The Diminishing Dot

A few months ago, my organisation joined forces with our public sector partners for an emergency exercise. It was my first experience of this kind of thing and I was there with a colleague to inject a little social media into the mix. Yesterday, as part of the debrief, we were regaled by the excellent Mark Scoggins from Fisher Scoggins Waters on the dangers of not recording the process of decision making in an emergency. In essence, it will come back to bite you later if anything goes wrong (do you want to take the risk?). During the talk, the subject of the window of opportunity came up in the context of “How long do you have before you make a public statement in relation to an incident?”. It’s a reputation management issue as much as a public information service. Well, Mark concluded, in the old days it may have been 24 hours at best but the world has changed and it’s a whole lot shorter now. A recent fire in Selly Oak was visible for some distance and images and footage began to appear within minutes on Twitter and YouTube. By contrast, it took 5 hours to appear in the local paper’s Twitter feed as graphically displayed in a great slideshare by Dan Slee.   The Hudson River plane crash is another example of a citizen reporter beating the big boys to the punch via Twitter . As public sector organisations we have a responsibility to manage emergencies of all shapes and sizes. As such, we have authority which can only be maintained by trust. So if we don’t want to be playing catch up with the social media melee, we need to be the first with the news or we lose all credibility. And that requires empowering frontline officers who we regularly trust to make decisions. We need to give them the means and the permission to convey those actions through the most direct and immediate channels at our disposal; social media. Because that old window of opportunity just got a whole lot smaller, in fact it’s like the diminishing dot on my childhood valve TV in the moments after you switched it off. Blink, and you’ll miss it.

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