Tag Archives: American Red Cross

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!

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

One Tweet Tells the Story of How to Engage

Post by: Kim Stephens

Although Hurricane Isaac ( or #Isaac if you are on Twitter) has still yet to decide where it wants to make landfall in the United States, it has already produced some pretty interesting social media lessons from my perspective. One tweet stood out for me:

In this tweet, a person states “Going through my first Hurricane. I’m actually really scared.”  The American Red Cross answered them by retweeting and adding a simple “Good Luck” to the message, but they also included a link to preparedness information.

At first glance this tweet doesn’t seem that noteworthy. Upon full inspection, however, it can be seen as a representation of  how monitoring social media with specific key words (in this case it was probably “hurricane” since the tweet did not mention Isaac) can create opportunities for engagement, a way to share vital information, as well as a way to help people going through stressful situations. Furthermore, the ARC tweet was repeated 17 times, reaching 1000s.

The citizen that sent out that tweet to no one in particular was probably surprised that the American Red Cross responded to them. They might have felt the “digital hug” that the ARC likes to talk about when discussing their social media efforts, and I bet she felt a bit of reassurance–something along the lines of “…if that organization is listening, then I might be able to turn to them if I need help.” I’m also hoping that the person checked the hurricane information page and took as many last minute steps to prepare as possible.

What the citizen, I’m sure, didn’t understand, is the amount of dedication to social media monitoring it took to be able to answer them. The American Red Cross is legend in its social media prowess, and with good reason. They have devoted time and resources to social media, including carving out space in the Emergency Operations Center for a Digital Ops Center (complete with both hardware and software donated by Dell Computers) in order to monitor social media before, during and after disasters. Why have they committed such effort to social media? My guess is that they understand that it is almost impossible to engage with community members via social networks unless you understand the conversation, and in order to understand the conversation you have to be online, monitoring what is being said. They want to know: What are the concerns? What are people talking about where we might be able to offer assistance? What is needed from us?

If your organization is using social media to simply push out your message, and you are not trying to participate in the conversation, then you are missing opportunities. Opportunities to show you care, as well as to educate.

Social Media: A tool to reach the Access and Functional Needs Community

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

As a part of a current project I have found some great content that references the use of social media as a tool to reach vulnerable populations.  There are four reports I’d like to highlight that address this concept–some from the point of view of the citizen, others from the point of view of the first responder. All of the reports remind us that a one-size-fits-all approach for communicating is not a successful strategy in this day and age where people get to pick how they find information. If you are reluctant to use social media because (as I’ve heard stated) you don’t think your community uses the tools–think again!

1. Social Media: A Tool For Inclusion was written by Anne Taylor with funding from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Horizontal Policy Integration Division (HPID). The report focuses on how people with access and functional needs can use social networking to overcome social isolation. This has  implications for emergency managers in the sense that the tools can also be used as a way to not only find vulnerable populations in your community, but also to develop relationships. She states:

Informants (study participants) indicate that Web 2.0 applications offer enormous possibilities for the disabled who may be marginalized by lack of mobility, vision, hearing or other disability that makes it difficult for them to participate in the civic, social, cultural or work‐related activities of mainstream society. The evidence is strong that the internet and social media, with the aid of assistive technologies, are improving the ability of many disabled people to participate more fully in their society. Members of the deaf community, for example, are said to be huge users of social media and video blogging. The Deaf Canada Conference that took place in June 2010 was supported by a lively 636‐member Facebook page. There is even a Canadian Deaf Native Facebook page. A 2009 Canada‐wide survey of over 700 self‐described disabled students with a mean age of 18 revealed that they engage in social media 12 hours a week for non‐school related activities and six hours a week for school‐related activities using, on average, between one and two types of specialized software. The most popular sites are Facebook, YouTube, MSN/Windows Live Messenger and Skype.

2. A report entitled Emergency Notification Strategies for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Planning Project, developed for the Western Massachusetts Homeland Security Advisory Council, also lists social media as an option for communicating, specifically with the deaf population during emergencies.

