Posts Tagged ‘Social media


The future of 911 is ancient technology

A multimedia message on a Sony Ericsson mobile...

Image via Wikipedia

Dispatchers are completely under appreciated.  They are the quarterbacks of emergency response.  It’s their responsibility to “call the plays” and ensure that the proper agencies are responding while they give lifesaving instructions over the phone, while talking on the radio, while filling out the run sheets, while trying to sneak in a sip of coffee or bite of something to eat, all at the same time.  It’s not going to get easier either, NextGen 911 is going to add some more things that they will need to juggle during an emergency.

The new system is going to allow for SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) messaging to find it’s way to the 911 dispatcher.  This is great, except that texting and multimedia messaging is old.  Like really old and a lot of us have moved on from texting and sending pictures via these systems.  Texting is used but now people are using instant messaging programs and communicating via social network sites on their phones because they are faster and allow you to include a lot of multimedia.  Pictures are sent to twitter or facebook rather than using MMS.  And what about the dispatcher?  They can’t be expected to monitor social media in addition to their already hectic jobs when there is no system in place to introduce social media reporting of emergencies in dispatch centers.  We have to adopt technology at the speed society is adopting technology.  NextGen 911 is probably years away from deployment and when it does come out it’s going to be extremely outdated and then NextNextGen will come out and it will probably feature the ability for Myspace reporting and other no-longer relevant social media systems.  It’s critically important that we develop emergency response platforms that are modular.  Dispatch centers cannot be expected to have to overhaul entire systems every time they are going to adapt a new technology.  We need more computer software based dispatch systems that can rapidly expand capabilities and adapt new technology as needed and in turn,  save communities money.  I know how difficult it is to upgrade a dispatch center because I was able to be heavily involved in this process.  It takes years of frustration and bureaucracy and in the end you are stuck with a system that is probably already out of date.


Citizen 2.0

FEMA - 40808 - PDA team in Arkansas

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We put a lot of focus on the use of #SMEM in emergency management, specifically with emergency management’s use of social media technology.  We are developing training and policies for emergency managers so they know how to develop programs and utilize the technology.  We are presenting at conferences and seminars to help get more emergency managers on board.  We are even trying to develop ways to get emergency managers to use standard hashtags.  We have made a lot of headway and are getting a lot of eyes on social media during disasters.  But what about the citizens?  How are we ensuring they are posting reports and using the hashtags?

We need to tackle the discrepancy in the same manner that we tackled the lack of use by emergency managers.  We need to engage citizens and citizen volunteer groups and get them to start using the technology.  I was talking to @metalerik today on twitter.  He direct messaged me about how he was excited to follow me and the SMEM initiative.  I told him, “Great”, and that we would be more than happy to help him along.  Citizen involvement in the overall initiative and local efforts needs to involve citizens.  They are the ones who will either adopt and allow your program to be successful and receiving reports or they won’t be involved.  If they don’t know how or where to report what they see, then they won’t report or you won’t be able to find what they do report.  Your citizens are also who pay your bills so by engaging them and including them in the process you get to show them where their hard earned cash is going and you get to deliver your preparedness message and training right to the source.


The tides are changing

Logo for the Addicted to Social Media Blog

Image via Wikipedia

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:


The two way street

One-way street in New York City.

Image via Wikipedia

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!


Snowmageddon ’10

A powder snow avalanche

Image via Wikipedia

It’s happened again, it snowed (picture screaming people running away from a giant snowman)!  This has got to be one of the most under-appreciated disasters possible.  Snow is light and fluffy and fun so how could it ever do anything bad?  Well, I would bet there are thousands of people, perhaps millions who, right now, are cursing that pretty white blanket that has enveloped most of the northeastern US.  This is another example of a massive failure to prepare and plan on how to respond to a snow crisis.  The forecasting was there, people knew what was going to happen, yet cities everywhere are still struggling to return to normal.

Part of it is a failure of local government to be able to respond but civilians need to take responsibility as well.  You need to be able to function without the assistance of government for an extended period of time.  This is especially true when you have conditions that cause failure of infrastructure or make it impossible to travel.  However, this event has also proven that people are going to deal with the disaster on their own and likely in a more efficient way than the government could facilitate because of the fact that many government officials are probably stranded as well.  Social media is abuzz with reports of snow, cars stuck, road closures, etc… and people are mobilizing on this information.  The governement agencies that are paying attention are doing amazingly well considering the circumstances.  A prime example is Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ.

Mayor Booker is fully utilizing Twitter and is doing a beyond impressive job at responding to his peoples requests for help.  He is coordinating the response in a very untraditional way and it speaks volumes to his commitment to the city.  The mayor is basically cruising the streets watching his twitter and digging out cars, helping shovel driveways, helping birth babies.  He understands the power of social media, he is using it as a two way communication method, and he is out there making a difference when many other officials are cozy in their offices.


Social Media Is Here To Stay

Integrated Emergency Operations Center (IEOC)

Image via Wikipedia

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

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

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.

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