Digital Crisis Communications at FEMA: Case Study


Public information officer John Shea goes On the Record…Online about strategically leveraging social media for crisis communications, the credibility gap between social media communications and your own website, and why press releases are ineffective for direct communications during times of crisis.  

FEMA Public Information Officer John Shea talks about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency is using social media to conduct crisis communications.

FEMA is currently using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Widgets and RSS to amplify potentially lifesaving information on a local and incident basis that may be available at


1:39 – How online newsrooms from iPressroom help public relations practitioners us the web as a primary stakeholder relations channel.

2:47 – Why FEMA sees social media as an effective crisis communications channel.  

3:41 – How FEMA is leveraging social media regionally and geographically by working with state and local partners during emergencies like earthquakes, fires and tornados and to provide disaster relief and promote disaster preparedness.   

6:01 – FEMA’s Regional Twitter (Example: Region 9) and RSS strategy, social media account management policy, who decides what information moves via Twitter on a region by region basis, and coordinating the national and regional message.  

10:12 – How FEMA is using an automated, decentralized social media crisis communications model to empower experts, state and local officials with preconfigured social media footprint, standard operating procedures, and training and support to integrate social media into existing job processes and minimize staffing requirements.  

11:12 – How FEMA external affairs — which includes public affairs, congressional affairs, intergovernmental affairs and community relations  — uses tool-based standard operating procedures as guidelines for experts, state and local officials who may be using FEMA’s social media websites during a disaster or to promote crisis readiness.  FEMA has standard operating procedures for using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  

14:17 – How FEMA is leveraging off-network solutions (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) to extend the reach of its on-networks resources (information available through, as well as to navigate IT security, privacy and legal issues.  

15:06 – Why creating and hosting content on-network is critical to maintaining the credibility of FEMA’s off-network social media communications efforts.  

15:33 – How FEMA sequences the release of information during a crisis incident on-network and off-network.  

17:22 – How and why social media has marginalized the effectiveness of press releases.  The benefit of amplifying on-network information via Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites to reach individuals with potentially live saving information.  

18:05 – Making social media status updates more credibility by back-ending them with links to on-network information, so recipients can verify information by means of the authority of the domain.  

19:08 – Instead of only pushing out safety alerts, FEMA is using social networking sites to search for and connect people looking for disaster relief, safety and security information with links to potentially lifesaving information at  The sequencing of on-network versus off network information distribution, and the value of presenting content at your own domain versus a third-party social media site.  

20:53 – Managing information security concerns when communicating about potentially vulnerable communities during times of crisis.  

22:56 – The tools FEMA is using to crowd source the kind of crisis communications people need most during emergencies, and natural disasters, as well as the benefits of using web-based tools or software as a service at organization’s with stringent network security demands.  

24:16 – What skill sets and staffing levels are required to manage media monitoring during a crisis, and how FEMA is using social media  to listen proactively as a way of indentifying and distributing the information people need most.  

26:24 – Why compatibility is critical to the effectiveness of America’s disaster response systems, and why interoperability and compliance are critical to FEMA’s social media communications strategy.  

28:16 – What FEMA is doing to make disaster relief information available via mobile devices, and the notion of FEMA evolving into the public steward of raw disaster relief data, which could be repurposed and visualized by the public with open source tools like Google Maps.  

30:42 – The network infrastructure required to respond to significant spikes in traffic, which customarily arise during times of crisis, and the content delivery network FEMA uses to help respond to increases in page requests.  

33:05 – The legal guidelines that mandate what types of features government agencies can and can’t take advantage of when setting up and customizing various social media accounts.  

35:11 – How FEMA is using internal communications to replace command and control style communications, with a more scalable model that lets the center of the organization inform the edges, and the edges inform the world.  

37:02 – End  

Photo by John Middelkoop on Unsplash

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