Media pressure, and particularly the posting of unverified stories on social media, has become a significant factor in major maritime search and rescue (SAR) events.
Bruce Reid, CEO of the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF), told attendees of the 2rd Asia Pacific Regional Development Meeting that they needed to be prepared for the media onslaught that accompanied SAR incidents and exercises.
"Never before has the maritime SAR sector been as exposed or visible as it is today. Seconds after incidents occur texts are sent, photos uploaded and opinions posted," said Reid, addressing more than 250 delegates at the plenary of the Regional Meeting combined with the 8th China International Rescue & Salvage Conference.
"The challenge we face is that social media are becoming the first source of news. This is a problem, because there is risk that what is posted, is difficult to authenticate; provides only a snapshot of a small part of what are complex operations; and, most importantly, creates information flows that can hinder the SAR. Political pressures fed by misinformed social media campaigns can have deleterious effects on the SAR effort".
The events surrounding the tragic sinking of the Korean ferry MV Sewol were used by Mr Reid as an example to support this view. The public pressure and scrutiny from the first minute of this accident was unprecedented and should, he said, be reviewed by every authority responsible for coordinating incidents on this scale to ensure they have the structures and plans in place to handle this exposure.
"There is no problem with scrutiny and visibility, but in the middle of a major incident the last thing the rescue authorities need is social media posts being quoted as facts, 'experts' providing opinions from a world away and politicians pressuring their authorities while the search and recovery is still underway," says Reid.
Planning and preparation remain the key to dealing with mass rescue operations and other complex incidents. This includes planning how to deal with the pressures imposed by the new media.
Part of the conference was set aside for the delegates from SAR organisations in the Asia Pacific region to meet and discuss areas where the IMRF could provide support at a regional level.
As a result, the IMRF will look to coordinate two Mass Rescue Operations workshops and a series of On-Scene Coordinator courses.
"We are building momentum in Asia Pacific now we have a registered office and dedicated staff working out of Shanghai," reflected Mr Reid. "It is important now to build on the support in the region, increase the number of countries and organisations we work with and use our neutrality to build international and inter-organisational cooperation to improve maritime SAR response and reduce loss of life in the waters of the region."
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