28th of may 2015 Homerisk researcher Harald Throne-Holst attended the seminar Social Media in Crisis Management – Future and limits of communicating with crowds during emergencies arranged by the DIGICOM project at PRIO.
The seminar highlighted ways of understanding the properties of digital information and how the digitalisation and social media has produced an increased focus on citizens. Expectations and encouragements to citizens self-organisation capabilites are growing simulatenously as emergency information increasingly is being mediated to the public though social media. This has many advantages. However, the new dependency for crisis information to messages in social media may increase the distance between the public and the authorities (remote control from the control room).
Preliminary results from fieldwork in the Homerisk project suggests that this dependency and increased distance between the public an authorities may represent new vulnerabilites. Capacities of citizens to deal with power and ICT outages in crisis and their preparedness for future incidents seem to depend much on their former experiences, established practices, competences and networks. Proximity and shared knowledge between citizens and local authorities (knowledge about people, roles and networks) seemed for instance to be a resource that enabled both local authorities and citizens to act although the fire in Lærdal 2014 took out electiricity and telecommunications. Many households had in addition, through their experiences from prior outages, earlier life experience or leisure time hobbies, established resources and competences that helped them deal with the challenges caused by telecommunications and electricity being temporary unavailable after the fire. If both the public and responsable authorities in a broader sense and over time get more distanced and unknowledgeable of each other and get used to only depending on digital infrastructue in communicating about, dealing with and preparing for action in crises, their preapredness for incidents of crises where electricity and ict networks break down may be seriously lowered. To further investigate to what extent this is so is the aim of WP 3 in the homerisk project and topic for fieldwork 2015 and 2016.