Research and outreach for this project revealed that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may rely more on social media options than traditional media for information during an emergency. There may be several reasons for this including limited closed-captioning on television broadcasts, limited ASL translation, and lack of real-time information updates. As such, social media options are gaining popularity for obtaining information, not just throughout the disability community, but for the population-at-large.

3. Emergent Use of Social Media: A new age of opportunity for disaster resilience (2011). This is an article is by MENoji E for the National Center for Environmental Health Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, CDC. The article discusses how social media tools can be used to help people cope with disaster. They  use the term “vulnerable populations” very broadly: anyone suffering from stress after an event. However, the benefit of being connected would translate to the access and functional needs population as well.

“Social media may also offer potential psychological benefit for vulnerable populations gained through participation as stakeholders in the response. Disaster victims report a psychological need to contribute, and by doing so, they are better able to cope with their situation. Affected populations may gain resilience by replacing their helplessness with dignity, control, as well as personal and collective responsibility.”

4.Communicating with Vulnerable Populations: A Transportation and Emergency Management Toolkit. What I like most about this toolkit, even though the main focus is not social media, is that their suggestions emphasize relationship building–something that social media can help accomplish.  They state that local emergency managers should “Understand the local community sufficiently to decide what information is important and how best to communicate it in fully accessible formats so that people are informed, responsive, and motivated.”

I also like this sentiment, which I hear stated repeatedly by my colleagues who are seeped in  social media and emergency management:

“Encouraging individuals to act during emergencies requires communicating with them through multiple channels.

  • These channels depend on trusted relationships built over time, so they are well established in times of crisis.
  • A pre-crisis network of communication channels can carry messages across barriers and create a safety net that prevents especially vulnerable people from missing access to transportation assistance in emergencies.”

If you know of other research that mentions social media as a way to connect with  vulnerable populations before, during and after a crisis, please make note of it in the comments section.

American Red Cross Digital Ops Center: Your Questions, Their Answers

Reposted with Permission by Wendy Harman, ARC Social Engagement Team

(I think this list of FAQs is helpful to any organization interested in building a virtual volunteer “corps”.)

What is the name of this new command center powered by Dell?

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered ...

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered by Dell (Photo credit: Dell's Official Flickr Page)

Its official name is the Digital Operations Center. It is physically located in the Disaster Operations Center in Washington, DC. Internally, we call it the DigiDOC.

What does the Digital Operations Center do? The Digital Operations Center gives the public a seat at the table of disaster operations. The public is a vital participant in emergency response and recovery. They often are the first responders to their own neighbors, and they can provide valuable information to the Red Cross and other response agencies. Our goal is to be informed by and to become a social liaison for people, families, and communities to support one another before, during, and after disasters. The Digital Operations Center will enhance our information about disaster situations, enable us to better anticipate disaster needs, and help the Red Cross connect people with the resources they need during emergencies. The Digital Operations Center is modeled after Dell’s Social Media Command Center. Dell provided resources and consulting services on this project.

How will you know if the Digital Operations Center is effective?
We’ll be evaluating the success of the room by answering the following questions:
•  Are we pulling in relevant, actionable data?
•  Are our efforts increasing the strength and resilience of communities before, during, and after emergencies?
•  Are we providing relevant services via social tools we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to provide?
•  Are we facilitating a satisfying and valuable digital volunteer experience?
Who works in the Digital Operations Center?
 The social engagement team — currently Wendy Harman, Gloria Huang, and Kristiana Almeida. At least one of us will always be here or very close to here during regular business hours. Except for next week when we’ll be at a conference to train more volunteers. We do our best. During major disasters,we will bring in trained volunteers to help.
Who is monitoring, aggregating, and translating to action all this data outside of business hours? Shouldn’t you be staffed 24 hours/day? 
While there won’t be someone physically in the Digital Operations Center 24 hours/day, we can access the data that creates the visualizations from any where. We’re lucky to have a pretty big network of supporters who will alert us when an issue needs immediate attention. At least one person will be in the Digital Operations Center whenever the Disaster Operations Center (DOC) is activated. If the DOC is activated 24 hours/day, we will be, too.
How does the information coming into the Digital Operations Center get to operational decision makers? 
In at least 4 ways:
1. Decision makers for major disasters work within eyesight of the Digital Operations Center. They can come by at any time to get situational awareness at a glance. For this, the data is in the form of the visualizations on the 6 screens in the Digital Operations Center. We can adjust what data we’re pulling in at any time. We’re always tweaking and adapting to be relevant to what’s happening on a given day.
2. The social engagement team will report out to decision makers at national headquarters as well as to the local field operations multiple times per day when there is a major disaster. For this, the data is in the form of a summary report that includes our engagement activities as well as any trends.
3. Decision makers can directly engage with individuals. For this, the data is presented in the Radian 6 engagement console. We are able to create tailored engagement consoles so that subject matter experts are informed by people talking about their area of expertise right from their own computers. We are training a handful of them to use this software.
4. We will share this data with our partners and local operations. For this, the data will be in the form of summary reports very similar or identical to those discussed in #2. We will work with each operation to determine what data is actionable.
Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered ...

