Tactical Social Media Monitoring Units - The Wave of the Future?

By Adam Crowe, March 18, 2013, Originally Posted By Emergencymgmt.com

Earlier today, Security Week posted an article about how the Mumbai Police are setting up India's first "social media lab" to monitor public activities and information exchange on systems like Facebook, Twitter, and the like.  This police agency identified 20 police officers to support the effort and will work as a special operations branch.  This information is interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, it continues to reinforce that emergency management and emergency services agencies continue to see the importance and relevance of information distributed via social media systems.  Additionally, it begs the question -- are social media tactical teams (like this one) the wave of the future in public safety?

Clearly social media monitoring is a need and has been accepted by many agencies and professionals and is an excellent source of incident information and awareness.  Unfortunately, most agencies (no matter what function they serve) do not have the personnel or financial resources to dedicate to a team such as was implemented by the Mumbai police.  However, give the importance of monitoring, it cannot be ignored.  Instead, there are a few options that can be implemented, which are as follows:

1) Regional Social Media Response Teams -- Much like many specialized resources purchased and utilized by grants (ex: Bomb/EOD Teams).  A group of police or mixed discipline operators could work together to monitor social media or broader geographic ranges and share information to specific units or geopolitical groups as needed or desired.  This model is also already leveraged in some Fusion Centers.

2) Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOST) -- The VOST model leverages an activated team of individuals spread out over a vast geographic area (which are most often unrelated to the political entities) who search social media and monitor relevant information about the event or area.  This takes pressure off local resources that may otherwise be engaged in a local response or activation.

3) Localized Volunteer Teams -- Much like VOST, a set of local volunteers (ex: CERT members) could be activated to monitor social media and provide it back to an organization or EOC to improve awareness.

While these models are not the only options, they are the most likely to accomplish the goal of increased social media awareness with limited resource commitment from organizations already financially challenged.

Adam Crowe is the author of "Disasters 2.0: The Application of Social Media in Modern Emergency Management" and the forthcoming "Leadership in the Open: A New Paradigm in Emergency Management