Posts Tagged ‘facebook


Oh definitely, maybe…

A graphic representation of the four phases in...

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When does rhetoric become reality?  Even today after doing so much work to get emergency management and response agencies to pay attention, we are still so far behind in being able to monitor disasters using social media.  This wouldn’t be so frustrating if it was because the technology didn’t exist, was too expensive, was logistically impossible, or any legitimate reason.  It is extremely frustrating because it’s held up for no good reason.  Stop ignoring the writing on the wall (literally and figuratively) and develop a program now.


The tides are changing

Logo for the Addicted to Social Media Blog

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It appears that social media is all the rage and the emergency management community is finally taking notice.  People are jumping on board at astounding rates and as a platform, social media is becoming the go-to source for information and news.  This seems to be especially true with twitter.  However, it still seems there are large groups of emergency managers and response agencies that refuse to join in on the conversation.  There are also still people who think that social media should only go one way because of liability or a number of other ridiculous reasons.  The #SMEM initiative (*edit – corrected the name, Thanks Jeff)  is working hard to change this.  The power of social media is certainly in the conversation, the conversation that is happening regardless of your involvement..  We learn more about how to use it every day because we ARE using it.  This is the only way we can develop the policies and practices that have some so freaked out.  My suspicion is that we are still just scratching the surface of it’s abilities and the software is going to continue to develop and become more robust.  This is quickly becoming one of the greatest developments in emergency and disaster response ever and if your missing out on this, than shame on you!

Remember, people are using social media.  Your colleagues are using social media.  Your fellow agencies are using social media.  So why aren’t you?  If you have the opportunity, please attend the #SMEM Camp at the Nema conference in March.  If the people there can’t change your mind than no one can.  And if no one can than you should probably find another line of work because this is a critical form of intelligence and you cannot ignore it.  The camp will be a great starting point for all the people who have concerns about using social media or don’t even know where to start.  It will also be good for current practicioners who are hoping to further develop their skills and learn the latest in trends and use.  You can log on and view from the comfort of your computer but it would advisable that you make an effort to be there and meet the individuals who are on the cutting edge of this technology.  I am a little biased, I am on the work group for this project.  Info for the camp can be found below:


Open Source EM continued…

The scene outside the ground as the disaster b...

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Open source EM can also found in human capital.  Crisismappers, CrisisCommons, and other groups like those can be considered open source.  These groups are generally made up of volunteers who utilize all sorts of free/open source software like Ushahidi and even the teams could be considered open source.  They are groups of technically proficient people who provide a service for free and are organized in a grassroots approach.  In fact this seems to be a new movement in emergency management, grassroots response.  People who are victims of a disaster are going to be the true first responders.  In reality, it’s their response that can have a profound effect on the outcome of events.  If we leverage their eyes and abilities, we can essentially have instant response and scene size up.  Groups like CERT and the Red Cross are training citizens anyways, so if we can find a way to get people to report information and provide a way to organize people right after a disaster than we can really change how disaster response happens.  Groups like the ones I talked about are doing a great job of trying to do this.


The two way street

One-way street in New York City.

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An easy to understand metaphor for social media is the two way street. The two way street allows for traffic to flow in both directions fluidly. If you only have traffic flowing in one direction, there is opportunity to flow in the other direction as well. This however is not how many people are using social media. I recently consulted with a large restaurant chain on how they could implement social media into their public relations. I advised them that if they are going to use social media they must being willing to accept traffic both ways. Their concern is something many people have when dealing with communication that everyone will see. They were afraid people may say something bad about them or there would be posts that were offensive or they would get spammed. If you aren’t using social media as a two way conversation, than don’t bother. It’s a waste of your time and people will ignore the information you are issuing. Just build a website where you can control any information going out or into your company or agency and be done with it.

This attitude is very common amongst people who are stuck on the old approach of public relations; that you have to have absolute control over the information going in or out. You can’t have two way traffic on a one way street. You can’t have a conversation if one person isn’t allowed to talk. You can’t successfully implement social media if you aren’t willing to communicate both ways. If people are complaining about something then that means they are paying attention to the info you are putting out! Your getting instant feedback about an experience they are having. This is extremely valuable and ensures customer satisfaction and in emergency management you customers are tax paying citizens who you are assigned to protect! Swallow your pride and aknowledge that you will make mistakes and that people are simply going to spread their bad experience whether you are listening to them or not. If you get that information from them in a post or tweet than you have the opportunity to respond to it and provide your side of the situation and ultimately you have more control over the situation than you would in a one way system. It also looks great when you are responding to complaints because people see your concerned and willing to rectify the problem publicly. This is PR gold!


Social Media Is Here To Stay

Integrated Emergency Operations Center (IEOC)

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It’s no longer a fad or a something you may want to start considering.  There is now quantifiable data to prove that social media is not an option, it’s a requirement.  At the Red Cross “Social data and emergency communications” summit, they discussed some startling statistics from a recent study on civilians use of social media during an emergency.  The data is clear, people consider social media a means to contact emergency responders and even more unsettling is the fact that they consider it an alternative to 911.