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered by Dell (Photo credit: Dell's Official Flickr Page)

How do you engage with individuals from the Digital Operations Center?
In at least 2 ways:
  1. We can holistically see all public social conversation about any given emergency. We look at what questions people have and what issues they are facing and that information informs what content we push out through our national communications channels, including Facebook, Twitter, redcross.org, emails, etc.
  2. Our digital volunteers and subject matter experts can engage with individuals via the engagement consoles they use on their own computers outside of the Digital Operations Center. For example,whenever a digital volunteer responds via the engagement console to someone asking where the nearest shelter is, all the other digital volunteers and the social engagement team will know this activity has happened. This way we don’t duplicate efforts and we can keep track of how many people we provide services to and how well we’re able to help.
American Red Cross Digital Operation Center Un...

American Red Cross Digital Operation Center Unveiling (Photo credit: Geoff Livingston)

How does one become a Digital Volunteer?

 There are several steps and several qualifications we look for in a digital disaster volunteer.
1. Send an email to socialmedia@redcross.org. Indicate your interest in becoming a digital disaster volunteer and provide us with some information about your social networking activity. Please include your twitter handle and where you’re from.
 2. We will have you begin the process of becoming an official American Red Cross volunteer. This process includes a background check.
3. Next, we will invite you to take a social engagement training so you’ll be prepared to serve and you’ll know exactly how to use the tools and what is expected of you.
4. Then, you’re in. You may be called upon for any domestic or international disaster to serve.

English: The American Red Cross Administrative...

Where is it? The Digital Operations Center is a room physically located within the Disaster Operations Center at the American Red Cross in Washington, DC.

How many screens does it have? It contains 6 large screens which show a variety of data visualizations of relevant public social conversations.

How many computers does it have? It contains 3 desktop computers that power the 6 screens (2 a piece!). There’s additional room for several more laptops at the table.
What software is running the visualizations?
 The visualizations are an application from Radian6.
How many visualizations can you display?
We can display 4 types of visualizations:
  1. Heat Map: illustrates the volume of conversation by geography. The heatmap also displays a recent Tweet about the topic about once per minute.
  2. Community: illustrates the social profiles of individuals talking about the topic. The larger the profile photo, the more followers that person has.
  3. Universe: illustrates the volume and sentiment of conversations by keyword. We can display and compare up to three topics and their corresponding keywords at a time.
  4. Conversation Dashboard: illustrates the volume of conversation overtime, a breakdown of the share of voice within a topic, and the sentiment over time. We can display any combination of these 4 visualizations around any of our active topic profiles, explained below.
What is a topic profile?
A topic profile is a collection of keywords and phrases we use to search an area of interest. For example, we have a topic profile called Red Cross, which allows us to see and break down all public social mentions of the Red Cross and our mission area. We also have a topic profile called Disaster Services, which helps us keep an eye on emergency situations like fires, earthquakes, floods,tornadoes, and hurricanes, even if they don’t mention the Red Cross. When the tornadoes hit the midwest on February 28 we quickly created a topic profile to monitor and engage with people affected.
How do the visualizations work?
We can decide which topic profiles to display and we can decide which visualizations (heat map, community, universe, and/or conversation dashboard) to view at any time.
What is an engagement console?
 The engagement console is a Radian6 product that helps us monitor, engage,and internally collaborate about all social conversations during a disaster. The engagement console pulls in public Facebook posts, blogs, news sites,discussion boards, video and image sharing sites, and twitter. It also serves as a workflow manager and is the tool that allows us to scale up to using many digital volunteers.More about the engagement console.
What kind of social data can you pull in?
We can see Twitter, public Facebook posts, forums, blogs, news sites, discussion boards, video and image sharing sites.
What is your privacy policy?
We only pull in publicly accessible social conversations. We do directly engage with individual public social posts to answer questions, provide resources, have a conversation, and/or provide support.

