Earlier this summer, the Department of Homeland Security made a push to be high-tech and connected with the American people through the use of social media and Web 2.0. Indeed, yesterday I wrote of how the agency was gathering opinions and thoughts on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review through its website, http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org. DHS also has created RSS and Atom feeds for those who want to get the latest going-ons at DHS, online journal and blogs for Leadership- both at headquarters and at components, podcasts, and widgets. Not to be left out of the social networking craze, the agency has also set up sites and pages on outside sites, as noted below.
The Department has made it a priority to be able to communicate with the public in more ways, providing information as quickly and as conveniently as possible. Twitter users can get their homeland security information in haiku (ok, maybe not quite yet, but there is hope). One can become a fan of FEMA on Facebook. TSA has its own podcast on iTunes, where listeners can listen to 1 minute spots on why liquids have to be placed in baggies to why do we need to take our shoes off when traveling. The Coast Guard is on flickr. Logging into the “ushomelandsecurity’s Channel” on YouTube this morning, you can catch Secretary Napolitano talking about the QHSR.
These efforts are to be commended as important first steps to recognizing that homeland security is about communities and individuals and has to extend beyond D.C. That said, one thing that has become apparent in the last month from watching DHS’ efforts is that more can be done to effectively use social media technologies and the talents and first-hand experiences of the public through out the nation. The social media efforts to date have mostly been used to push information to the public though, to be fair, the QHSR dialogue is serving as a gathering of information. But why not take the next step to, as Secretary Napolitano noted in her speech CFR last week, utilize the “untapped resources of millions of our own citizens.”
For example, FEMA has run Citizen Corps, a grassroots strategy to bring together government and community leaders to involve citizens in all-hazards emergency preparedness and resilience. According to the Citizen Corps website, the program asks that you “embrace the personal responsibility to be prepared; to get training in first aid and emergency skills; and to volunteer to support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.” Why not create an online Citizen Corps where volunteers can use social media sites to promote homeland security?
Imagine the possibilities. How many times a week on Facebook do people “donate” their status updates for causes or, as demonstrated in recent weeks, issues such as how to keep Facebook from using your photos in advertising? What if DHS utilized those same people to encourage their friends and neighbors to be prepared for a all-hazards emergency? In a time of emergency, the same people could be utilized to spread information via Twitter and other sites on evacuations, routes, and safety information. These individuals are able to get information out on celebrity scandals and world events these days faster than traditional media. The efforts would also bring homeland security to a local level as individuals would get information from their friends and families – people they live with and know and not just bureaucrats in D.C.
That is not to say there would not be challenges in putting together a system. It certainly would keep the lawyers at DHS busy for awhile figuring out how to best utilize individuals. The viral effect of living in a networked world would also requires some thought on how to counter gossip and panicked responses that might not be completely accurate. If overcome, however, the value of such resources would be tremendous.