Reach Your Audience in an Emergency: #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

Flooding was rampant yesterday for what seemed like half the country. Social Media was buzzing with images, safety tips and information about the event as it continued to get increasingly worse as the day wore on and the rain seemed unending.

Using social networks to communicate emergency, safety and preparedness information has now, in 2014, become a standard operating procedure for quite a few emergency management and response organizations. As with any standard procedure, each event can provide an opportunity to understand how to improve and adjust. As a person on the receiving end of the information stream yesterday, I noticed three things that could be improved upon.

1.  Ensure posts are “Mobile Ready”

On a day where the situation is changing rapidly, as it does with flooding, people will be looking for information anywhere they can get it. It is important to keep in mind that there is a high likelihood that those searches will be occurring on a mobile device. According to the Pew Research Center The growing ubiquity of cell phones, especially the rise of smartphones, has made social networking just a finger tap away.  Fully 40% of cell phone owners use a social networking site on their phone, and 28% do so on a typical day.” Of course, the deluge we experienced yesterday was anything but typical, so that percentage was more than likely much higher.

With this in mind, when posting content about road closures, for instance, make sure the user does not have to go to another site to get the information, as seen in this Facebook.

“[County X DPW reports] eight (8) roads closed as of 6:00 a.m. this morning. Crews working to re-open all roads today. For complete list of road closures visit: http://YouCan’tSeeThisOnYourPhone.gov”

There were only 8 roads closed–why not list them all? If you are using a micro-blogging site, such as Twitter, that won’t allow listing all roads in one post–do 8 separate posts.

2. Use Images to Make Your Point

A warning about the dangers of driving through standing water is good, such as the one below.

“A reminder to motorist; please watch for standing water this morning during morning commute. Do NOT drive through standing water.”

However, a picture of a water rescues or a stranded vehicle might be more of a deterrent.

3. Reinforce Where Citizens Can Find Information–On Every Platform

FT_13.10.16_GettingNews2There are many ways communities can reach their citizens with emergency information: a website, reserve calls, social media, door-to-door (if necessary). It is important to keep in mind that no single source will reach all of your citizens. Younger people may search social media for news and information (as shown by the Pew Research Center results) and older individuals might not ever look at your website.

However, linking and reinforcing all of those information outlets is important because you do not know where the citizen will start their search. I’ll use my own community as an example. Quite a few cities and counties have the service that allows them to call citizens on home phones or cell phones to provide updates about the situation. In my community, the call yesterday ended with a note to call the “Hotline” for more information. Unfortunately, there was no mention of their own social media sites that were up and running and providing vital emergency information and regular updates.  A quick visit to the county website also yielded disappointing results–there was no mention of the emergency at all and no easy way to navigate to current information. When choosing the “Facebook” link on the homepage, their emergency management page is not even on the list.

Conclusion

In terms of providing information to citizens via social networking the emergency management community does seem to “get it.”  We are now in a position to tweak and refine our processes in order to best serve our communities versus debate whether or not these are useful tools. That’s a good thing. Let me know, what lessons have you learned from recent experiences?

Keeping the Lines of Communication Open: Atlanta Public School’s Long Snow Day

Post by: Kim Stephens

large_12197276904We had a light dusting of snow last night and schools are closed today in my county. I’m guessing there are some officials in Atlanta wishing they had made the same decision yesterday before snow and ice paralyzed the city‘s roadways. Although they tried to dismiss school early the traffic was so horrific some buses were unable to get children home and instead had to return them to school. Parents who normally pick up their children were stuck in traffic eerily reminiscent of scenes from the Atlanta-based series The Walking Dead. A shelter-in-place order was issued after 10:00 pm last night and about 452 staff and students spent the night in several different ATL public school buildings.

This situation could be any public communicator’s nightmare scenario. However, the Atlanta Public School’s communications team provided a master class in emergency information dissemination, mainly through their @apsupdate (or Atlanta Public Schools Update) Twitter account. Here are a few things they did well.

1. Addressed parents questions and concerns directly

I have heard quite a few communicators debate whether or not they should address direct questions since it could overwhelm staff and bog down the message they are trying to convey. However, in this situation, the decision to address each person was the only logical choice–ignoring parents’ questions could have been its own disaster.

2.  Addressed rumors–immediately

It is a good/best practice to directly address people that are disgruntled or spreading half-true information. The Tweet below demonstrates this tactic. It appears a couple of kids got into a kerfuffle at one of the sheltering schools and were escorted to the office. Once person stated on Twitter “…fights are breaking out!” The Tweet was outlandish and ATL Public School communicators pointed out that not only was the person incorrect, but were needlessly causing concern.

