Category Archives: Social Media and Emergency Management

Seattle PD Tweets Munchies Relief

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Seattle PD Twitter account was not on my radar, however, the Tweet above caught my attention. When I saw the words “malicious rumor” I thought I’d found a great example of rumor management.  The Hemp Fest is a large event that attracts cannabis lovers and activist from far and wide.  I thought to myself, “Who would suggest a Police Department would attend and give out snacks? That rumor should be squashed immediately!” As I read through their Twitter feed, however,  I realized the rumor that they would be giving out Bugles was a malicious untruth because, in fact, they will be handing out Doritos!

Reading through the exchanges between the Seattle PD and people asking about Doritos and other snack foods typically associated with binge-eating stoners,  I thought for sure they had been hacked. Their account lacks the little blue “verified” checkmark, so the thought also occurred to me that maybe this was a fake account. But as I read further, the light bulb went off: this account was not only legitimate…it was brilliant!  But why would a police department be involved in handing out Doritos to a crowd of people under the influence? Just a little more digging revealed the hook. The Seattle PD is using the Fest as an opportunity to educate people about the new law that allows people to possess a very small amount of marijuana. In addition to the event, they are using the hashtag #marijwhatnow, billboards and other outreach efforts to educate the public about the law’s “do’s and don’ts.”

Their munchie-Tweets have attracted national media attention, but this campaign isn’t the only reason their social presence makes a great case study. With over 40,000 followers, they are clearly doing something right.  Here are three things stand out about  their social media strategy.

Engagement

Their Twitter feed is actually a little hard to read because their Tweets are often responses to questions. Here is an example:

But although these exchanges make for a strange read, they also demonstrate willingness to engage the community.  With each query they answer a bond of trust is built; people that aren’t asking questions can also see that this account is a “go-to” source for information. In contrast,  if an agency simply pushes out messages the public may or may not be interested in, they miss that opportunity.

Humor

By using humor their message about the changes to the marijuana law is getting to the people who need to hear it in a way that is not off-putting. Although it has been widely successful thus far–I’m guessing there were debates about whether or not this was a brilliant idea or a career-ending endeavor.  The campaign also demonstrates the trust the leadership has in the outreach coordinator, which infused humor even before this very visible effort. In fact, to have a truly impactful social media presence the involvement and buy-in of leadership cannot be understated.

Decentralized Communications

The department has also decentralized social media control by instituting a “Tweet from the Beat” program.  See this exchange:

On the “Tweets-by-Beat” webpage mentioned above there is a description of the program, which is quoted below:

The Seattle Police Department is making it easier than ever before for you to find out about crime happening in your neighborhood. With Tweets by Beat, you can follow or view a Twitter feed of police dispatches in each of Seattle’s 51 police beats, and find out about the flashing lights and sirens on your block.

In order to protect crime victims, officers, and the integrity of investigations, calls will display one hour after a dispatcher sends the call to an officer. The feeds also do not include information about domestic violence calls, sexual assaults, and other certain types of crimes.

A handy list of all of their Twitter feeds can be viewed here: http://www.seattle.gov/police/tweets/feeds.htm. Unlike the Toronto PD, these “beat” accounts are not personalized with the officer’s names and images, instead a naming convention has been used such as “Seattle Police Department Beat 1″ or: @SeattePDB1. The Tweets from these accounts read a lot like a police blotter (see below) nonetheless, they still provide an opportunity for the public to see what actions the police are taking, and can help stop rumors from starting.

Your Turn

What do you think? Would your law enforcement or emergency management agency be open to Tweeting potentially controversial material in order to gain an audience and engage the public? From my perspective, it is time for more organizations to get creative!

Aggregated Social Postings: FEMA and the NCR Social Hubs

Post by: Kim Stephens

FEMA consumed the majority of the Social Media and Emergency Management conversation on Twitter yesterday with their announcement of an update to their mobile application allowing people to post images of damage after a disaster: read more on Mashable.  Another interesting development–yet, much less discussed–was the announcement of their new “Social Hub” a feature on the FEMA mobile website.

photo 1

The Social Hub, as indicated by FEMA staff member Jason Lindy, pulls in Tweets from official or trusted sources and organizes them by topic. The site can be viewed on the desktop but has a better user experience on a mobile device, the intended platform.

