What do beer commercials have in common with natural disasters? No, this isn’t one of those lame marketing jokes, I promise. Think about it, if you are running commercials for “Cold Barrel Beer” during a nationally televised sporting event, what are you looking for on social media? In short, you are looking for a reaction; trending hashtags, keywords, and interaction. The faster you collect that information, the faster you can calculate your ROI, therefore having a “real-time” tool becomes essential. Switching roles now, you are a social media practitioner in the far corner of an Emergency Operations Center, tasked with finding information on a major flood. What are you looking for? The exact same things. The difference is now, speed is more than an ROI variable, it is a matter of life and death.

No one in emergency services debates the usefulness of real-time information when responding to disasters. Nearly everyone has a first-hand story of how a Facebook status or a tweet vectored resources, reported an active shooter, or saved a life. In the same breath however, most seem to dismiss the occurrences as the exception rather than the rule. Thus, when it comes time to invest in their own program, many public agencies balk at the cost, seeing it more as a “shot in the dark” rather than a permanent enhancement to their response plans. Combine this with the unsubstantiated accusations made by the NorCal ACLU, and Twitter’s purge of law enforcement, and it is not shocking when whole police agencies or fusion centers dump real-time capabilities all together.

The problem is, neither the NorCal ACLU nor Twitter have a vested interest in the safety of social media users. Yes, Twitter launched a series of “safety measures” designed to fight hate speech and “low quality replies” but they have fallen disturbingly short on rendering aid to earthquake, active shooter, and terror victims. Ironically, Twitter users are by-far the best when it comes to taking on this task themselves and rendering virtual aid. A fact that seems to have been missed by the Twitter head-shed.

So if Twitter does not care about their users, but we know the users are dedicated to each others’ safety, to whom falls the responsibility of coordinating rescues, gathering life-saving information, and providing critical guidance? Emergency services (police, fire, rescue). Let’s be honest; yes, it is possible you will engage in some level of real-time analysis and not find that golden nugget. In fact, you might use a real-time tool a dozen times, and only find one useful piece of information. I submit, that one time is your ROI. Look at modern fire battalions. Nearly all of them have sophisticated radiological detection devices. Why? Simple, there could come a time when it is needed, and you don’t want to be without. It is the same principle with a reliable real-time tool.

Similar to those RAD meters and fancy detectors the skill-set of a real-time practitioner requires training and testing. Interestingly enough, the more a practitioner trains and tests their abilities, the better they become at locating and analyzing useful real-time data. When added to an overall response plan, real-time data shows itself to be a great asset. Time and time again, social media has proven itself to be the platform of the people, so it only makes sense to tap into that in times of need to save lives and protect property.

So yes, real-time is really worth it.