3. Communicated tirelessly

When children are kept in school buildings overnight without their parents I’m guessing not a lot of people are getting a good-night’s rest. This was true for the communications team as well. Indeed, the Twitter feed for the district was active all night, for example, at 2:00 a.m. they addressed an upset parent that was concerned about building security.

In the morning they addressed a high school student that said she was cold:

As the new day began, they addressed a flood of questions and sent out reminders that school was canceled.

4. Used multiple platforms and allowed venting

The school district used both Twitter and Facebook to post school closure and the shelter-in-place information. Not surprisingly, parents were a TAD upset that their children could not get home and were quite unrestrained in their comments, especially on Facebook–calling for administrators to be held accountable, etc. It appears some Facebook comments may have been deleted by the district, however, that mistake was acknowledged or at least addressed. This interaction occurred on their page:

  • Yup. They deleted one of my comments which was not irate, no bad language, nothing. I simply called out the truth – they did not take our children, teachers or parents safety into consideration at all.
  •  Atlanta Public Schools Dana McElwee Carnahan we rarely, if ever delete posts. We value social media and interaction and maintain a robust FB and Twitter presence. Feel free to post again.
5. Social Media is integrated into their Website and Blog
Screenshot 2014-01-29 09.49.29Although the decision to incorporate social media posts into their blog and website was done well before the storm, it certainly can pay dividends during a disaster or emergency.  Websites are still one of the most popular go-to resources for community members: not everyone engages on social media (shocking, I know).  Integration, however,  provides an opportunity for non-social media users to read real-time interactions during the height of the event and participate if they are interested. By prominently displaying these feeds it also reminds community members that their social accounts are active.
Conclusion
Although the Atlanta Public Schools decision-making process regarding closures will probably be questioned in the months to come, the communications team should be praised for their very hard work during this event (which is still ongoing at time of writing).  Not only did they step up during the storm to provide parents and community members with the latest information, they were obviously prepared to do so by having systems and processes in place.  That level of advanced planning is truly a lesson worth noting.

Deaf People Use Social Media to Make Their Voices Heard: Can #SMEM be used to reach them in a crisis?

Guest Post by: Dr. Steph Jo Kent

News about the #fakeinterpreter for Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service worsened daily: from grotesque incompetence to mental illness to a potential record of violent crime. If ever there was a cautionary tale for emergency management, this is it. Are you wondering “how such a spectacular mistake could have been made“?

Image

Before the latest horrifying turn, sign language interpreters and members of the Deaf community were already beginning to emerge from the first waves of disappointment, anger, and humiliation. One man’s audacity, and what appears to be a laissez-faire attitude toward providing real communication access, drew the lightning bolt flash of long pent-up Deaf frustration. Cathy Heffernan, writing for The Guardianpresents the background:

“Bad interpretation is surprisingly common and something that deaf people who use interpreters face on a regular basis. Across public services and the courts unqualified people are asked to translate, even in situations where clear communication can make the difference between life or death.”

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf established a Task Force in 2009 to begin drafting an official position paper and process for integrating qualified sign language interpreters into all stages of the emergency management cycle: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Overtures to establish Emergency Management Interpreter Strike Teams have been made to responsible agencies and managers at many levels of government. Some jurisdictions have taken this seriously, most however have not. (See the Getting Real II Presentation for information on foundations laid in California, Georgia, and Florida.)

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Commentary from Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, Director of Jewish Deaf Multimedia

Deaf people were frustrated two years ago by the hearing world’s exoticizing of Lydia Callis interpreting Hurricane Sandy public safety information for New York Governor Bloomberg. Rather than being understood as doing a competent job being the communication bridge between Hearing public officials and the Deaf public, she was glorified as a sign language star. Now we have Thamsanqa Jantjie at the opposite extreme.

“It is not just that Deaf people were left to decipher a mumble-jumble of random signs; it also serves as a message to the Deaf community that the world still does not understand us. For if the people responsible for hiring that interpreter would have had a better understanding of sign language and Deaf culture, they probably would have seen through his fraud.” ~ Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff

This travesty of failed communication heightens the responsibility of public officials to plan for and streamline the use of emergency management interpreters in all the settings where they may be needed. It also signals the growing presence of Deaf people in the mainstream.

