Conflict Resolution, or Ham Radio vs Social Media

I am reposting blog entries to my new blog account from the old one.

During a recent Twitter exchange with a Emergency Manager in Oklahoma, who is also an active Ham and a major proponent of SMEM, I asked him if he was worried about a backlash from the ham community regarding the ongoing integration of Social Media into Emergency Management and Response.

He answered “No”, and asked me why I might think that way.  Here was my response:

“Hams have had the corner on damage assessment for a long time, with ATV and such. Now the “kids” come along with their Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, etc, and can send back high def images of the area in 1/10th the time that Hams can. You ask why hams would have a conflict? Why does a small town have 2-3 separate radio clubs? Why are online ham forums filled with “spirited debate?” Pettiness, pride, no longer being the “only one who can help,” etc.

“The ARRL promotes “When All Else Fails,” but a lot of hams out there think that they should be the ONLY “else.”

“Now, once the cell grid overloads, or goes down, then 2-way radio comes into it’s own, but until that point, there will always be the potential for friction.

“The trick is for the ham to master social media so that they can indeed “do it all” in the field, and leave the ego/pride/attitudes at home.”

For this blog post, I have elaborated on what I mean with the following information.

Ham Radio has always been on the cutting edge of technology. But now, with cellular 4G speeds and wi-fi hotspots, we run the risk of being relegated to “second string” in emergency response circles.

Your average smart phone owner can snap a high definition picture of a scene, or damaged house, upload it to a number of different photo sharing sites online, post it to Facebook and have it show up on the EOC’s Facebook page before you could pick up your radio, give your call sign and your current location.  In addition, most of the pictures are GPS tagged with the location of the photo, so they automatically show where on the map the damage is located.

How do we stay current and relevant?  When disaster comes calling, and he takes out the cell phone systems, and the grid goes down, Amateur Radio will always be there.

But what about in the minutes/hours/days before everything “goes south,” if it ever does? How many disasters are there that occur, where the communications systems stay in place and our “last resort communications” are not needed?

Become Social Media Savvy! Learn how to use your smart phone. You don’t have one? Turn in your brick phone and join the 21st Century.

If you are part of an ARES group, or a RACES group, or SkyWarn, or whatever, learn if your served agencies are using Social Media, and interact with them! For example, some NWS locations are now taking storm spotter reports via Twitter! The American Red Cross has a major Social Media presence.

When you’re the only contact they have with a site, because of your radio gear, you are a default “Trusted Resource”. They have to believe, and act on, what you relay to them from the field.  You need to become that Trusted Resource on social media, too.

They should have the confidence to look at what you send in and think, “Oh, that’s (your name). He/She always sends us reliable information.” Or if not you, personally, then your radio group.

Too many times I have heard hams say “I only do radio.” Why not be the guy who also does YouTube video from the scene? Or, if you have good signal strength, maybe Skype Video, or one of the Instant Message video services?  Just like Fast Scan (Amateur) TV allows front-line hams to send back video to the EOC, cellular technology allows you to do the same, but with higher resolution and faster transfer speeds.

“In these really big disasters, the initial response is generally not government. It’s individuals helping each other, trying to find out what’s going on. … we kind of have this barrier, because the public isn’t official. It’s not an official source of information… But we’ve seen now in the U.S., from wildfires in California and Boulder to the recent ice storm and snowstorms…the public is putting out better situation awareness than many of our own agencies can with our official datasets.”

Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator

More and more, Emergency Managers are using social media not only to deliver prevention and mitigation messages, but also use these platforms to engage the public in a dialogue and encourage feedback on efforts to keep the public safe and secure.

By becoming active in Social Media, you are just adding to your disaster response skill set.

When all else fails, Amateur Radio will stand in the breach. But, don’t you want to do your part in advance of that? Make yourself as relevant in the small situations as you are in the big ones.


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