Main Assessment Information Policy and Governance: How can the Queensland Police Service (QPS) make use of social media to improve how they use information?
The internet has grown from being a method of communication that governments and large corporations used to share information over long distances, to a tool that almost everyone uses on a day to day basis. The average global penetration percentage of the internet is28.7%: with some continents such as North America and Oceania/Australia having over half of their populations as frequent users of the internet. This means that the World Wide Web has become an integral part of communications and the daily life of millions of people. (Minimarts Marketing Group 2011)The internet is used extensively in business as a way of sharing information and direct communication between organizations and people through the sending of all manner of documents. As the chosen means of communication because of its speed and mobility it has become irreplaceable in many business organizations. It is also used to advertise research and facilitate many other business practices.
Over the recent years however, the internet has stopped being a business only affair. As penetration increases and more and more people use the internet for home and personal use, the internet has taken another role: a connector of people. Humans are social beings and they relate a lot with other people and talk and share information with others as a way of forming social ties. The internet has become a major tool in this. It began with people sharing emails and documents via the web much like friends would exchange letters and phone calls: later however, with the world becoming one big global village, people began embracing the possibility of meeting people online or virtually. This gave rise to social media which was a way for users not only to meet and talk with friends and acquaintances but also a forum for sharing content on a host of topics. These websites allowed networking of people from all over the world and formed a meeting point for people to interact with others of different cultures and lives. The advancement of technology has also meant that internet connectivity is now not only limited to land based connections. People can now access the internet anywhere they are with the use of mobile devices such as cellphones and other electronics that can access the internet remotely using any method of connection such as radio frequency or satellite connections.
Social media and the government in communication
Social media has become a part of people’s lives in many ways, it is no longer just a place to meet people, and it is the village restaurant or recreational park of the virtual world. People share information and news on what goes on in their lives or countries and they also learn what is going on in other places. Companies, governments and news agencies have learnt this and social media is becoming a key department in these organizations as a way of knowing what is going on globally as well as a platform for communication and dissemination of information.
Recently, when crisis occurs, such as natural disasters and other occurrences that have made conventional methods of communication defunct or not suitable to reach a wide market in a short amount of time, governments and other organizations have resorted to social media to spread the information that they want the masses to have. The number of people who access social media sites and the ability to do so from a variety of locations and methods mean that information spread through this channel can many times prove to be better and more efficient to connect with as many people as they want.
Social media is also used to know the status of people and which areas might be suffering problems as people share videos, pictures and stories that are happening around them. This is very important for coordination and direction of relief efforts or any other actions as they give a rough picture of what is happening on the ground.
The Queensland Floods
In 2011, the state of Queensland Australia was hit by major intense rainfall and cyclone Yasi that resulted in major flooding. Rivers in the region swelled and many broke their banks. Vast areas that were near the rivers or that were low lying experienced flash floods as a result and many people were affected by the flooding. As with any natural disaster, the government, through its various departments and agencies, had to step in to help the citizens that were affected by the floods. Emergency services for those that faced immediate danger had to be conducted in order to save lives and property as well as cater for those that were affected in the aftermath of the disaster. There were widespread flood warnings in the region and the message that people had to be prepared for the disaster was carried on many channels including social media. People were told via the internet and using major social networking sites that they needed to evacuate flood prone areas.
The major problems faced by the government in providing relief to the victims of the flooding are two: the first being the acquiring of funds and other resources that are to be used to help find and rescue survivors of the earthquake as well as facilitate other disaster recovery processes such as rebuilding of homes and reconnecting people to the basic amenities such as water and heating and protection from gangs and other people that might take advantage of the situation to cause trouble. The second problem is the issue of knowing where the government’s services are needed the most in order to make a feasible policy with the most needy areas prioritized. The government cannot use resources in blindly checking areas for use of its funds and services only to find that the situation on the ground isn’t as urgent as in other areas or they might not need the help as much as others. The collection of the information in the ground is a key pillar in any disaster recovery policy. Information and its clear interpretation are not only useful in the soliciting of funds but also in the efficient use of these resources.
A way of collecting and processing information from a wide area and with efficient use of resources has to be sought. The method of collection must be quick and provide real time coverage of the areas that are targeted. It should also be a method that does not rely on physical infrastructure such as power lines and telephone lines as this infrastructure is usually compromised during the disasters. A wireless solution is ideal especially one that can cover a wide area.