A Visual JIC

This new feature is a great addition to  FEMA’s social presence since it allows for a “one-stop shop” of information from all  response partners (see the screen capture on the right). I think it is also a visual demonstration of how each organization and government agency should continue to post content relevant to their “lane” to the audience they have already built. The “Social Hub” aggregates that content and  literally puts everyone on the same page. The site can also help community members find relevant voices: when viewing the content  they will clearly see information provided not only by FEMA headquarters and regional offices, but probably even more importantly, from local officials.

National Capital Region

FEMA is not the only organization that has realized the value of having a Social Hub. The National Capital Region also has a News and Information Page that provides a similar feature–including alerts from partner agencies throughout the region.  The page highlights and provides  links to four main content areas: Emergency Alerts, Weather, Traffic, and Utility information.

ncrBy building the page they recognize that the public might not define “emergency” the same way that Emergency Management officials do. Large traffic incidents, poor road conditions and bad weather can be an emergency for an individual. Another great feature is that the links are not simply provided but the content is pulled into the site, also making it a one-stop shop for information.

Although the public can view official content directly on social networks by sorting information based on key words–I think these aggregated pages provide a valuable service. If you know of any similar sites, let me know!

Missouri’s SEMA: Using Video to Reach the Public

Post by: Kim Stephens

mostormaware Missouri is no stranger to disasters, including deadly tornadoes and other severe weather events. In an effort to help the public understand these threats and how to protect themselves, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) created the website “Storm Aware.” This site is currently one of my favorite locations for emergency preparedness information. Why? Because although they provide the standard “Get a Kit, Be Prepared” content you might find on any emergency management website, they also include great YouTube videos that demonstrate exactly “what to do” during a disaster event.  The videos are very professional, and…they produced all of them in-house.

Why use YouTube?

youtubeWhen producing videos it is important to publish them on a social video platform for many reasons. “Social” videos not only increase the opportunity for the content to get viewed, it also helps resource-strapped local emergency management agencies or public health organizations who can re-post the video on their own websites or social platforms.  Another great reason to use social video can be found by reading YouTube’s most recent statistics (see this page)–in sum, it’s where the people are:

  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month;
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year;
  • According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network;
  • YouTube also allows for accessibility, such as the ability to easily include closed captioning.

In a conversation with Mike O’Connell, the SEMA Public Information Officer, he indicated that they felt so strongly about posting visual content to the new Storm Aware site that they didn’t wait until they had all the videos on their to-do list produced; instead, they put them up as they were completed.

Impact Based Warnings

The most recent addition to SEMA’s video library is about the National Weather Service’s new “impact-based language.”  This new, and much stronger language, is currently being used in Missouri and surrounding states to describe tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings. The video description states: “The NWS hopes to better communicate to the public the potential danger of particularly powerful storms.” I’ve embedded the video below.

How about your organization? Tell me about any interesting videos you have produced.

#CrisisMapping for Recovery: Crisis Clean Up–A Collaboration Tool

Post by: Kim Stephens

medium_8179611271A truism in emergency management is that after a disaster thousands of people want to volunteer–the more high profile the event the more show up, sometimes creating a second disaster. Having a system to organize these altruistic individuals is critical.  As one researcher states: “…the effectiveness of volunteerism depends highly upon how well volunteers and voluntary groups and organizations are coordinated.  In this sense, having vast numbers of people and supplies frequently pose serious challenges for emergency management.”  Coordination, in turn, depends on clear, consistent, and timely communications (FEMA). But how is this done effectively?

