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Tuesday, 03 March 2015 06:00

Have You Thought About Your Social Network Lately?

Written by  Vicki Thomas

SocialNetworking-Vicki Column"In a lot of modern research in crisis management, people are looking at how communities mobilize along social networks to overcome traumatic environmental crises, like we saw with Hurricane Katrina," said Lewis Borck, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Arizona School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"We’ve known for a long time that people rely on social networks during times of crisis. What we didn’t know, or at least what we haven’t really been able to demonstrate, is exactly what happened to the social networks at a regional scale as people began to rely on them, or how people modified and changed their networks in reaction to social and environmental crises,” Borck said. “This research gives us insight into that.”

The research that Borck is referring to is not studying the modern-day use of social networks and today’s concept of community. Rather, Borck is referring to research into the social networks in the late pre-Hispanic Southwest during the period of A.D. 1200-1400 which included the 1276-1299 drought that impacted the southwestern United States.

You might be wondering what a study about such an ancient community has to do with modern-day disaster recovery and business continuity

They found that during the 23-year drought, relationships between many groups grew stronger, as people turned to their neighbors for support and resources, such as food and information.

It seemed to be a way to mobilize resources and to increase your variability of resources, by increasing your interaction with more distant people,”Borck said. The Hopi people, still present in what is now northern Arizona, are an example of a population that employed this type of crisis management.

Still, some groups remained more insular in nature.

In general, the communities with larger social networks had a better chance of being able to withstand the drought without having to migrate, and for a longer period, than the more insular groups, Borck said. “Most of the groups that were only interacting with other communities in their group didn’t persist in place. They all migrated out.”

Sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? The importance of social networks, community and communication was integral to survival in 1276 and it’s still extremely integral to successful disaster recovery/business continuity practices in 2015.

So what does this research from the University of Arizona mean for you and your business? Well, think about your business continuity plan - do you have a tested and proven communication system in place? Do you know who the people are in the buildings next to you and on the floors above and below you? How will you communicate with those outside your immediate circle of colleagues and employees? Are you open to helping others in a time of disaster - think of office-sharing, sharing IT resources and expertise, sharing of processing and delivery methods, etc.

You know - working with others in your social network and community to ensure that everyone makes it through the disaster, threat, or interruption. The power of community has not faded since 1276 - it’s equally important today when dealing with unforeseen and unexpected threats.

Barbara Mills, University of Arizona Anthropology professor, said the study provides empirical support for the importance of social networks in times of crisis and their long-term benefits.

"A lot of people have hypothesized that this process of having more extensive social networks is sort of a backup strategy for people,” she said, “but this is one of the first times we’ve been able to demonstrate it at a very large, regional scale."

"It backs up a lot of these hypotheses about ‘social storage’ being as important as the real storage of actual items. The flip side is that if you are highly insular and protectionist and don’t interact with a lot your neighbors, you’re really susceptible.”

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