Sample Certification Exam Questions: Social Media

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By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission, and Chair, IAEM-Global Communications Work Group

As of March 2019, the certification examination test question databank includes questions on social media, planning for the needs of children in disasters, continuity of operations, public works and disaster recovery, debris operations, and retail security awareness. So, the CEM® Corner articles for the remainder of the year will cover these topics. This month we will start with social media.

Social Media and NFPA 1600

NFPA 1600 does not specifically address social media. It does address two main topic areas potentially covered by social media. They are crisis communications and public information, and warning, notifications and communications. Specifically, NFPA 1600 says we must have plans and procedures in place to “disseminate information to and respond to requests for information from internal and external audiences before, during and after an incident.” Social media, according to FEMA’s Independent Study Course IS-42, “is another communications channel.” It is an interactive tool available to emergency managers to get content to and from various entities, agencies and the public. Thus, the use of social media tools allows emergency managers to meet NFPA 1600’s communication requirement.

Four Distinct Groups

There are a plethora of social media tools and platforms available to emergency managers. However, they are divided into four distinct groups.

  • The first group includes blogs (i.e. Blogger and Twitter). These platforms “allow a single author or group of authors to post content and links as a series of articles or posts arranged in a chronological sequence like a diary or journal…and are often tailored to a specific individual, organization or topic (IS-42).”
  • The second group includes the social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn). These platforms “allow users to directly connect with one another, through groups or networks or even by location, when this feature is enabled. They also allow users to comment directly or to obtain a direct feed of content to their own page or mobile device for easy viewing and response (IS-42).” 
  • The third group includes the media-sharing sites (i.e. Instagram, Flickr, Google Photos, YouTube, Imgur, and Vimeo and Tumblr). These platforms allow users to “include text commentary, group photos or video” often with embedded “metadata such as the GPS coordinates, date and time an image was recorded in their content files (IS-42).”
  • The last group is the wikis or online encyclopedias (i.e. Emergency 2.0 Wiki). Here “participants all have editing ability for content on the page, so they can work together to write and edit site content (IS-42).”

Common Characteristics

Though all these sites and platforms have different purposes and audiences, they all have a few characteristics in common. Among these characteristics are:

  • A source for current and historical information; n An interactive platform, allowing for two-way communication and user-generated content;
  • A tool for bringing ideas and people together virtually; and
  • A method to support the creation of online communities.

In addition, emergency managers should know that social media is decentralized and non-hierarchical; is usually immediate and available globally; and consists of many channels, formats and contexts. Since the public obtains its news from multiple sources, social media contributes to the media discourse.

All these characteristics make social media a valuable tool for emergency managers, which can and should be used in all four phases of emergency management and all five mission areas (in the USA). Use this tool to provide a service, to achieve desired outcomes, and to stimulate public participation in emergency management activities.

Benefits of Social Media

FEMA’s IS-42 lists a number of benefits when emergency managers include social media in their toolbox. These benefits include:

  • Building situational awareness.
  • Understanding issues, needs and concerns from the public and survivors.
  • Saving lives through rapid communication.
  • Fostering transparency and accountability.
  • Communicating (more) effectively and directly with constituents.
  • Reaching a larger group of constituents.
  • Reducing call volume (wired and cell) to call centers (nonemergency and emergency).
  • Responding to new, incorrect or conflicting information.
  • Building community resilience through prevention, mitigation and preparedness efforts by promoting government participation and building mutual trust in the community.

Challenges to Social Media Use

Emergency managers need to be aware that, like any tool, social media use has both benefits and challenges. These challenges include:

  • Leadership buy-in and organizational culture.
  • Organizational capability.
  • Privacy of personal information.
  • Sustainability (competition for resources, skills, time).
  • Security policies and restrictions related to IT systems.
  • Public records retention requirements.

Coordinate your usage of social media with the appropriate administrative, IT, and legal departments to ensure you are following all policies and legal requirements. Also review the chart in IS-42 that provides a discussion of better practices addressing each of these challenges for good ideas to include in your program.

Examination References

As for the previous standards, NFPA 1600 does not describe when or how to use social media. Therefore, for the exam we need to refer back to the FEMA Independent Study Course IS-42, Social Media in Emergency Management for background on the core questions.

Practice Questions

Here are two core-type questions for our analysis.

1. Which of the following social media tools allow the emergency manager and community members to connect directly with each other for two-way communication before, during and after an incident?

a. Blog.

b. Social networking site.

c. Media sharing site.

d. Wiki.

This question is asking you to know the purpose of usage of the various social media platforms and to select one that meets certain criteria. In this case, direct, two-way communication. All four platforms allow for users to post comments on previously posted content, but only social networking sites allow for direct, two-way communication between users. Therefore, the correct response is b. See IS-42.

2. During the response to a major disaster event, you want to get a message out to the public regarding evacuations and sheltering options. Because your jurisdiction borders another country, you need to ensure that your message is immediate and available globally. Which of the following communications platforms or tools should you use?

a. Local AM radio.

b. Major daily newspapers.

c. Social media sites.

d. Press release.

This question is asking you to recall the characteristics of various media tools and platforms. Reviewing the specific requirements for this communication, we see the message content has to be disseminated immediately and globally. While a local AM radio station is immediate, it probably isn’t global. At least the description provided in the answer does not indicate that it is. Major daily newspapers are more immediate than magazines or books, and may even be global, but they aren’t immediate due to the editing, printing and distribution times. Social media sites are by definition immediate and global because of the Internet, so this is most likely the correct response. The last potential response, the press release itself, may be considered immediate and global if the press outlets receiving the press release can get it on the air immediately and if the press is global. There are too many “ifs” in this response that makes us assume information not provided in the question. Therefore, the only correct response is c. See IS-42, Social Media in Emergency Management; IS-700b, National Incident Management System (NIMS), An Introduction; and IS-702a, National Incident Management System (NIMS) Public Information Systems.

When reading the questions and responses, be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking of you and read each response before selecting the correct one. It is too easy to get distracted and select a response that appears to be correct but is not the correct response for the question being asked.

Next Month

Next month we will continue our discussion on new topics now included in the test question databank. We also will analyze some practice exam questions. As usual, please send any questions you have about the examination or the certification process to me at info@iaem.com, and I will address them in future articles. Emergency Management for background on the core questions.


IAEM Bulletin, June 2019

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