American Red Cross Digital Ops Center: They are Listening

Post by: Kim Stephens

Some emergency managers are still struggling with understanding the value of social media. Even when talking with organizations that do have a presence, there is still some discomfort with  moving from purely pushing information to monitoring for information.  The idea that social media content coming from the public is not trust worthy, only full of rumors, and not valuable, seems to be an entrenched misconception.

The American Red Cross, on the other hand, has not only been a leader and innovator when it comes to using these tools to provide information to the public, but has also fully embraced the concept of listening via these platforms. This was on full display this week (March 7, 2012) when they unveiled their new Digital Operations Center at their Headquarters in Washington D.C. This “listening” center was donated by Dell Computers and Michael Dell proclaimed this as the “first ever instance of a [digital] monitoring center in the realm of humanitarian response.”

The equipment received a workout the week prior to the unveiling when tornadoes struck a wide swath of the mid-west.  Gail McGovern, the ARC President and CEO, stated that monitoring the social stream gave them actionable data. They were able to gain situational awareness regarding such things as announcements of volunteer opportunities as well as people’s immediate needs, including the need to find family members.  In other words, the new tools enabled ARC to quickly gather big picture data to understand what is happening on the ground. She discussed how quite a lot of the content on social platforms after a disaster is, what she termed, “Emotional data.” This, she stated, is quite actionable because ARC is then able to provide tips, comfort and information about where those individuals can find help, for example, directions to the nearest shelter.  “Providing emotional support is a big key.”

See this video below about the new digital ops center and tell me if this makes you reconsider whether or not your organization should be listening.

Social Media Foster Citizen-to-Citizen Aid After Disasters

One of several tornadoes observed by the VORTE...

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

The recent tornadoes in the southern United States have demonstrated the strength of social media as tools for both communications and collaboration. Social media are usually discussed in the context of the immediate aftermath of a storm, e.g. in getting out the word regarding both the threat and then the immediate impact of an event. However, we are just beginning to understand the power of social networking tools during the recovery phase and their role in fostering citizen-to-citizen aid.

The recent article: Alabama Tornadoes: Twitter, facebook, other social media make a mark in disaster response, relief, is interesting in its lack of discussion of  government agencies.  Most of the “disaster response, and relief” mentioned in the article is from citizen to citizen or at least NGO to citizen. As an example, most of the Facebook pages or groups that they highlight were started by people who “just wanted to help”. These people probably do not have experience in disaster response, or training in crisis communications and might not have ever heard the acronym “NIMS”. Nonetheless, the pages they created served, or are serving, as “rallying points” for people in and out of the community. Some of these pages, such as from the one quoted below,  helped people find out about their loved ones:

“Someone would ask about a person they couldn’t get on the phone and another person would reply [on the facebook page] “Oh, I saw them out cleaning up debris,” Davis-Evans said.

Other posts allowed people who wanted to provide assistance to give it directly to those impacted or to hyper-local organizations, such as Churches:

A truck loaded with supplies from New York arrived at the church last week, courtesy of a former Alabama resident who saw the plea on Facebook. That donation came on the heels of boxes of supplies shipped from Austin, Texas; volunteers who showed up from Freeman, Ga.; and a check mailed from Orange County, Calif.

