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Social media, such as blogs, Twitter, and information portals, have emerged as the dominant communication mechanism of society. Exploiting such input to gain awareness of an incident is a critical direction for research in effective emergency management. In this paper we present an overview of the SMART-C system, which is part of the social media initiative at the Department of Homeland Security. The system aims to enable robust bidirectional communication between emergency management and the public at large throughout the disaster life-cycle via a multitude of devices and modalities including cell phones, MMS messages, text messages, blogs, Twitter, etc. A discussion of the major components of SMART-C and related research challenges is included. These components include mechanisms to model event level semantic information, a platform for implementing multi-sensor fusion, mechanisms for estimating the veracity of information, data cleaning to reduce uncertainty and enhance accuracy of event detection and notification, and spatiotemporal analyses for pattern and trend analyses for higher level observations.