#SMEM Challenge for 2013: “I don’t get it.”

Post by: Kim Stephens

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Image by: nglcc.org

An interesting dilemma for social media and emergency management advocates is how to convince the inconvincible. Inevitably at in-person meetings, forums as well as on-line, there is always someone in the crowd that raises their hand and states “I just don’t get it.”  These doubting Thomases are typically folks who do not use these tools for personal communication and have only  heard (or care to listen to) negative information about social networking.

  • “The only thing on social media is rumors.”
  • “It’s not appropriate for public health organizations to be on social media because of HIPPA.”
  • “Why should I  learn these tools? After a disaster the communications infrastructure will be destroyed rendering social media useless.”

and my all time favorite…

  • “The only thing on social media is what people had for lunch. Why would I care about that?” (Although, I have to admit, my sister-in-law does tend to post a lot of pictures on Facebook of her cooking.)

This type of sentiment was recently brought to my attention while helping promote the new Accessibility Toolkit. The online wiki “…was developed to empower people with disabilities to use social media for disaster preparedness, response and recovery. This toolkit was developed in response to the fact that not all people with a disability are able to access life saving messages delivered through social media due to the accessibility challenges that the tools currently pose for people with disabilities.”

The promotion of this toolkit was placed on many different blogs, including this one, and in an online forum on LinkedIn.  A first responder, who also stated that he was a long-time time ham radio operator, provided a comment that perplexed me. The comment does, however,  encapsulate the attitude I described above.

I would think that these people with disabilities want to be taken to a safe place and not bother with U tube, twitter, etc. We live in a push button world and now people are lost when the buttons don’t work. My work is SAR (Search and Rescue) and to be honest with you in the last few days I spent to much time on this lap top when I should getting my winter SAR pack together. You have SAR teams, EMT’s, fire rescue, water rescue and even volunteers helping. I think it’s sad to see real people turn to an electronic device for helping them. When everything goes out you have us and I don’t think that will ever change.

I honestly would not have even of known where to start in terms of crafting a response to this gentleman. He obviously cares about people and helping them, but didn’t see how social media could play any sort of role in that effort whatsoever. However,  Eileen Culleton, the Founder and CEO (Voluntary) of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki,  was able to craft a beautiful response. And although her reply mostly points out the benefits of the wiki, I plan to borrow heavily from her statements next time I encounter someone that says: “Social media? I don’t get it.”

Hi, firstly, I’d like to introduce myself. I am the Founder and CEO (voluntary) of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki, which was established by Gov2qld (a community of practice of professionals working in the Gov 2.0 space) after the devastating floods of Queensland and Cyclone Yasi in Australia last year.

I’m not a first responder or CERT or SAR volunteer, or a tech guru. My background is marketing and communications for not for profits, business and government, as well as more recently working in ICT change management for local government and helping them to setup and engage in social media (including for emergencies).

But I do know how it feels to be a disaster survivor. As a child I survived the most devastating hurricane to hit Australia – Cyclone Tracy that struck Darwin, in the Northern Territory, on Christmas Eve in 1974. My family lost everything… our home and contents including our precious pets and family photos.

That was before social media existed, but ham radio did… and I will never forget that when the communications infrastructure was destroyed, due to Darwin’s isolation from the rest of the country, for hours no one knew the cyclone had struck and that a city needed help.

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Photo: Australian EM Institute

But, it was a ham radio operator, like yourself, that sent out the SOS call to the world. This was one of the factors that sparked my inspiration for the Wiki. That example of community resilience, in which a member of the public, aided by technology (ham radio) and his networks got help for a city that was so devastated its women and children were evacuated in the biggest airlift that Australia has ever seen.

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And now today, thanks to the instant, amplifying power of social media and our networks, we all have that power to save lives… our own lives, and the lives of others. And that includes people with a disability, if we can help them overcome the accessibility challenges that social media currently poses. That is why the Emergency 2.0 Wiki Accessibility Reference Group, of professionals from a diverse range of industry sectors, have joined together across the globe, as volunteers to create an online toolkit and post it on the Wiki to share with the world. They are committed to building resilient communities, wherever we are.

First responders can’t be everywhere. Search and rescue volunteers can’t be everywhere. We, as a community need to use technology to empower ourselves so that we can get out of danger… and that includes people with a disability.

Once they overcome the accessibility challenges of social media, (with help from the tips on the Wiki), people with a disability, like the rest of the public, will be able to receive emergency alerts in real time and take action. And they can also, like the rest of the public, reach out and warn others of danger…

And they can reach out, locally, and globally, to help others impacted by disasters, by using social media. I encourage everyone to take the time to read this blog post by a woman in a wheel chair in Boston, who helped keep a man alive, who was on a ventilator in New York, impacted by power outages from Hurricane Sandy… by using social media to reach people to help. [You can also listen to some of this story which was broadcast on Talk of the Nation on NPR, November 1, 2012: “Sandy Especially Tough on Vulnerable Populations.”]

I respect the contribution you’re making helping others through your volunteer work with SAR. I ask that you please respect the contribution the Emergency 2.0 Wiki volunteer community is making to help empower people, including with disabilities, to use social media to help themselves and others better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. If you want to learn how social media can help your SAR volunteer work, the Wiki can help. If things are missing, please let us know. But remember, we are volunteers, just like you. We need you to help us, help you, to help others.

Best regards, Eileen

Well said Eileen!

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9 responses to “#SMEM Challenge for 2013: “I don’t get it.”

  1. Great post! I run social media for Southern Californai Earthquake Center and The Great ShakeOut Drill. We have our obstacles too, but more and more, people are accepting of social media and are turning to it for even just general preparedness information. Stats don’t lie, and when we trended in four major U.S. Cities on October 18th, that sent the message. Nothing wrong with using analytics to prove efficacy!

  2. Love this, Kim. And it applies to all sectors–Doubting Thomases are everywhere. Happy New Year and wishing you success in 2013!

  3. Thank you Jason and Chris for your comments. I agree that the proof-of-concept will be proven with the hard data…eventually. Nonetheless, there is still quite a bit of persuading to do.

    • Ah yes, I do understand the need for persuasion. Small example: the same person that wants a higher number of followers is the same person who is never convinced of all the creative ways and hard work needed to execute said plan.

  4. Pingback: #SMEM Challenge for 2013: “I don’t get it.” « #UASI

  5. Pingback: #SMEM Challenge for 2013: “I don’t get it.” | Internet Usage Stats | Scoop.it

  6. Kathryn Oat Grey

    This is a wonderful post. Both of you have addressed the great need for the understanding and use of social media in emergencies and also the negativity that exists towards social media. I think many, like my mother’s generation, are afraid of social media, and others like the Ham operator addressed here, are so enthusiastic about Ham radios that they don’t want to consider that modern social media in emergency management is essential. It is part of the fabric of all our lives and for those with disabilities and many others who are not, it is a life link. I will be following you both and sharing this with my CERT team.

  7. Kathryn Oat Grey

    I meant to add…I am all for Ham operators and I have asked some local operators to come speak at our CERT meeting. I am trying to encourage more Ham operators in our town as radios don’t work for us. I am intending to learn to be a Ham radio operator in 2013 along with other CERT members. Any way to get the word out in an emergency!

  8. “Social media? I don’t get it.” Great educational piece for me. The story of Nick Dupree and Alehandra Ospina is amazing. I live in the vicinity and as an MRC member who volunteered at a shelter this got me thinking. I will share the story.

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