These findings in Alabama are not unique. After every crisis people and organizations are able to utilize social media to ask for help and, on the opposite side of the coin, to find opportunities to assist those in need. Of course this skirts traditional American Red Cross or NVOAD registration systems for tracking and educating volunteers. Those systems have been developed for a reason–people who self-deploy to an impacted area can often become part of the problem vs. the solution, and unwanted donations (particularly clothing) can overwhelm local response and volunteer organizations. But I do find the way people solicit very specific requests for help extremely interesting. There are several categories of solicitations.

1. Physical Labor: In the tweet above from May 26, the organization “Reach-a-Child” asks for people to help pack books for children. Other tweets ask people to donate physical labor to help distribute food and water, or to help remove debris.

2. Specific Items:
Some organizations ask for specific items to be donated–everything  from diapers to wheelchairs. This tweet shows a person asking for a BBQ smoker to be donated to what looks like might be a Church, based on the handle of the tweeter: “Preacherman”.

3. Monetary Donations: And of course, there are many request for monetary donations as well, which usually includes the ability to text to a specified number and donate a small sum.

Social Media are also used to rally the “troops”–as it were. Some communications simply relay the person’s intent to help in an effort to get others to come along:  “Going to work in #Joplin at the tyson food spot. Lowe’s parking lot…feeding people…please pass word around.” And interestingly, there are often unsolicited offers to survivors via social media. One Joplin hair salon, for example, tweeted their offer of free shampoos, styles “food, toys, etc. for victims.”

Possible Problems

All of this opportunity for people to help can create some problems. I have one example from  Australia to illustrate the issue. A humane society needed to evacuate animals from their soon-to-be flooded facility. They put out the word that they needed assistance via social media and folks showed up to help….for days, and days and days, well after the need was satisfied. In another example, here in the U.S. one solicitation for a wheelchair for a young man after the Alabama tornadoes was filled very quickly; however, the need kept being retweeted. This required the requesting organization to address people directly and ask them not to retweet.  Understanding how to stop a request is almost as important as understanding how to ask for assistance in the first place.

Aggregating Sites:

In Joplin, the website Rebuild Joplin, which, according to the site, is “Bright Futures initiative”  was up 36 hours after the tornado. They have the explicit mission of matching those that were impacted with those that want to help.  For those impacted the menu includes a list of resources:

  1. Food & Supplies (from adult clothing to toys)
  2. Housing & Shelter
  3. Services (with a handy list of categories from Auto to Tree Removal. Each tab has a list of  organizations or private companies offering the service and their contact information.)
  4. Missing Persons: (This tab just has three organizations that are involved with missing persons: MO Dept of Public Safety, ARC, and Americorp.)

The list of opportunities to help is essentially a mirror of “I have needs” page, and the site provides a categorized list of organizations and their contact information.  I think I have to agree with them that this page should “serve as a model for other communities affected by disasters.”

Organizations, however, even if they are listed on the website, will probably still feel compelled to send out tweets or post to their facebook pages about upcoming opportunities for volunteers.  Reaching people through social media platforms is one way to keep up attention after the national media have left. People who are following the event’s hashtags  or are part of an event-oriented facebook group (especially 1-2 weeks after a disaster) are also probably motivated to help.

Our thoughts go out to those who were recently impacted by these events.  I know this will be a long recovery, but it is great to see all of the ways communities are learning to use new resources, including social networking tools, to bring folks together to help each other and themselves.

Social Media and Emergency Management: Chatting Away

Post by: Kim Stephens

Twitter is a funny thing. For those unaccustomed to its power, it might just seem like a broadcast medium: a place to get your message out, period. But characterizing twitter or social media as such is completely missing the point. At its core, social media (both facebook and twitter) are tools for organizing groups of people with common interest, sharing information, or collaborating. For those of you interested in social media and its application to emergency management, a twitter group has formed around the hashtag #SMEM. This hashtag has attracted emergency managers, first responders, contractors, NGOs, volunteers, interested citizens and bloggers, such as myself. People go there to share information and best practices and to ask questions of the group, on an ongoing basis.

