Boston Hospital’s Focus on Preparedness Paid Off During Marathon Bombing

Post by: Kim Stephens

Emergency-Preparedness-Checklist-1024x682September is National Preparedness Month, so it seemed worth noting a story that appeared on NPR that discussed organizational preparedness.  The interview was on NPR’s “Here and Now” and  was with Dr. Ron Walls, Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston,  and Dr. Richard Zane,  Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. The topic and title:  Before Marathon Bombings, Aurora Helped Boston Prepare. Several things in this interview stood out: 1. Drills and exercises won’t measure your ability to respond to a worst case scenario unless you test the worst case scenario;  2. It’s OK to question your state of readiness; 3. Twitter and social media matter; and 4.  The lessons we can learn from others in our profession are invaluable.  (CBS News did a similar story and the YouTube video of it is embedded below.)

Are We Ready?

hospitalIn this interview, Dr. Walls noted that their hospital did 70 drills in the previous six years, and he thought they were prepared. However, Dr. Zane provided information about the Aurora movie theatre shooting that made him question his underlying readiness rational. Dr. Walls stated “In all of our planning…we had never drilled for receiving more than 12 patients per hour.”  In Colorado, however, instead of 12 per hour, the University of Colorado Hospital received 23… in rapid succession. This information left Dr. Walls wondering:  “Oh my goodness, are we really ready for this?”

Dr. Walls pulled together his Disaster preparedness committee and said: “I want to tear this up [their preparedness update to the Board] and start all over.”  His new theme became:  “Are We Ready?” He said in the interview, “I wanted to ensure we could do this, and I didn’t think we were ready.”

Twitter Matters

One thing noted in the NPR piece was the importance social media played in providing information from the scene. When the bombing happened  staffers at some Boston hospitals found out about the event when they saw Tweets alerting them to tragedy from doctors positioned at the finish line.  This had an impact–for instance, at Mass General an anesthesiologist suggested immediately stopping all elective surgeries.  The report, “Twitter as a Sentinel in Emergency Situations: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Explosions, was referenced by the NPR host in which researchers found that Tweets sent from the scene appeared 6 full minutes before hospitals were notified by Public Health Officials. This information has left some hospitals asking: Can we use social media more effectively?

Prepare to Support the Staff

On a final note, Dr. Walls said that when the dust settled  he called Dr. Zane and asked him what he had done wrong in the first 48 hours after the movie theatre shooting. The answer came down to supporting the staffs’ emotion needs. Dr. Zane told him:

“Think of all the intensive emotional support you need to provide to your staff. Think of it in the most generous way… and then triple it.”

One piece of irony: the Brigham and Women’s Hospital received exactly 23 patients.

Social Pressure: Can it work for Disaster Preparedness?

Post by: Kim Stephens

medium_3955644975In this post I examine what social media, emergency preparedness and get-out the vote messaging have in common–it seems like a stretch, I know!

Every September is National Preparedness Month and the typical information campaign revolves around getting people to understand their risks, make a plan, and get a kit.  But, measuring whether or not people have actually changed their behavior is the tricky part. On October 1 how will we know if people are more prepared for the hazards they face?

In terms of benchmarks, an often cited American Red Cross survey in 2008 found that only one in ten American households had accomplished these tasks. Research in this area also reveals interesting demographics regarding who is more likely to take these steps (e.g. homeowners vs renters, older adults vs those younger than 34, etc.) and why people prepare or not. There are many barriers to disaster preparedness, each with implications for messaging, but it is somewhat common knowledge that risk perception is dependent upon both how the information is communicated (Mileti and Sorensen, 1990) and how it is interpreted through social interactions (Kirschenbaum, 1992).

Can Information Shared on Social Networks Influence Behavior?

If social interactions play such an important role in how people make decisions, then Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management is on the right track. They are experimenting with the social platform ThunderClap, which was specifically designed to influence people via their social connections about a product, idea or movement. The “about” tab states:

Thunderclap is the first-ever crowdspeaking platform that helps people be heard by saying something together. It allows a single message to be mass-shared, flash mob-style, so it rises above the noise of your social networks. By boosting the signal at the same time, Thunderclap helps a single person create action and change like never before.

Fairfax County’s Thunderclap involves accomplishing 30 Easy Emergency Prep Ideas in 30 Days. Participants agree to allow a pre-scripted message appear on their Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr timeline on September 9th advertising the fact that they are doing one, some or all of these preparedness activities.  The platform does have a few idiosyncrasies:

  •  If the County does not reach their goal of 100 supporters then the message is not delivered–at least not on this platform. Talk about an incentive structure!
  • The tool can be a bit confusing. I had to read and re-read what they wanted me to do until I finally realized that I didn’t have to post–that it would be done for me. Although I had no problem with them posting on my behalf, this might cause concern for others.
  • Making a pledge to do a preparedness activity is not the same as actually doing the deed, so although this platform is quite cool–it does not eliminate the problem of actually measuring behavior change, other methods have to used for that purpose.