An explanatory video from a Deaf South African, captioned (roughly) into English, describes how South Africans used Twitter to bring their complaint to the world’s attention. Messages spread on Facebook, as interpreters and Deaf community members in the UK tracked radio and television news reports. Now that the Deaf community has discovered Twitter, there are opportunities for Social Media and Emergency Management (#SMEM) to become more effective in communicating public warnings to the Deaf. A special hashtag was discussed a few years ago as a way to alert the Deaf to emergency situations. The proposed hashtag, #DEMX, stands for Deaf EMergency X. It hasn’t yet gotten traction but as the severity of seasonal storm cycles worsen, and the rate of unseasonal natural weather disasters increases, this may be an idea whose time has come.

Also see: The Deaf World is Watching. Will We Respond?

Information Design: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Post by: Kim Stephens

Looking back on the year, there was one  article that stood out because of its clear use of graphics and imagery to communicate risk information. During the summer of 2013, the Washington Post published a short online report about the hazards at the Potomac River Gorge titled “The Perils at Great Falls.” This spot in the river is a deadly place where 27 people have died since 2001.  Standing on the banks, it looks deceptively calm, but it is what people don’t see on the surface that can kill–erratic currents, jagged cracks, potholes and uneven terrain can trap swimmers.  The article explained those hazards with imagery that eliminated the need to read even one word.  Some commented that the piece was the definition of information design: “…the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it.”  (Wikipedia)

Screenshot 2013-12-12 08.32.32

Each of the major hazards in the river were given a graphical representation. In the image above the person is shown fishing off the bank: water rises rapidly and unexpectedly, sweeping him away. I have captured a screenshot, but the original graphic is animated.

The image below shows hazards beneath the water and on the banks–cliffs that tempt people to jump in, and varied terrain underwater that can kill if you dive in the wrong spot.

Screenshot 2013-12-12 08.33.08

The Dreaded Fact Sheet
Too often,  in the world of emergency management, images are occasionally included–if one can be dredged up, but they are usually not the focus of the message delivery. Below is a typical “dangers of [insert-risk-here]” pdf’d fact sheet intended for general public consumption. One glance and I can tell you how many people have read it..not many. I understand why this happens. There is a concern that if information is boiled down to just a few words and images, then that one key item will be left out. This begs the question: how effective are long and involved explanations if the intended audience won’t take the time to read them?

Screenshot 2013-12-12 09.03.40

 Images and Social Media

Luckily, communicating with the public has gotten easier–almost everyone is connected to the internet (81%) and a large portion of our audience  has smart phones in their pockets (over 60% as of July, 2013). Yet, I still see some EMA websites with risk information readily available–as long as you download the pdf.

However, as emergency management organizations become more comfortable with social media communications,  some have adopted the culture that includes heavy use of imagery.  Pinterest, for instance, is a great example of a social platform almost solely devoted to communicating via images. As an example, here’s the same “flood-water-can-be-dangerous message” on the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s Pinterest page.

Screenshot 2013-12-12 09.27.41

Twitter, surprisingly, is also a social platform where the use of images is key to building audiences and engagement. Recently the company added inline viewing of pictures and video, making it yet another social network where the image is king. In fact, according to Bufferapp, research even prior to this change showed that Tweets using pic.twitter.com links were 94% more likely to be Retweeted. Data analysis also suggests that Tweets with images also are more likely to receive clicks in the first place.

Following my own advice, I will keep this short, but for 2014 I think the trend of communicating risk and preparedness information to the public by using images and graphics will continue to be vital.  We have to present information in a way that our audiences want to receive it, not in the way that is most convenient–even if uploading a PDF is handy.

What do you think?

Social Networking Trends of 2013 and Implications for #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

December is a month of reflection and I, along with Patrice Cloutier and James Garrow are using our blogs to highlight interesting  social media and emergency management trends from the year and note future possibilities for improvement. 2013 could be seen as a pivot point for quite a few organizations: social networking graduated from being novel and experimental, to just one of the tools in the communication’s toolbox. That being said, however, we still have a long way to go before full integration is realized throughout the response community.

Social Networks: The Stats 

We’ve all seen the statistics–social networks have millions and millions of users, except Facebook which sits at 1.11 billion. A deeper look at these stats, however,  can help create a more informed communication’s strategy, for instance,  is this the year to get G+ and Pinterest accounts? Here are a few noteworthy stats I’ve collected from a variety of sources, along with some possible implications.