I have created a map of people using the hashtag in order to get a sense of its reach. To my surprise, people from all over the world have used the tag.  But emergency response personnel and/or interested public information officers might not have the time to watch the tag very often, but check it from time to time hoping to see content they are interested in. This is why the concept of a weekly chat was proposed. This past Friday, Jan 28, the first #SMEMchat occurred. Our goals were simple: test the concept and gauge interest.

I have summarized the chat below, and I hope it entices those who were not able to join us to try to mark their calendars for the next one. (Time/date, etc. will be announced on #SMEM).

Jeff Phillips, an Emergency Manager from New Mexico, agreed to be the moderator and composed some questions to lead the discussion. Questions 1 and 2 dealt with ground rules and how people had heard about the tag after its creation on 11/11/10.  A lot of people learned about it through the people they follow, including Jeff himself. Craig Fugate, FEMA Director,  joined the chat and indicated that he heard about it at the IAEM conference in San Antonio, Texas. In fact, Craig sent out a tweet about the tag and it “blew up” soon after that.

The third question was: “Are you aware that SMEM means bridging SM and EM? What does that mean to you? Why/how do you participate? This elicited some interesting responses but the consensus was “to learn from others” and to have a two-way conversation about how to best utilize social media for in the emergency management field.  Some people pointed out that twitter was the quickest way to pass information worldwide. Others participate on the SMEM tag to “pass useful info to the general public”.

The fourth question was “what are you doing locally/regionally to bridge SM & EM?” Jeff pointed out how in New Mexico they are using the power of social media in a “camp” format and that they have established local hashtags such as #NMEM, #NMFire, #NMStorm and #NMwx. As a side note, following Jeff @LosRanchosEM, is a great way to learn how to use social media to its full extent.

Other comments about bridging SM and EM ranged from developing an American Red Cross team to monitor social media traffic and other info streams for situational awareness (from @zborst), to tweets for Air Crew alerts (@jack4cap), and educating peers. In fact, trying to educate other local emergency managers about the power of social media became a conversation thread. Several people indicated that their local agencies were still fearful of the medium, seeing it as “for teenagers” or fearful to engage due to legal concerns.  Some people pointed out  how useful social media would be for rural areas underserved by any other kind of media–which is a great point.

Recommendations that came from that discussion thread:

  1. Develop FAQs and best practices from collective experiences, aggregate and publish best practices globally. (@FireTracker2)
  2. Provide information to emergency managers about citizens thirst for knowledge during large and small events (from snow storms to hurricanes) and desire to receive that information via social media. Examples exist: in NY  and Australia people were very vocal over a perception of a lack of information coming from their local govs when they knew nearby towns/cities were using social media successfully. @jack4cap illustrated this point even further: “Tuesday nite storms, FL county next door used tweets and nixel. My county, which is larger, better media: NOTHING, nada, NO INFO.”

The fifth question was about the SMEM wiki, were we aware of it? Jeff also asked for other links people followed.

  • I mentioned #lgovsm which is a tag used in Great Britain to discuss social media’s application for local government in general.
  • Others indicated that they use RSS feeds with keyword terms and then subscribe to blogs etc.
  • Just by following the SMEM tag, however, can provide enough reading material to last a lifetime.  People are very good about passing along good articles when they find them.

Question 6: “What points would you like to make about SMEM tag use and twitter etiquette? “Ah, a sore point for a lot of people. It seems the tag, with its heavy use by government officials, is just too enticing to not become a magnet. Key points about netiquette:

  • Don’t spam.
  • Don’t use SMEM for branding.
  • Don’t use it as a billboard.
  • Don’t use interns who don’t have good etiquette.
  • Don’t use it to announce how to get help during an emergency (it’s for discussion–not to pass disaster info. For example, when it snows in New Mexico Jeff sends out tweets that use #NMstorm; he doesn’t send out a tweet saying: “#SMEM It’s storming in NM”.)
  • DO: ask questions on the SMEM tag. People love to engage.

