Tag Archives: Australia

SMEM and the Australian Bushfires

Post by: Kim Stephens

A Twitter chat occurred yesterday (1/25/2013) about the role of social media during the ongoing bushfires in Australia. The chat was organized and facilitated by Robert Dunne @Academy911, Joanna Lane @joannalane and Joanne White @joannewhite. Although I haven’t had time to read through the complete archive of hundreds of Tweets, some resources stood out to me that I’d like to share.

One of the items mentioned was this great presentation available on YouTube by CFA (Country Fire Authority) Digital Media Manager, Martin Anderson who discusses the integration of social media into emergency service procedures in Victoria, Australia. Mr. Anderson points out that the full adoption of social media had to come with three main changes in mindset:

  1. From: “We hold the info the community needs and we expect them to come to us.”  To: “We realize we need to go to the community.”
  2. From: “We will decide what the community needs.” To: “The community will tell us what they need.”
  3. From: “The public is a liability.” To: “The public is a resource.” See the full video below:

Some great examples of the many ways the Australian public can stay informed during this crisis were also shared during the discussion on Twitter. One emerging theme is  the move toward providing aggregated information from many different agencies and organizations along with a visualization of that content.

1. A great resource page  by HardenUp.org has been established for the bushfires that provides an aggregation of official social media channels as well as images posted by the public.  HardenUp is a project by Green Cross Australia who’s mission is to prepare the public for a changing climate “in ways that embrace sustainability and community resilience.” The resource page was inspired by the Queensland Public Alerts page, sponsored by the Queensland government.

2. The Country Fire Authority has a similar aggregated social media site aptly  called “Social Media Updates.” The page lists official social posts from the CFA Facebook and Twitter account, as well as from other relevant official accounts including for instance, the Melbourne Fire Bureau or MFB and traffic information from VicRoads, just to name a few.

MFA Mobile App

CFA: Fire Ready Smartphone Application

3. The CFA also has a FireReady mobile app. This app was mentioned during the chat, and I blogged about its features here.

4. The ABC Emergency website is a great resource that provides an aggregated list of all current alerts and warnings.  The site was set up in the wake of the Black Saturday Fires and Brisbane Floods by the Australian Broadcasting Company. I like that they don’t just provide information about the hazard, but also what the public can do to prepare themselves. The preparedness pages also include links to official agencies. For instance, the “Plan for a Bushfire” page has hyperlinks to each of the Fire Emergency Services.  The ABC’s stated purpose for the site:

[The public] can…use this site to plan for an emergencyaccess the latest emergency resources for your mobile phonelocate official emergency agencies in your State or Territory and learn from the experience of previous major emergencies.”

abcemergency

The caption states: ABC Emergency only publishes warnings from official sources. This is a list of official warnings currently available to the ABC. You should check with other sources for more warnings relevant to your area.

googleau

Google Crisis Response Map: Current Fires and Incidents

5. The Google Crisis Response team is also active in this disaster. Their NSW Crisis Map has current bushfire information.  They call this “…a mirror of the NSW Rural Fire Service Current Fires and Incidents map.”

This list represents just a few of the interesting resources made available to the public during this event. I hope these agencies will share their lessons learned: I look forward to hearing more about the role social media continues to play in the land “down-under.” What are you learning?

Thanks to Nathan Hunderwald or @smem911 for ReTweeting some of the best links.

Smartphone Apps, the Next Step for Social Media and Emergency Management?

Post by: Kim Stephens

bushfire

bushfire (Photo credit: theangrypenguin)

One thing we are hearing loud and clear from the January, 2013 Australian bushfire disaster is that people are turning to social media for information. This is demonstrated by a quote from Stuart Howie of “The Border Mail” in an article titled “Opinion: Social media a life saver.”

Indeed yesterday, as bushfires swept across large tracts of land in New South Wales and destroyed properties in Victoria, social media helped save lives. Just as it is hard to predict what the winds of change will do during these infernos, it may be dangerous to hazard a guess at how many lives. A few? Dozens? Perhaps many more. However, I have no doubt that the ability of social media in conjunction with established media outlets to spread emergency information to scattered communities meant residents were, in many circumstances, kept as well informed as the fire crews battling the constantly changing circumstances. And they got out of the path of annihilation.