The Problem

Aaron Titus, a member of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, knows the ends and outs of volunteer coordination all too well. The faith-based group he is associated with can mobilize thousands of people–ready, willing, and able to work. In the days after Hurricane Sandy, that is exactly what happened: Aaron faced a veritable army of over 20,000 volunteers who needed to complete thousands of tasks across a large geographic area. How could he provide “clear, consistent, and timely communications” as well as a method to determine, track and record what everyone was doing? And…what about all of the other non-spontaneous organizations that also showed up to help?

medium_8236682972Coordinating not only what his own group was doing, but also ensuring that they were not duplicating efforts or leaving out survivors who needed assistance, was a problem that seemed insurmountable. BUT he had a secret weapon. During the southern New Jersey “derecho” storms of July, 2012 he had used  the little programming knowledge he had to sort out a simple, yet brilliant, software solution. With a  job as big as Sandy, he enlisted the help of other developers, including Jeremy Pack, to create a more robust version of that solution that ended up being utilized by more than 100 organizations.

The Tool

What Aaron created, essentially, was a work-order-system/Crisis Map. The system has the following basic components (see an example map here).

  • Intake: An online intake request/assessment form is made available to 2-1-1. This enables the 2-1-1 operator to input information (as non-personally identifiable, as possible) about where the work needs to be done, who is requesting, and what is being requested. These forms are customizable–for instance, if a disaster hit an area with a large population of non-English speakers, a field for “language spoken” could be added.
  • ccuLegendTracking: A case number is generated for each request and the form syncs to a map–automated fields are included to alleviate confusion, for instance,  the county-field is automated. Whether or not the work is on private or public property is also noted–which is VERY important.  Communities need to keep track of all public volunteer work in order to count this against FEMA’s public assistance contribution requirements.
  • Categorization: The software includes categories and codes for the work order request based on completion and type. Regarding completion,  a red icon indicates work is “unassigned,” yellow means “claimed,” green is “completed,” and grey is “out of scope.” There are two categories of work indicated: flood damage or tree/wind damage. This distinction is made because some organizations do not let volunteers operate chain saws.
  • Assignments:  Affiliated organizations, as well as organizations that can prove they are legitimate, are allowed to access the map in order to claim work and record completed work. By claiming work, the group essentially says, “We can do this one.”
  • Stop-Gaps: The system has features that prevent the same request from being recorded more than once. When the 2-1-1 operator starts to enter a name or address a field pops up listing all similar entries.
  • Updates: The volunteers doing the work can update the status on the software system, which is seen by the 2-1-1 operator. If someone calls back to 2-1-1 asking about the status,  the operator can see if a group (as well as which group) has claimed the work.
  • Reporting: 2-1-1 staff can generate summary reports about the work requested and completed to provide to local or state emergency management officials.

*****In response to a few questions on Twitter, there’s one point of clarification. The ability to sign-up for the tool is available to any organization participating in recovery, including 2-1-1.

Unique Solution

There are a couple of things about this  volunteer-work-order system that are unique. For one, no group is “assigned” tasks or even a geographic area–as is often done using a grid technique. They can choose what, when and where to work on their own. Also, even though the system is online, the privacy of the requestor is protected–only those groups that have been granted access can see all of the detailed information: the public-facing maps on the Crisis Clean Up website do not include homeowners names, addresses or phone numbers–see example below.

I also like that this system is integrated into the existing government partnership with United Way’s 2-1-1. A lot of State and local communities have started to use 2-1-1 to communicate emergency recovery information. For example, officials in New Jersey state “…2-1-1 is a critical communication link between emergency management professionals and the public-at-large. By the very nature of the 2-1-1 system, NJ 2-1-1 is perfectly positioned to respond immediately during times of crisis. It is structured to manage the expected high volume of crisis-related calls and the 2-1-1 staff is trained to direct callers to services most appropriate for their needs.”

ccu2

Sustainability

So how much does this all costs? Unfortunately, it is free for anyone to use. Why  “unfortunately?” Free usually means that the product or the solution is not sustainable–although it is open source. They do have a “donate” button on the website, but I’m guessing their list of contributors is quite small. Aaron and his team work on this software tool as a labor of love–however, I’m sure they would be happy if the Knight Foundation, or another philanthropic organization provided them the necessary cash flow to ensure disaster-impacted communities could have access to this amazing tool. If you are interested in volunteering with them I’m guessing Aaron would be pleased to hear from you–especially if you are a seasoned grant writer! Contact him via Twitter @aarontitus.