Why is this concerning?  To start with, we as a profession and in our volunteer roles are far behind the average citizen when it comes to social media.  As agencies and organizations, we have no resources currently in place to dedicate to deal with the influx of social media.  Here is a prime example of what I am talking about:  Citizens are expecting a response within an hour or less if they post an emergency situation to a agency facebook, twitter, or email account.  How many agencies have the means to monitor this?  It is extremely important to explicitly explain that 911 is the only way to guarantee a connection to an emergency communicator. Dispatch centers are dreading the day they have to start answering text messages!  Now they have to keep an eye on twitter, facebook, email, in addition to the normal lines of communication they have deal with regularly.

Another reason to be concerned is that many agencies, most probably, haven’t developed plans or assigned a person to ingest data.  All the public information officer course I have taken did not address how we should be dealing with the flow of information in.  There are a lot of programs out there to help track and respond to social media “trends” and incoming data but there are very few standards in place to help organize and utilize this information.

The good news is that despite the fact that we are so far behind citizens have been quick to help out during disasters.  It’s very empowering to citizens to be able to have a way to get information out during an emergency and many tech savvy people have offered their help to get that information through to responders.  So the logical next step is to find these people and develop relationships and plans so that we don’t hope that an ad hoc system will develop during a disaster.  With preplanning we can immediately begin to ingest these data streams and create two way communications during disasters.


Data-mining and social media

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There is a lot of hype with social media and emergency management/disaster response.  Buzzwords mostly.  What I have found in my years of EM/response work is that when you get a trend such as social media, you have this mis-use of under utilization of new technologies.  There is a legitimate belief that new technologies are likely hype an will be replaced with newer technologies.

GIS is a prime example.  Huge potential and while I worked in GIS/remote sensing for 3 years while going to school, it seemed that emergency management never saw it as more than a cool new technology.  GIS has been around for years but couldn’t really get out of the gate with EM work.  Social media seems to be stuck in the same posititon.  The reason is that EM’s don’t really know how to use it.  They create facebook and twitter accounts and that is where it ends.  It’s the same with GIS.  EM’s use GIS to create maps.  GIS makes great maps but it’s a data management and analysis tool and EM’s are just realizing this.  Social media is a information portal.  Sure you can tweet about being safe while trick or treating on halloween, and that is a useful feature of social media, but the strength is actually in the analysis of social media traffic during a disaster.  You can gather a unbelievable amount of tactical intelligence by simply looking to see what people are talking about during the course of a disaster/emergency.

Think about what it would be like to have thousands of extra eyes working for you during an emergency.  Rather than wasting valuable resources trying to figure out what’s going on, you can data-mine social media to begin sizing up an emergency.  Now of course you can’t rely on any social media source as your sole source of information but it’s a tool for the tool box.  It’s incredible that we have the opportunity to have a system where you get two way communication during an emergency.  No longer do you have warn civilians and wonder if they get it.  They have a way to immediately interact with you.  That is if you create the opportunity.  Another problem with the use of social media is the fact that you need to believe in it.  If your going to set up all these accounts than you better be invested in it.  If you don’t tweet or post frequently than people are going to stop paying attention.  Finally, you need to take a shot gun approach to getting info out and ingesting info.  If your going to send information out to the public, send it over as many venues as you can.  Twitter, Facebook, your blog, your website, etc….and you need to search all of these sources when collecting data.

Social media has changed the way people interact and how emergency managers can interact with the public but if you don’t buy into it fully than you will never see it’s strengths.


Social networking in emergencies

I am certainly not the first to say that social networking is important to emergency services but I will say that I don’t think it’s quite ready.  Recently the National Weather Service started beta testing a new Twitter storm reporting system.  I think this bodes well for NWS and their forward thinking but the implementation is not working.  Basically anyone can report whatever they want and this leads to a lot of useless data.  The NWS deserves credit for trying but I don’t think that Twitter can be relied on for reports that could result in warnings (it’s not now but it would make sense that this is what they were testing for).  Facebook is another resource that is finding it’s way into the public safety realm.  Facebook is great for developing a web presence and generating some interest.  In fact, I created an account for the fire department I serve and we receive about 500+ views a week with around 200+ members.  I also created a twitter page for information advisory type posts in twitter.

Here is where I see the strength in social networking: data mining.  The current systems are not really reliable to count on during emergencies but immediately after disasters you can search Facebook and twitter to see what people are talking about.  After the Virginia Tech shooting there was a Facebook group started and people had accounted for their friends and colleagues before the first responders did.  People tweet about disasters as they are happening.  In closing, you can’t count on any single resource for information.  Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, talking directly to people, 911 calls, etc… You need to create a picture of what is occurring, size up basics, and to do that you need to use everything you have available.  I don’t see social networking as the future of emergency management but it’s certainly a tool and it could be a very important tool with proper use.