However, with that being said, the potential to amplify the message and reach a huge audience with this model is immense, since it is based on people’s existing social connections.  For instance, if two people sign up to blast the message to their Facebook friends the reach isn’t 2–it is 300! (The average number of connections is 150.)

Does this work?

031110_votedThe impact of Fairfax County’s Thunderclap might not be known anytime soon, however, quantitative analysis of the 2012 “I  voted” virtual campaign does speak to the potential significance.

On the day of  the 2012 election, for the first time, people could display their civic engagement on their Facebook page with an “I Voted Today” virtual sticker. Researchers wanted to know if this display elicited an “Oh–I need to go do that!” type of response. Apparently, it did. Techcrunch reported the findings:

The first large-scale experimental research on the political influence of social networks finds that Facebook quadruples the power of get-out-the-vote messages. While the single-message study produced a moderately successful boost in turnout (a 2.2% increase in verified votes), the most important finding was that 80% of the study’s impact came from “social contagion,” users sharing messages with friends who would otherwise never have seen it. This is the first definitive proof that social networks, as opposed to television or radio, have uniquely powerful political benefits.

Published in the latest edition of the prestigious science journal, Nature, the 61 million participant study randomly assigned all Facebook users over 18-years-old to see an “I Voted” counter at the top of their newsfeed with the number of total users who had voted on Nov 2nd, which had a link for more information about local polling places. Turnout was verified from a database of public voting records. Interestingly, the 3-pronged experiment displayed two types of “I Voted” messages, one with pictures of friends underneath and one without. Those who did not see pictures of their friends were barely affected by the message at all, “which raises doubts about the effectiveness of information-only appeals to vote in this context,” surmise the authors.

Although voting is a somewhat easier task than doing 30 separate preparedness activities, this research does shed some light on how social sharing can help influence desirable behaviors. Let’s hope people will see these posts and think–I should do that too. Best case, they actually do!

Related articles

Curious about the best use of crowdsourcing? Read this report.

Post by: Kim Stephens

crowdsourcingCrowdsourcing for disaster response and recovery has been a hot topic since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In fact, Google the term “Haiti earthquake crowdsourcing” and you’ll get 132,000 results.  But, mention the word to local or state emergency managers and you are likely to elicit instant anxiety: How can the crowd be utilized without overwhelming “official” responders? Dr. Patrick Meier recently described this fear on his blog iRevolution:

While the majority of emergency management centers do not create the demand for crowdsourced crisis information, members of the public are increasingly demanding that said responders monitor social media for “emergency posts”. But most responders fear that opening up social media as a crisis communication channel with the public will result in an unmanageable flood of requests…

At the Federal level, however, crowdsourcing is not only familiar–it has recently been embraced very publicly by FEMA. For instance, they used the power of the crowd during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help review images of damage.

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) were taking over 35,000 GPS-tagged images in fly-overs of damage-affected areas. This was performed as part of their mandate to provide aerial photographs for disaster assessment and response agencies, primarily to FEMA, who used the aggregate geolocated data for situational awareness. The scale of the destruction meant that there was a relatively large amount of photographs for a single disaster. As a result, it was the first time that CAP and FEMA used distributed third-party information processing for the damage assessment. (source: http://idibon.com/crowdsourced-hurricane-sandy-response/)

Just this summer, FEMA added a new feature to their mobile application that also is considered crowdsourcing. The app includes the ability for people to submit images of damage, which are then aggregated and placed on a publicly available map.  Their efforts have received quite a lot of media attention–see: FEMA App Adds Crowdsourcing for Disaster Relief.

However, when talking about crowdsourcing, I often find that it is important to break how the crowd is utilized into categories: the FEMA examples above describe two very different uses of the crowd based on two different objectives.  A great new report by the IBM Center for The Business of Government by Dr. Daren C. Brabham, of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, finds that there are actually four categories of crowdsouring, and the type chosen should be dependent upon the desired outcome.   The report isn’t specific to emergency management, but it does mention some familiar programs, such as the USGS: “Did you feel it?”

Below is their summary. You can downloaded the report here: Using Crowdsourcing In Government.

The growing interest in “engaging the crowd” to identify or develop innovative solutions to public problems has been inspired by similar efforts in the commercial world.  There, crowdsourcing has been successfully used to design innovative consumer products or solve complex scientific problems, ranging from custom-designed T-shirts to mapping genetic DNA strands.

The Obama administration, as well as many state and local governments, have been adapting these crowdsourcing techniques with some success.  This report provides a strategic view of crowdsourcing and identifies four specific types:

  • Type 1:  Knowledge Discovery and Management. Collecting knowledge reported by an on-line community, such as the reporting of earth tremors or potholes to a central source.
  • Type 2:  Distributed Human Intelligence Tasking. Distributing “micro-tasks” that require human intelligence to solve, such as transcribing handwritten historical documents into electronic files.
  • Type 3:  Broadcast Search. Broadcasting a problem-solving challenge widely on the internet and providing an award for solution, such as NASA’s prize for an algorithm to predict solar flares
  • Type 4:  Peer-Vetted Creative Production. Creating peer-vetted solutions, where an on-line community both proposes possible solutions and is empowered to collectively choose among the solutions.