Bonus Video:

Volunteer photo 1. Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunaparknyc/8179611271/”>Luna Park Coney Island</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Volunteer photo 2. Credit: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vixwalker/8236682972/”>Vix Walker</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Note: Developer Andy Gimma now co-leads the Crisis Cleanup project, along with Chris Wood.

Decentralized Social Communications: Scary Stuff!

Post by: Kim Stephens

ad697e01Do you keep your social media presence “close to the vest” (e.g. only allowing Public Information Officers the ability to post content) or does your strategy include the ability for all agency officials to reach the community?  The latter type of presence involves letting go of control to some extent and this, of course, requires a huge leap of faith from leadership, especially in top-down oriented public safety organizations. However, this type of strategy is currently being done quite successfully.

Decentralized Communications: Is this The Evolution of Your Social Presence?

In the book “Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide” Ines Mergel and Bill Greeves suggest that a decentralized approach to social media content production is evidence of an evolved use of social media in organizations. They state that agencies that have been using social media for a while often “make social media the responsibility of everyone” and offer the benefits of this decision:

A recent decision at the Department of Defense was to abandon the role of the social media director and instead transfer that position’s responsibilities onto many shoulders in the organization. It is very difficult for a single department or division to speak with the knowledge and authority of all the business units of an organization. “Official” responses often require time and research. They frequently result in formal answers that do not fit the casual tone inherent in social media. By formally distributing the tasks and response functions to those who have the knowledge required to have meaningful online conversations on social media channels, you can decrease maintenance costs, increase trust in those exchanges and reduce the number of missteps or rounds of interaction it takes before citizens get the “right” response from your agency. (pages 110-112)

Jim Garrow, who blogs at “The Face of the Matter” makes a similar case: “My point, and it naturally follows from last week’s post on having others write for your agency, is that we [PIOs] need to get the hell out of the way. Let your agency shine through every day. Give your experts the podium they deserve. Build them a following (or let them build a following).”

But how would this work for public safety organizations?

The Toronto Police Department provides an example of complete decentralization of social media content. As can be seen in the image below their agency’s website homepage has all the “big 3″ social media buttons: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These buttons take the user to their official account, most likely administered by a Public Information Officer.

toronto

Choose, however, the “Connect with us” tab right below it, and their world opens up. I counted 119 different social media accounts for this organization–119! What are all these people talking about? Ideally, the content they are posting should be directly related to their position or function in the organization, and with each of the samples I chose at random, that proved to be the case. Take for instance Sgt Jack West—who has the title of “Traffic Enforcement.” No shocker, he talks a lot about traffic and how people can stay safe–e.g “Don’t text and drive” etc.

Patricia Fleischmann or @caringcop on Twitter, has the title of “Vulnerable Persons Coordinator.” What does she post about? How elderly and other people who might be vulnerable to crime and natural disasters can be better prepared. She also Tweets quite a lot about people that are helping each other, organizations folks can turn to for assistance, and information from community meetings she attends. She has a healthy following of 762 people.

I could go on for while with examples, but feel free to explore of these great social feeds yourself by clicking here. So, how do they keep everyone in their “lane?” How do they keep all of these people from embarrassing the organization and posting inappropriate content? Yikes–this is scary territory!

I have been told by some of these Toronto Tweeters, that they do the following:

  • Before they get their social account, they are required to attend a 3-day intensive social media training class that provides them with not only information about how and why to use social networks, but also how NOT to use them. This would include Department and City posting policies.
  • Each of the accounts are clearly marked with the fact that the person works for the Toronto Police Department, however, they do often choose to use their own picture instead of the PD’s logo–giving the account a personal touch, which I think is critical for community outreach and engagement (it says to the public–we are people to).
  • Each account states that they do not monitor the account 24/7, and that if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 911. (See below–each person’s account information looks almost identical.)
  • Each Twitter profile links back to the official website.toronto2

This obviously is not a willy nilly hey, all-you-guys-go-Tweet-something strategy. Their strategy is obvious, their goals are clear; and it seems to me they are meeting the objectives of reaching out and  connecting with the public on platforms that the public uses everyday.