  • Twitter boasts over 500 millions users, but one interesting note is what these users are talking about. According to Nielsen, 33% of Twitter users tweet about television shows. Implication:   Why not schedule tweets that appear during shows that discuss disasters with links to information about how people can prepare–or where they could turn for help if that type of event happened in their community? If you are uncomfortable promoting a show that you did not create and have no quality control over, then simply add qualifiers, or correct misinformation, if necessary.

  • Research by Pew finds that Twitter news consumers are younger, access content via mobile devices and are more educated than the general population: 45%, of Twitter news consumers are 18-29 years old, compared to 34% for Facebook.  What this stat excludes, however, is the role the news media plays in relaying Twitter content  from both citizens on the scene and response organizations. Therefore, I’d argue that everyone receives their news via Twitter.  The recent New York train derailment is a case in point. See this interaction:

The Boston Police Department understood, in the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing, that posting relevant, timely content to social media was the equivalent of an old-fashioned press release–but much more immediate. Television news organizations literally read BPD tweets to their audiences seconds after they were posted. Implication: Processes need to be in place to post content as quickly as it can be vetted.

  • YouTube reaches more adults 18-34 than any cable network and increasingly, these consumers are watching that content on mobile devices. Youtube boasts more than one billion views a day. Implication: Get out your camera.  (See Patrice’s post today on this topic, see also my post here about Missouri’s YouTube channel.) If you don’t have the resources to create your own videos, then repurpose content created by others. My absolute favorite preparedness/safety video from this year was created by State Farm Insurance with the actors from Duck Dynasty.

Screenshot 2013-12-04 09.48.33

  • According to Nielsen, Pinterest had a 1047% year over year change rate in the number of users, and  80% of those users are women. What are they pinning?  Content relates mostly to food/ recipes and clothing.  However, public agencies have made some in-roads. The CDC, which has always been a leader in social networking, has over 2000 followers on their page. Implication: If you decide to use this site, know your audience–after all, women are probably the ones getting the preparedness kit together!
  • And lastly, Google + had a banner year and according to SearchMetrics social sharing on G+ will surpass Facebook by 2016.  Screenshot 2013-12-04 10.11.41The power of Google itself seems to be at play here. For instance, I’ve noticed when searching news events, Google will display relevant content from G+ in an interactive sidebar. Early adopters to the platform, such as the American Red Cross, are doing well. The ARC has 274, 751 people following their page. Implication: Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket!

It will be interesting to see who the big winners are next year, but social networking as a whole has proven, once again, that it is not just a passing fad. Is there an interesting stat I missed? Let me know!

Emergency Preparedness for Foodies: Arizona DEM has the Right Recipe

Post by: Kim Stephens

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 5.11.39 PMAs National Preparedness Month comes to a close I had an opportunity to check in on the Emergency Kit Cook-Off Contest, sponsored by Arizona State Division of Emergency Management. My mission: Determine the recipe required to cook up a great preparedness campaign (insert canned laughter here).

For those of you who have not heard of their contest, they describe it to potential participants on the cook-off website as follows:

The Emergency Kit Cook-Off is a participatory preparedness activity inspired by the nonperishable contents of a 72-hour emergency food kit. The Kit Cook-Off encourages play with preparedness principles. More to the point, the Kit Cook-Off challenges you to find creative use for the three day’s worth of food and potable water that you squirreled away for the family in case of an emergency. So take a look in your pantry and get cooking.

The website includes multiple entry points for people to participate. For instance, they can do some or all of the following: vote on the ingredients to be included contest (this is done prior to September);  create a recipe designed with the non-perishable ingredients chosen by the voters (recipe submissions are taken  all year); peruse recipes and preparedness tips offered by other citizens; and/or provide a preparedness tip.  The variety of involvement opportunities is a great way to engage people who have varying interests and abilities. There are even tangible rewards–if someone enters a recipe they will receive an apron.

Recipe

I interviewed Ethan Riley, a PIO at Arizona DEM and Cook-Off project manager, about this effort and I asked about the necessary components required to create, sustain and grow such an innovative project. He had some interesting insights and provided me the “recipe” they have used and adjusted over the past several years.

1 Cup Leadership

Strong leadership is required to agree to such a creative project. According to Mr. Riley, the Director of the Arizona DEM and the lead PIO have a great “let’s just try it” ethos. This, he stated, is important in a budget environment that doesn’t allow for extensive market research to determine what types of campaigns might “stick” with the public. Instead, they have taken the approach of taking small risks with imaginative ideas. It should be noted that the campaign had little expenses the first couple of years–this was accomplished by making use of a free blog site, social media and internal staff.

