AFCEA Reports: DHS Bolsters Social Media Influence With a Twist, July 1, 2018, by George Seffers

A first-responder working group is poised to grow. While many government organizations are seeking to expand their social media influence, one social media group is expanding its influence within government.

The Social Media Working Group for Emergency Services and Disaster Management operates as a subcommittee under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’) Science and Technology Advisory Committee, but it is on its way to becoming a full-fledged federal advisory committee.

Such committees help shape public policy by providing objective advice on an array of issues, including space exploration and stem cell research. Hundreds of advisory committees perform peer reviews of scientific research; offer recommendations on policy matters; identify long-range concerns; and evaluate grant proposals, among other functions, explains a 2004 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

“Once we become an advisory committee, the membership at the federal level will broaden to some degree. It will include many more components of DHS and probably even go a little outside of DHS to include other federal agencies as well,” says Denis Gusty, a program manager in the department’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). “The mission will stay the same, but the membership will broaden a bit. I think it does give us a little more influence.”

Gusty cannot estimate when the transition to a full committee will be complete, but he indicates that such an evolution takes a great deal of work. “I don’t have an exact date. We’re hoping very soon, but there’s still some work left to go through,” he offers.

The working group includes federal, tribal, territorial, state and local responders from across the country who are subject matter experts. It provides guidance to the emergency preparedness and response community on the use of social media before, during and after disasters, whether natural or man-made, including terrorist attacks. “Our purpose is to provide a resource for first responders for how to best utilize social media in their day-to-day activities,” Gusty explains.

Hemant Purohit, assistant professor in the information sciences and technology department of George Mason University, has participated formally with the working group for about two years, informally even longer. Purohit touts the group’s ability to bring together emergency response workers and researchers to develop solutions with first-responder input rather than responders being blindsided by potentially unfamiliar technologies. “We need champions within the practitioner community willing to understand the technology. More and more practitioners are joining, and they’re seeing the value of understanding how the technologies work,” Purohit says.

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