See, it’s not so scary after all!

Is Your Social Media Presence Accessible?

Post by: Kim Stephens

Open

Open (Photo credit: tribalicious)

Accessibility of emergency information should be a top-tier concern for organizations, but, I know trying to understand what is required can be a little overwhelming.  There are, however, some simple things you can do ensure everyone in your community has access to the vital emergency preparedness and protective action information you are providing via social networks. For help, HowTo.gov’s site Improving Access to Social Media in Government is a fantastic resource that lists and describes very implementable actions you can take right now. For instance, they suggest that prefixes should be added before tweets that have photos, videos, or audio. “This allows people using screen readers to know what to expect before it’s read out loud. The uppercase formats are for further clarity to sighted users.”

  • Photos: [PIC]
  • Videos: [VIDEO]
  • Audio: [AUDIO]

This site also has links to more in-depth educational tools, including video tutorials. If you have 20 minutes I highly recommend watching the recorded webinar, embedded below. The description states:

Join us for a 20-minute sprint where you’ll learn specific tips for making your agency’s social media content more accessible. We’ll go through tools and tactics you can use to help make sure your social media engagements are readable for all your communities.

What You’ll Learn:

 Participants will learn tips to make your content more accessible on:

  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Video, Audio, Images

About the Presenter  

Scott Horvath, Web and Social Media Chief, U.S. Geological Survey, is an active member of the Federal Social Media Community of Practice who curated a list of key takeaways from the recent #SocialGov Summit on accessibility.

Tell me, have you incorporated any of these features into your social networking posts?

#SMEMChat Makes it to Congress

Post by: Kim Stephens

Patrice Cloutier tweeted:

And I’d have to answer…yes!

When the Social Media and Emergency Management #SMEM community started chatting at 12:30EST every Friday almost two years ago, we knew we were on to something. That day, Craig Fugate, the Director of FEMA, joined in–causing those of us who had organized the chat to literally jump up and down in our offices. It was pretty obvious that indeed we had started something that could be quite good.

Flash forward a couple of years, and in order to prepare for the Congressional Hearing that took place today (June 4, 2013) some of the staff for Congress Woman Susan Brooks asked if they could join in the #smemchat. In fact, what the staffers asked Heather Blanchard and I specifically was: “We want to ask you about your Friday activities.” I honestly had to think twice before answering that!  They wanted to join in the chat so that they could talk to practitioners directly, and it appears that the chat–as well as those who participated–made an impression. A couple of funny notes–for one, anyone can join in the chat–permission to participate is never required; and two, no one person or group is responsible for organizing the chat on a weekly basis (some people are under the impression that it is run by FEMA, but that can’t be farther from the truth). Anyone can join in, and anyone can ask questions. I would have to add one caveat: don’t try to sell a product–even a high tech social media gadget–to this group during the chat. It is a very bad idea.

During the Hearing, Ms. Brooks cited the chat as a reference–it helped her understand what the emergency management community was interested in learning from the private sector witnesses. The chats are always a place to get a good understanding of what others are thinking and doing across the country related to social media–which is why it has persisted for so long.

Very cool.

The Hearing was titled: “Subcommittee Hearing: Emergency MGMT 2.0: How #SocialMedia & New Tech are Transforming Preparedness, Response, & Recovery #Disasters #Part1 #Privatesector.” There are a whole lot of hashtags in that title! Below are the witnesses that testified today along with links to their written testimony.

Mr. Matthew Stepka
Vice President
Google.org
Witness Statement [PDF]

Mr. Jason Payne
Philanthropy Engineering Team Lead
Palantir Technologies
Witness Statement [PDF]

Mr. Michael Beckerman
President and CEO
The Internet Association
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Mr. Jorge L. Cardenas
Vice President
Asset Management and Centralized Services
Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc.
Witness Statement [PDF]