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Communication is essential during public health emergencies and incidents. This research aimed to understand current uses and challenges for public health agencies using social media during these incidents.
An exploratory, qualitative study was conducted using the structured interview matrix facilitation technique. Focus groups were held with professionals from local public health agencies across Ontario, Canada. Representation from different geographic regions was sought to capture differences in participant experience. An inductive approach to content analysis was used to identify emergent themes.
A diverse group of public health professionals (n = 36) participated. Six themes were identified. Social media is identified as a communication tool used to expand reach of messages, to engage in dialogue with the public, and to inform the scope of potential incidents. Barriers to its use include hesitancy to adapt, lack of trust and credibility, and organizational structure and capacity constraints. Key strategies proposed to promote social media use and address barriers resulted from participant discussions and are presented.
Social media use is highly variable across public health agencies in Ontario. This study identifies and provides strategies to address barriers and practice gaps related to public health agencies’ use of social media during emergencies.
The Fort McMurray Alberta wildfire was one of Canada’s largest natural disasters in history, burning 589,995 hectares of land until being controlled on July 5, 2016. In responding to the fire, Alberta Health Services (AHS) prompted a province-wide coordinated response. Through a combination of pre-emptive strategies and responsive activities, the AHS response has been considered a success. Underlying the successful response is the collective experiences and contextual knowledge of AHS staff members acquired from past events. While the frequency and severity of risks associated with extreme weather and climate change are increasing worldwide, there is a persistent knowledge gap in the evidence-base informing public health emergency preparedness. It is imperative that lessons learned from past events inform future preparedness activities. Learning lessons is a systematic implementation process that can be used to inform future responses and best practices that are transferable to similar situations.
To describe strategies employed and challenges encountered during recovery after the Alberta wildfires.
A single-case study approach was employed to understand the AHS method to “learning lessons,” and the process involved in translating lessons into actionable goals. Semi-structured interviews with senior leaders (n=11) were conducted and internal documents were obtained.
The analysis revealed a strategic learning process, including debriefs, staff surveys, interviews, and member validity checking. The implementation process used to translate the lessons identified included a project management framework, evaluation techniques, and the utilization of tacit and explicit knowledge. Key challenges for implementation involve clarification of processes, leadership commitment, resource and time constraints, staff turn-over, and measuring outcomes.
Translating the lessons from the Alberta wildfires is crucial for enhancing preparedness, and exploratory research in this area can contribute to building a program of research in evaluation during disaster recovery.