Today the internet and the ‘new media’ play a very important part in managing crisis situations. The new media is present in all kinds of such events, and for this reason instead of ignoring or fighting against it, it is better to know how to work with these tools and take advantage of them for our benefit as managers of crisis situations.
What is new in the new media?: the fact that in addition to being consumers of immediate news, each of us can also create news instantly – video, photographs, texting and audio. It is all at our fingertips by pressing a button and we can dispatch it to the whole world. Everyone who has a smart phone or computer at his disposal can immediately reach anyone anywhere on the planet.
Tell any commander of a unit combating terror that there are direct video broadcasts from the proximity of the hostage area or within it, and he is liable to blanch; tell the CEO of a large organization that many employees are writing blogs and uploading videos and pictures that are available to all so that the whole world can see, and he is also likely to wince.
However, I believe that there is another side to the coin.
Every commander of a terror combat unit would be happy to receive direct transmission from the stronghold in which terrorists are keeping hostages, and in my opinion, CEOs should be pleased to receive direct rather than artificial opinions and responses from their workers when their businesses are in turmoil.
If we accept that the new media is here and far from disappearing, will only penetrate deeper into every detail of our lives, we can start to understand how it is possible to turn it to our advantage as managers of crisis situations. Here are a few examples:
One of the characteristics of every crisis situation – and especially a large one – is chaos. There is no media, communications networks fail and no one knows what is happening. However, today, when almost everyone has a smart phone in their pocket, anyone can be transformed into a source of information by photographing (check out how many videos of the tsunami are on the internet). Textual information can also be transferred, and so on. GPS correlates can be established and one can see where everything was photographed. Now imagine this multiplied by hundreds of people, where each of them uploads a great deal of very important information onto the network. Immediate collection of this information, its analysis and understanding its significance will present decision makers and directors of emergencies with a reliable picture of the situation in real time and in sequence – dream conditions under which to work! Transmitting survival guidelines to citizens through the new media may save many lives. Opening a communication channel for citizens will increase confidence in the administration and help to stabilize the situation, and so forth.
In a situation like Mumbai, where terrorists took control of a hotel, the main problem was finding information. Movies like “The Negotiator” show how video and audio equipment was introduced into a building, but today with the ubiquity of smart phones every hotel is networked with hundreds of video cameras, GPS and every other gadget that can constitute an intelligence dream. For example, by means of a smart phone, one can transmit directions to those trapped in a building to help them escape from it. In analyzing a position, the concentration of instruments will assist in concluding where hostages are held, to decide which photos are necessary for security forces. Every smart phone functions as an office and receptor of valuable facts for the units waiting to go in.
Here too, establishing a technological frontal command center whose work involves hundreds of cellphones is as vital as other units.
Public Order Incidents
Lessons from the Arab Spring teach us that we must relate to the internet as an all-purpose information and communication tool. This tool can give us advance warning of a crisis situation, describe what is occurring during its course and even show us how to intervene in a crisis and end it. Just as protest organizers upload information onto the internet, so too can the police or any other body do so. In addition, an advantage of the new media is that the police can allow anyone to respond, to send messages, ask questions, upload video pictures and thereby directly access the public without going through various leaders who represent their own interests.
The ability to transmit reliable information in an orderly fashion in real time and to conduct a dialogue with a community by means of the new media, can permit the police to build a situation picture and correctly assess risks and, as I have noted, intervene correctly during the course of an incident and influence it.
Again, the necessary insight is that the new media constitutes a tool that can not only be used against the police, but a legitimate communications medium with which they can conduct dialogue with all users. For this, knowledge is necessary as well as the establishment of a suitable technology command unit.
The new media is not an obstacle in the path of the manager of emergency situations. On the contrary, it is an unparalleled and effective tool that allows us to receive quality information in real time, enables the building of a situation picture and conducting dialogue online with our citizens who are involved in the crisis, and with their aid, contain it and even resolve it. This is not merely a spokesman’s tool but a first rate instrument of intelligence!