Last Question: “Should we do this again? How often? Move time around? Are you willing to host? Future topics.” There’s a lot in that one question. But the consensus was yes, we should do it again, fixed day, time each week in order to get more people to chat—e.g. they will be able to put it on their schedule.  The majority thought just one or two meatier questions would suffice. But there wasn’t really a consensus on which question for next week, per se.

But… that wasn’t the last question. Craig Fugate chimed in: “Branding issues and use of other hashtags, is there a need for the EM community to have a common way to share info?” This prompted a very good discussion about hashtag use during a crisis. In general, if you have a set tag (ala #NMstorm) that people are used to using, that is great. However, if you don’t, @FireTracker2 noted that you have to use the tag early in the event before the general public starts its own. If not,  your tweets will be marginalized. He suggested just following the public’s lead: “USE WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE USES!– he yelled virtually.

Recommendations gleamed from the discussion on hashtags:

  • Use tags related to the area: “#boulderfire perfect, #fourmilecanyonfire too complex, #wildfire too many false positives.” from @allhazardsblog
  • Cheryl Bledsoe (EM from Vancouver, Washington) stated: “I like seeing state tags like #CA #NM with the incident tag so users quickly know geographic region of threat”.
    • This is a good point, and a good reason why #911 would never work
    • Craig gave a shout out to Tweak the tweet—others mentioned that format as well.
    • @IndianRiverCOEM indicated that @NWSChat was something worth looking at for good collaboration.

It looks as if Indian River had the last word. Nonetheless, I think it was a great discussion and opportunity to collaborate. I look forward to the next chat. Join us! Folllow #SMEM for more info and to volunteer to host! Click here for a complete transcript.

Can Social Media aid mental health recovery after the BP Oil Spill?

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - MODIS/Aqua Detai...

Image by SkyTruth via Flickr

Post by: Kim Stephens

When a disaster occurs people organize themselves to help recover and this helps the community heal, not just tangibly, but according to mental health professionals, intangibly as well, with mental health recovery. Increasingly, social media are being used to help in that regard. For example, just this week in the aftermath of students being held hostage by another student for many hours at a high school in Marinette, Wisconsin, a facebook page was launched in order to “to get the high school students back together as a community … and to help move forward.”  We also reported on this blog about similar efforts after the Boulder, Colorado wilfires.

However, this phenomenon does not seem to be playing out in the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill along the gulf coast. According to experts interviewed for an interesting story on NRP this week entitled: BP Oil Spill Scars similar to Exxon Valdez,  man-made technological disasters such as DeepWater Horizon and Exxon Valdez can literally alter the way a community functions.

“It’s almost like Exxon Valdez fast-forward,” says Steven Picou, an environmental sociologist at the University of South Alabama. Picou has spent the past 20 years tracking the mental health fallout around Prince William Sound.”In Alaska, the communities up there were blindsided,” he says. “They did not realize what was happening to them until the suicides started and the divorces started and the domestic violence became acute in the communities.” Picou is seeing the same problems now on the Gulf Coast, even sooner than they surfaced after the Exxon Valdez spill. In Alaska, he says, there were seven suicides starting about four years after the spill. He says at least two suicides have been linked to distress over the BP oil spill. In response, the Red Cross, houses of worship and mental health providers have stepped up counseling and outreach. Picou is training “peer listeners” — people ready to identify oil spill-related stress and help their families and neighbors cope.

In fact, after digging around, I haven’t really found an organic organization offering that same kind of “moving-together-as-a-community” mentality that you see after most natural disasters. Of course traditional groups such as the American Red Cross are providing services, but it seems telling that the only type of groups to spontaneously form are ones offering heavy doses of vitriol pointed at either BP, the government or both.

The group on the left is still around after protesting the spill, but doesn’t offer any “hey, let’s get together and help each other” information. The NPR story, explained why this might be the case:

“Therapist Pam Maumenee, who is on the oil spill crisis team at AltaPointe Health Systems in Bayou La Batre, Ala., says natural disasters tend to build helping, therapeutic communities.

