Ashley Spilak is part of the Social Media / Online Communications Unit for Emergency Management BC - the Government of British Columbia's online source for emergency alerts about natural disasters and providers of public education and preparedness information. Collectively, the team brings nine years of experience guiding government social media campaigns that target public and business audiences, both domestically and internationally.
British Columbia's search and rescue (SAR) volunteers are often unsung heroes during avalanches, road rescues, floods, earthquakes and many other natural disasters. During emergency evacuations, these volunteers may put themselves at high risk while delivering critical first-response services. British Columbia's emergency lifeline volunteers work hard to support B.C. families during disasters of all types, but at what point might personal, social media activities pose a risk to volunteer agencies and the people they serve?
The increased use of personal smart phones and social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube means personal comments, pictures, opinions and emotions can be broadly and publically shared. And while social media offers opportunities to build brand and online collaboration with volunteer organizations, there are also real risks.
Case in point: Where SAR volunteers are extricating vehicles, accident victims, or even fellow volunteers who might be hurt, the inappropriate use of social media can mean legal consequences for SAR agencies and volunteers. Social media could impede investigations, lead to confusion or misinformation online, property or privacy violations, personal libel or liability. Take the use of social media seriously. During emergency situations timely and accurate communications is critical! Safeguard your online voice, don't jeopardize it.
Below are simple questions that
SAR volunteers can ask themselves before using social media on - or off - the
job. Help bolster yourself and your organization's online reputation by
answering yes to these questions.
* Is my first priority public safety and emergency response, not
* Do my images, videos build a stronger, more effective and
collaborative emergency management team? Do I bolster my
organization's presence and bring awareness to priority web
* Do I respect the individual's identity and not risk sharing
information about a victim or patient without signed consent?
* Do I respect the property of my fellow British Columbians?
* Do I respect emergency organizations, police investigations,
on-site service providers, co-workers and homeowners?
* Do I adhere to B.C.'s confidentiality laws and policies?
* Do my social media communications redirect to credible, accurate
and public information? Do I avoid speculating online if I do not
know the answer to a safety-related question?
* Do I avoid being perceived as an official media spokesperson?
Ultimately, the best practice for volunteers is to champion professionalism and understand personal privacy laws. And always remember that you are representing the organization you volunteer for, whether in person, online or even off duty.
Questions? Contact Emergency Management BC's Social Media team.