Section 1: Setting the Stage


During large-scale disasters, a wide variety of communication platforms are available to response workers, whether they are on the scene, in an Emergency Operations Center, or part of a virtual team.

In this course, we define social media intelligence as urgent, disaster-specific information obtained through social media channels that supports disaster response and recovery efforts.

Situational awareness provides information that is specifically associated with a disaster and contains content that would influence disaster response and recovery efforts.

Illustration of a laptop and a smartphone, both with a social media site or app displayed on screen, with miscellaneous messages shown protruding from the screen.


Who might work with disaster social media intelligence?

The National Incident Command System (ICS) currently lacks a mechanism for collecting, distributing, and promoting social media intelligence in disaster response. However, other organizations have created systems and/or processes to fill this gap.

This training will allow you to position yourself as a potential contributor to response efforts, by helping you develop skills in social media situational awareness. You might deploy to a disaster site, or you may work online, as part of a virtual team or as a digital volunteer.

Digital Humanitarian Organizations

Examples of groups that often use volunteers to connect people with information that can be found online:

Becoming a digital volunteer can help you to hone your skills in monitoring and evaluating social media messages. Digital volunteers might work from home with flexible hours, or be part of a more structured response team.

“Digital volunteer groups are teams of trusted agents who make use of social media tools to assist traditional emergency management groups that may not have the time or resources to monitor and make sense of the vast amount of data generated by the public during an emergency. Digital volunteers curate disaster information posted on social media and provide relevant information to official responders as well as the public.”

—Devin Duncan

Reference: Duncan, D. (2016, May 10). Digital Volunteer-Supported Emergency Management Concept of Operations. Government of Canada, Defence Research Reports. Retrieved from

Additional reading on digital volunteers


Virtual Operational Support Teams (VOST)

VOSTs are tasked and given missions directly from an Incident Command System (ICS) or Emergency Management organization. VOST teams are sometimes staffed by volunteers, but the V stands for virtual because public information officers, emergency managers, and civilian law enforcement officers are often the "staff" of VOST Teams. Team members report to a VOST Team Leader, who reports directly to someone within the ICS organization (usually in either the Planning Section or the PIO/JIC Section). VOST Teams typically monitor and gather information directly for the ICS organization and missions may flex over the course of a VOST Activation.


Four steps to analyzing social media during disasters

This course will cover four major steps of working with social media intelligence in disasters:


Key Points

In this section, we covered the following main points:

  • There are a variety of opportunities to gather disaster social media intelligence, including as a digital volunteer or part of a VOST.
  • Your role in social media intelligence may be as part of a team physically deployed to a disaster site, as a member of a virtually deployed team, or as a digital volunteer.
  • Cultivating and practicing social media disaster intelligence involves four main steps: policy, planning, preparation, and carrying out established procedures during the disaster.