3/4 Cup Creative Thinkers

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 6.35.31 PMIn order to try creative ideas it is necessary to add some creative thinkers to the mix. Ethan stated that the concept of the cook-off came from powerful brainstorming sessions involving food–otherwise known as lunch. Their staff consists of people who consider themselves “foodies” e.g. those interested in great food and restaurants. This interest is also a reflection of the current popular culture that includes television shows such as  Top Chef, Chopped,  Master Chef,  and even entire channels such as the Food Network. The lesson to be learned–if something excites and interests you, it is quite possible others will find it interesting as well.

1/2 Cup Collaboration

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 10.48.05 AMEach year Arizona OEM has incorporated new collaborators in order to expand their reach. Some of the most important partners, however, remain their local emergency management agencies within the state. Ethan noted that local DEMs might not have the resources to initiate this type of program on their own, but they can use what the state has already built. There was a conscience effort not to brand the cook-off with Arizona DEM specifically so that spin-offs could occur at the local level. (I think it would be fun to see a bit of competition between communities by incorporating a leader board-type system as well.)

Collaborations with other emergency management organization across the country have also occurred this year.  For instance, the  Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency’s (CRESA) in Vancouver, Washington incorporated the Cook-off as one of the 30 tasks in their 30 Days 30 Ways Emergency Preparedness Challenge.  On day 16 participants were told:

Today, we want you to put together an Emergency Kit Cook-Off recipe. Recipes should use at least one Featured Ingredient supplemented with other nonperishable pantry items.

Note: If your organization is interested in a collaboration, contact Arizona DEM via email.

The Chef

We can’t forget the project manager. I was interested in the day-to-day effort required to sustain the program given the current budget situation of most emergency management organizations.  Ethan indicated that he spends about 10-15% of his time during National Preparedness Month on the campaign.  A little more time was spent gearing up the project, of course, but in terms of daily maintenance, the effort is not as extensive as one might imagine.

Regarding their reach, they have not yet compiled their numbers for the month of September; however,  I’m guessing that no matter how many people participated, those that did will certainly have a pantry that is ready for a disaster.

I look forward to hearing your comments. Let me know what your organization is cooking up! For more details about the Cook-off click here: http://www.emergencykitcookoff.org.

Crowdsourcing, Digital Volunteers, and Policy: New Workshop Summary from the Wilson Center

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: Woodrow Wilson International Center f...

English: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Español: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year ago this month the Commons Lab, part of the Wilson Center’s  Science & Technology Innovation Program, hosted a workshop with the goal of  “bringing together emergency responders, crisis mappers, researchers, and software programmers to discuss issues surrounding the adoption of… new technologies.”  The discussions included an in-depth review of crowdsourcing, specifically the use–as well as the reluctance, to use digital technology teams to aid in both message dissemination as well as data aggregation. The 148 page report from that meeting was released yesterday and is titled:  “Use of Mass Collaboration in Disaster Management” with a  focus on “opportunities and challenges posed by social media and other collaborative technologies.”

The Executive Summary states:

Factors obstructing the adoption of crowdsourcing, social media, and digital volunteerism approaches often include uncertainty about accuracy, fear of liability, inability to translate research into operational decision-making, and policy limitations on gathering and managing data. Prior to the workshop, many in the formal response community assumed that such obstructions are insurmountable and, therefore, that the approaches could not be adopted by the response community. However, it became clear during the workshop that these approaches are already being integrated into disaster response strategies at various scales. From federal agencies to local emergency managers, officials have begun exploring the potential of the technologies available. Stories of success and failure were common, but out of both came policy, research, and technological implications. Panelists shared strategies to overcome barriers where it is appropriate, but resisted change in areas where policy barriers serve a meaningful purpose in the new technological environment.

…Workshop participants identified the following activities as some of the more urgent research priorities:

  • Creating durable workflows to connect the information needs of on-the-ground responders, local and federal government decision-makers, and researchers, allowing each group to benefit from collaboration;
  • Developing methods and processes to quickly validate and verify crowdsourced data;
  • Establishing best practices for integrating crowdsourced and citizen-generated data with authoritative datasets, while also streamlining this integration;
  • Deciding on the criteria for “good” policies and determining which policies need to be adapted or established, in addition to developing ways for agencies to anticipate rapid technological change;
  • Determining where government agencies can effectively leverage social networking, crowdsourcing, and other innovations to augment existing information or intelligence and improve decision-making (and determining where it is not appropriate).