‘Everybody comes out after a hurricane. You clean up. You bond together,’ Maumenee says. But the opposite is true of a man-made disaster like the oil spill,’ she says. ‘What you see are families against families, brothers against sisters, neighbors against neighbors,’ she says. ‘The community becomes quite corrosive. There have been battles over who got lucrative contracts to work the BP cleanup and who didn’t. And there’s growing resentment over the claims process in the community.”

As a profound example of this one need only look at the facebook pages of spontaneous groups such as the one highlighted above from the oil spill, and contrast that with a facebook page from a natural disaster, such as the Fourmile Wildfire near Boulder, Colorado. The Fourmile page is devoted to the firefighers, and months after the event they are still active in organizing benefits for affected community members. Instead of an ugly picture of the fire, they’ve chosen nice pic of the downtown area for their page.

Officials pages exist, of course, including a page by HHS specifically for mental health complete with 30 second videos by the Surgeon General. CDC has its own Mental Health web page and “peer listening” has been implemented, according to the NRP story.

This is not an effort to measure government, established NGOs, or even BP’s performance with regard to addressing mental health issues, many other are doing that. But I think I did find some evidence that what Ms. Maumenee indicated seems to be true: there didn’t seem to be any organically formed “therapeutic communities” in the social media arena. If you know of some, please comment.

If someone tweets for help, and help doesn’t come, is the local public safety agency liable?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Post by: Kim Stephens

Recently I talked to my local emergency management agency about incorporating social media in their communications strategy.  One concern arose that stumped me:  if an agency using social media receives a report of an injury through Twitter, Facebook or any platform, are they liable if they don’t respond?

Some people would ask:  Why wouldn’t a response agency be able to react?  Although most emergency response organizations have 24 hour operations, at the local level in particular often only one person is responsible for monitoring social media communications and that person clearly would not working ’round the clock. Larger organizations have Public Information Officers on duty 24/7, but small organizations do not have that luxury.

This limited capability is usually not what the public imagines, as we saw with the American Red Cross survey completed this past Aug. (See earlier post on this topic.) The finding that most concerns me here is:

…the survey respondents expected quick response to an online appeal for help—74 percent expected help to come less than an hour after their tweet or Facebook post. (American Red Cross)

This expectation has been of concern to me, so I raised the matter with some outside experts.  The essential questions deal with responsibility and liability.  Specifically, how can  response organizations engage in social media yet not raise public expectations that it will be monitored 24/7 and replace 911, and not expose the agency to future lawsuits?

From the experts I talked to, here are some answers.  According to Mike Ellis of Code Red at ECN,  and confirmed by Claire Reiss of the Public Entity Risk Institute, you simply make it clear on  your social media site, in a prominent place, that you do not accept emergency notifications. Similar to the message you might hear if you call your Dr.’s office “If this is an emergency hang up and dial 911.” You should also make it clear that the social media sites are not monitored 24/7 if that is the case. There is one caveat, however, if someone sends a tweet or a post indicating an injury and your organizations responds to that communication, then the clock will start. If you tell the person help is on the way, it should be on the way in real-time since an expectation will have been established.

This does not mean, however, that any injury a person asks you about has to be ignored. An example comes from the LAFD’s use of social media. In one case a citizen sent a tweet to the LAFD saying that he/she had burned a hand. The PIO, Bryan Humphrey,  told the person some general first aid info (e.g. place burn under cold water) but also said to call 911 if  the injury was bad enough.  Instead of just telling them to “call 911″ he engaged the person, but also directed them to the proper call center if it was necessary.

This, however, doesn’t even address what could happen if the person received a busy signal from 911 and then turned to the agency’s Facebook page for help. That is another matter for another posting.

My personal opinion is that response organizations may, in the future, have to hire more people expressly for the job of monitoring social media. Could the new hires be part of the 911 center, since that is already activated 24/7?  In this era of decreasing budgets that probably is not likely to happen. Another option is to recruit trained volunteers, via the Citizen Corps or CERT programs at the local level, especially for use during major crises or disasters. This is an option we will explore in a future posting.

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