A proposed use of social media in the Queensland Flood
The efforts put towards aftermath relief are one of the areas where social media can be used extensively in carrying out some of the functions that go on during disaster recovery. The method that I propose to be put into practice that has social media as a key pillar in carrying out is the establishment of a website that is strongly linked towards the flood relief efforts but with a social media twist.
The website should not be like a conventional relief website with plain photos and tabs for donations but should strive to have more user generated content. The users should be the ones who will generate the videos and photos that are hosted on the site.
The layout of the website and its functionality should be more geared to the sharing of personal information and networking. The basic structure of a social network is what should be followed: people registering and signing up to join the network and as they do this they create a profile where they provide a bit of information about themselves. The option of a profile picture or customizable avatar is key in making the person “own” his or her account and they will feel that they are not just another person in a pool of members.
The personalized profiles should be used not only to receive information and talk to the authorities but also to talk to other people on the social network the basis of the conversations and discussions will be the flood relief efforts and what they can do to alleviate the suffering of the people in Queensland.
Daily the administrators of the site, who will be various government representatives for example the police, or other emergency services, will post an issue that is directly related to the efforts in flood relief. If no news is available in terms of operations, the administrators can still provide content such as videos or images as well as updates on what is going on in the area. The site will also be a direct method of communication between the government and the masses. Calls for funding and volunteering will be made and information given to those who want to help as to how they can go about providing support to the victims.
The element of user generated content is the key to the sites success. Videos and images from people in the area or even those from other people from all over the world that are meant to inspire or give hope to the people and make them feel that they are not alone. There are also services that are available to chat or meet people and talk with them about the goings on in the different places they are in. however, with so much content on the pages pointing towards the flood and the flood relief efforts, the discussions will almost always center around the main topic of the website: the Queensland flood relief. The videos and photos will have ratings and an option for other users to give their reactions to what they have seen, a lot like Facebook or YouTube. The users with the most ratings will be mentioned or given special categories that will make them distinguished from the others.
The website should have many ways of generating revenue for the relief efforts in the area. There are many different ways of doing it such as direct donations or buying of merchandise. The merchandise does not have to be physical but also virtual goods such as credits for downloads and customizable avatars. Titles can be bought using credit cards or other payment accounts and the money raised from the sale of these things is used to fund the relief efforts.
The site can also be used locally by the police to know about the problem areas as they are told in real time by people on the ground. The police can also use the social media to tell people about problem areas such as those where their safety might be compromise either through natural disasters or acts of nature and also by people who might take the opportunity to take part in illegal activities such as looting and hooliganism.
The police force of an area that is in any state of disaster management situation is key in maintaining stability and efficient order in the place. They are not only the ones that help in the immediate aftermath by rescuing victims or recovering stranded people and answering to other emergency situations. The police are also used in the long run in distributing materials that will be used in rebuilding the homes and places of business: materials such as foodstuff, medical provisions and clothing and other protective gear can all be transported and distributed to the people that need them, can all be done by the police. Together with other emergency response departments such as the fire brigade and the health services, these groups all share information and so they can all be coordinated with the assistance of social media.
The health officials can also be used to warn the public on any health risks or dangers of disease outbreak. In times of disaster management people may not be able to access health care through the normal way of going to the hospital or other health service provider. Access to these places will be limited or completely cut off. People who need these services but cannot access them can be explained to what to do to contain the situation before professional help can arrive. This can save many lives as well as preventing many complications from diseases and other dangers to their health. There are many instances in whre a person can be helped only in the short time after the accident occurring and these people can be helped if those near them can access information that has been put on the web.
Security of the users’ registration will have to be paramount. The users’ information not only pertaining to the site and the online identities of the people that are on the site but also since they will be using their accounts to donate money or purchase goods via the site, it means that their information has to be stored and shared in a very secure environment. Information that is on the site such as chats and correspondence between the users of the site although has to be secured, will be a bit more open than the payment data. The payment data will only be privy to the administrators of the site. These administrators are bound by law not to disclose any private information and since they are part of the government it means that they have a very high standard of privacy.
The internet is a very important tool in the world and it has help business and hundreds of other organizations to achieve success in very many ways. Its use in communication as well as how easy to use and available it is to very many people means that if its power is harnessed and geared towards doing good on the society it can go very far in helping people.
The government, not only in Queensland flood relief efforts but also in every other situation where sharing of information is wanted should not look down on the internet and social media in carrying out its functions. Social media has been harnessed by many people and it has been proven that it is a very efficient and quick tool in communications.
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