By understanding the different types, which require different approaches, public managers will have a better chance of success.  Dr. Brabham focuses on the strategic design process rather than on the specific technical tools that can be used for crowdsourcing.  He sets forth ten emerging best practices for implementing a crowdsourcing initiative.

What do you think? Is your organization interested in using crowdsourcing anytime soon? Which category would best fit your desired objectives?

Response to Big Windy Complex Fire Demonstrates Public Information Coordination

Post by: Kim Stephens

The recent National Capital Region (NCR) Social Media and Emergency Management Summit brought together Public Information Officers from across the metropolitan Washington DC geographic region.  One of the topics of conversation, and objectives of the event, was to determine how to have an effective/visible joint information system in an area that includes not only many large municipalities, but also many different layers of government, including Federal entities. The NCR summit attendees are part of the regional Emergency Support Function #15, which is designed to “provide accurate, coordinated, timely, and accessible information to affected audiences, including governments, media, the private sector, and the local populace, including children, those with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, and individuals with limited English proficiency.”

fire“Coordinated” is the key word in that definition, but a description of what should happen and what actually occurs are often two vastly different things. There is, however, a great example of what a well-coordinated ESF #15 effort can look like: the external affairs effort around the  “Big Windy Complex” forest fires in Oregon. How are they doing it?

1. Social Presence is not branded with any particular agency.

The external affairs teams providing and updating information about the Big Windy Complex Fire seem to be operating under the mantra “It’s not about us.” Instead of branding information with a particular Incident Management Team, local emergency management or law enforcement agency, or even the Virtual Operations Support Team that’s assisting with this effort, the name of the fire gets top billing. By branding the fire under an event-name versus an organization’s name members of the ESF #15 team can post consistently across the life-span of the fire. The public doesn’t care WHO is posting, they care WHAT is posted.

bigwindy

Branding the event is also huge in terms of how citizens search for content. For those of you in this business it might seem natural to look to the Type I Incident Management Team’s Facebook page–of course–who wouldn’t look there? It might even seem self-evident to look at the Bureau of Land Management’s social site or webpage; but for the general public, they honestly have no idea who these entities are or what they are responsible for. The public might have heard the name of the fire, or they might just know the location–and that’s what is going in the “Google machine.”

2.  Cooperation is visible.

cooperatorsThe Big Windy Complex blog site mimics the Inciweb standard of listing all “cooperators” on the fire response and recovery effort. The cooperators include local and state entities, as well as Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service. These agencies are hyperlinked along with “Other Useful Links” such as the “Oregon Smoke Information” site. This is a very visible demonstration of cooperation that  implies content endorsement. I think it is key to gaining trust from the public–they might not know anyone who works for the USDA, but they probably know their local Sheriff.

3. Social Is Integrated, Standards are Followed

All of the social sites branded with the Big Windy Complex Fire also illustrate how standard practices are put into place and followed by the entire public information team (no matter which agency or entity is posting).  The standards are visible and can be illustrated by this Facebook entry:

‪#‎BigWindy‬ Complex: 8/17/2013 – Air Quality Summary Report – http://bit.ly/16WHDzI ‪#‎ORFire‬ ^MARH
This information also available on Inciweb:http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/article/3570/20339/

This entry  demonstrates the following conventions:

  • All relevant hashtags are included;
  • Date and times are posted–when appropriate;
  • The person who provided the update is listed (^MARH)–this helps with accountability;
  • Links to official sources-such as Inciweb, are included;
  • The blog site is used as a secondary incident hub (Inciweb is the primary) and is linked to in each social post;
  • Although no questions were posted to this particular entry, it is also apparent from perusing the Facebook page that questions from the public are answered in a timely manner.

Does the Public Respond Favorably?

Although some emergency management work is thankless, social media provides the opportunity for the public to show their gratitude.  It is not uncommon after an event to receive an outpouring of public appreciation, and that is true for the Big Windy Complex event as well. The comment below was posted to the Facebook page and demonstrates that they are clearly reaching the target audience.

I just want to say thank you for this page and all the updates that have been provided. Never once in a million years did I think I would follow Twitter updates and a Facebook page for a wildfire. This is the first first fire my son has ever been on, and although those first several days I was a nervous mom, I can say the updates continually calmed my nerves. The updates are very telling of the management overseeing the fire; the concern for safety, and the desire to communicate to those who are impacted by this fire, whether near or far, directly or indirectly. Thank you, it is very much appreciated.

I agree! Thank you to the folks working on the Big Windy Complex fire for providing such as great case study. Go #VOSTies!

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.