Twitter Seen as Tool Helping Companies Manage Disasters

Twitter Inc. and other social media are transforming how companies and individuals prepare for and manage disasters, a former senior official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

“Information is a commodity,” Jane Holl Lute, who served as deputy secretary of the department under President Barack Obama, said at the Bloomberg Markets 50 Summit in New York today. “If you do not have an informed population, you don’t have a stable population.”

Despite wider availability of technology to disseminate information, U.S. companies remain unprepared to handle threats ranging from extreme weather to hacking attacks, said Lute and Eileen Claussen, who served as a special assistant for global environmental affairs to former President Bill Clinton.

During a panel on risks to industries and markets, Lute said governments can help companies understand better how to protect their computer networks by sharing information about best practices.

Simple actions she said companies can take to improve security include identifying which software is safe to use and which isn’t, limiting access to sensitive data and automatically scanning networks and patching flaws.

Extreme Weather

Companies are only beginning to figure out how to prepare for and respond to extreme weather, said Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solution, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia that advocates for environmental public policy.

“Companies and governments have to build resiliency into their systems, whether it’s a power or a water system,” she said. “You’re going to have to start thinking about how you deal with these events in the future.”

Some companies have an aversion to talking about climate change, though they will acknowledge they are trying to prepare for adverse weather, Claussen said.

“If you start with talking about climate change, you immediately turn off a huge number of people,” she said. “But if you start by talking about extreme weather events and how to prepare for them, people will actually engage with you.”

Information Sharing

The rise of social media, which instantly connects billions of people to the Internet and each other, also has a dark side. It can lead people to distrust government and take matters into their own hands, said Lute, who is president and chief executive officer of the Council on CyberSecurity, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia that promotes an open and secure Internet.

Governments have provided security for the populace, Lute said. When it comes to cyberspace, though governments don’t have a monopoly, she said.

“I’m not sure Americans expect their government to hold their hands or want them to,” she said.

Lute said she believes cyberspace is “simply too dangerous” for governments to not play a role.

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