Tips for Thought

May 31, 2023. A tense morning unfolded on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea attempted to launch its first spy satellite into orbit. This event sparked a flurry of activity on social media, with ‘alerts‘ and ‘evacuation‘ becoming trending topics on Twitter in South Korea. How citizens and authorities reacted to this crisis provides an important case study of how societies respond to alerts and warning systems during potential threats.

South Korea’s Reaction

As the rocket launched from North Korea lost thrust and crashed into the waters off the Korean Peninsula, evacuation alerts and sirens filled the air in Seoul, South Korea’s capital city, and across regions of Japan. The authorities quickly disseminated warnings through public speakers and cellphone text messages, urging residents to prepare for evacuation​​.

The immediate response of citizens to these warnings was a testament to the effectiveness of these alert systems. In a world where threats can emerge rapidly, these systems provide an essential tool for governments to communicate swiftly and directly with their populations.

Social media platforms such as Twitter also play a crucial role in spreading information and allowing people to share their experiences and concerns. The trending topics reflect the public’s collective consciousness during times of crisis and offer a way for individuals to express their reactions, seek information, and find support.

However, the incident also highlighted the stress and confusion accompanying these situations. The alert systems, while efficient, can induce panic, mainly when the nature of the threat is not immediately clear. This underscores the importance of clear communication from the authorities during such crises, not only in issuing alerts but also in providing updates and reassurances.

What was the resolution?

Interestingly, the alerts were later lifted, with no reports of damages or major disruption. The Japanese government also deactivated its missile warning system for Okinawa prefecture, which had been in the rocket’s path​.

The North Korean satellite launch attempt comes in a context of heightened tensions and stalled denuclearization talks with the U.S. Since early 2019, North Korea has been expanding its nuclear and missile arsenals, conducting over 100 tests since the beginning of 2022​.

The incident serves as a reminder of the crucial role that alert systems play in contemporary society, enabling governments to communicate potential threats to their citizens quickly. However, it also underscores the need for clear, ongoing communication to manage public fear and confusion.

In the wake of this event, nations worldwide must review and learn from the public and authorities’ responses. These lessons can ensure that alert systems and public responses are as effective as possible in the face of future threats. Ultimately, the goal should be to alert, protect, inform, and reassure the public in times of crisis.

We need to understand how to react effectively when alert systems are issued.

Here’s a simple guide to help you stay safe and informed during such events:

  • Stay Calm: Panic can cloud judgment and lead to unnecessary chaos. It’s crucial to remain as calm as possible to make informed decisions.
  • Understand the Alert: Make sure to read or listen to the entire alert message. Details about the nature of the threat and suggested actions will be included.
  • Follow Instructions: If the alert contains specific instructions, follow them immediately. This could involve evacuating the area, seeking shelter, or simply staying where you are.
  • Seek Additional Information: Use reliable sources to get more information about the situation. Official government websites trusted news outlets, and verified social media accounts can provide up-to-date and accurate details.
  • Stay Connected: Keep your mobile devices charged, and near you so you don’t miss any updates or new instructions.
  • Inform Others: If you can do so safely, spread the alert information to others who might not have received it. This could include neighbors, especially those who are elderly or might not have access to mobile devices.
  • Prepare an Emergency Kit: Depending on the nature of the alert, you might need access to essential supplies. Consider creating an emergency kit with food, water, medical supplies, and other necessities, and keep it in an easily accessible location.
  • Have an Evacuation Plan: Familiarize yourself with evacuation routes and safe places in your local area. In some situations, you may need to leave your home or workplace quickly.
  • Stay Vigilant, Not Fearful: While taking every alert seriously is important, keep in mind that these systems are designed to keep you safe, not to incite panic.
  • Reflect and Learn: After the situation has passed, reflect on how you responded and what you could do better next time. Use the experience as a learning opportunity to improve your preparedness for future events.

This list is not exhaustive, and the appropriate response will depend on the specific nature of the alert. However, these steps provide a general guide to help individuals deal with such events safely and effectively.

Social Media in a Crisis

Social media’s ability to reach large audiences quickly and directly makes it a key component of most crisis management plans. Traditional methods of releasing press statements or posting updates on a company’s or government’s website no longer suffice in meeting the expectations of today’s digitally savvy public. 

When should we use social media? 

While social media is a powerful tool, its use in a crisis should be carefully considered. An emergency social media strategy may not be necessary if a crisis is minor or internal, involving a limited number of stakeholders. This is particularly true if it is unlikely to gain widespread media attention. 

That said, in crises with broader implications, such as the North Korean rocket launch, social media serves as an invaluable tool for communicating rapidly evolving information and instructions to the public.

What are the best practices?

Effective use of social media during a crisis requires a clear strategy and the assignment of roles. Individuals responsible for managing communications should constantly monitor online conversations and engage with the public to maintain control of the narrative.

A crisis-specific hashtag can be an effective way to centralize information and updates. This simplifies the process for the public to find relevant information and ask questions. Keeping the conversation authentic, honest, and compassionate is also paramount. 

Monitoring online conversations and mentions is particularly critical during a crisis. This provides information about what people are saying about the situation and offers an opportunity for the organization to contribute to the conversation and, thus, control the crisis narrative​.