Recent Hurricanes Have the Coast Guard Rethinking Social Media’s Role in Rescue and Response

Nicole Ogrysko | Federal News Radio | September 21, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard is still knee-deep in rescue and response efforts as the third major hurricane in three weeks hits the U.S. and its territories. But the agency has already learned a thing or two from its initial response efforts and is thinking about new tools it should develop to better prepare for future disasters. When 911 call centers quickly overloaded in Houston, residents in the area quickly took to Facebook and Twitter to ask for help.

The Coast Guard isn’t accustomed to sending a helicopter or a flood punt boat to a rescue scene based on a single Facebook post or Tweet, but the agency quickly learned that it needed to adapt. It set up an impromptu call center at the agency’s command center in Washington, Coast Guard employees fielded calls for help on social media. Then, the agency quickly trained its first responders to use a geospatial application that sends direct search and rescue locations to them.

“That’s how we rescued the 11,000 people, leaning in on how the public was self-selecting to use social media, because they couldn’t get through on 911 calls,” Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for mission support, said Sept 12, at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington. “We decided for the next disaster, we can’t be a pick-up game. We have to be looking in advance what we need to develop.”...