WANTED –  Wanted person or vehicle
Weather Related
#Hurricane – Hurricane (obviously)
#Storm – any sort of storm (You can use #tropical #storm for instance)
#Tropical – Tropical weather (Ex: #tropical #wave emerges in the #Atlantic and Will we have #Franklin and #Gert roaming the Atlantic soon? #Tropical update)
#Tropicalstorm #TS (Tropical Storm)
#Tropicalwx – Tropical Weather)
#Twoat – Tropical Weather Outlook Atlantic)
#WX – Weather-Specific (preface with state initials for state-specific, e.g., #MDWX)
Social Media
#SMEM – Social Media and Emergency Management (Often abused for things not SMEM related)
#SMEMChat – Used during Twitter chats about SMEM on Fridays between 9:30-10:30a PST
#SM, #SocMed, #SocialMedia – Social Media in general


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