But believe it or not, I don’t think the lesson to be learned from this event will be that social media can help spread information. Numerous disasters, including SuperStorm Sandy, have made this use of social networking almost self-evident. One thing we might learn, however, is the increasing power and usefulness of mobile applications, provided they are done well. The private sector is also learning this lesson, see the article “Forget social media, smartphone apps are the new customer service tool.”

The Need to Provide Mobile-Ready Information 

During a crisis, organizations are increasingly comfortable with providing critical information and emergency updates via social media. However, one of the lessons we have learned as an SMEM community, is that the people who most need the information are also the least likely to be viewing it on a computer screen.  Therefore, when a hyperlink is included in a Tweet or a Facebook post it should link to information that is mobile ready. Some would even argue that in low bandwidth situations, a link shouldn’t be included at all.

The  Country Fire Authority (CFA) of Victoria, Australia or @CFA_Updates on Twitter, seems to have learned the mobile-ready lesson. According to their Facebook page, the CFA  is one of the largest volunteer-based emergency management organizations in the world and are one of the main agencies involved in bushfire fighting. Via their social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, during this recent disaster, they have been providing a constant stream of official emergency warnings, incident updates and media releases.

This Tweet, however, really impressed me:

Why? I clicked on the link in the Tweet on my smartphone, because the Tweet itself made no sense to me, and I expected a long delay for a website to download. Instead, I was directed to their mobile-ready content. Furthermore, once there I had the choice of downloading their mobile app, which I did.

MFA Mobile App What’s in the App?

The content of the App is very impressive, even though, as they state on their website, some people have experienced problems with the latest version–which is really unfortunate timing. An article titled “CFA website can’t handle the heat” noted how the CFA website and phone app had to be placed on separate servers after both had problems during the worst of the heatwave due to extremely high user demand. There’s a lesson learned–or re-learned–there are well! Nonetheless, I was able to navigate through the most of the app without too many issues.

There are many things I found useful, but I’d like to highlight 5 items.

  1. Incident Information The application has a very handy map interface that allows users to quickly see  where fires are located as well as the fire’s current status. People can even sign up to get alerts of warnings when fires are within a specified radius of the user-defined “Watch Zone.”
  2. Each fire symbol is clickable which takes the user to a screen that provides detailed information about that event, including how many trucks are on scene and the percent contained.
  3. One thing I LOVE about the “Incident Detail” screen is that users can share the details of an incident to their social networks straight from the app. Providing an easy way for citizens to share your content should be a goal of every organization:  the more information is shared the more it is seen. photo-7
  4. The app does not squelch the sharing of user-generated content, in fact it encourages it. A tab for “photos” reveals contributions from citizens who have uploaded images to the app. The purpose is to provide situational awareness content from the perspective of the community, but the unstated purpose is more psychological. People like to feel that they are contributing in emergency situations, even if it is a small act such as uploading a picture. This feature sends a huge signal to the community that says: “We are all in this together.”
  5. SocialTheir social media streams are embedded in the app. This means that the user does not have to leave the environment of the app in order to view this content. This makes for a handy one-stop shop for all of their streams of communication. I noticed, however, that this feature seems to be where some of their current bugs are occurring.

What’s Next?

Despite the little hiccups with the app during this current disaster, I see it as the future. What I also see, however, are other issues that will need to be resolved. For example, during a crisis whose app will the community be encouraged to use?The one from the American Red Cross, FEMA, the local Fire Service, Emergency Management Office, or the local City or County Government? Or will citizens be forced to download all of them and then go from app to app to gain all of the particulars they need, from protective action measures to recovery information. Open data is probably they answer, but that’s another post!

Let me know what you think? Is your organization developing a mobile app?

Related articles

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

Post by: Kim Stephens

10-20-11_Question-Man_0

Image by: nglcc.org

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

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

and my all time favorite…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img-cyclonetracy-whitlam

Photo: Australian EM Institute

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

images-6

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards, Eileen

Well said Eileen!

QPS Media Story Never Gets Old!

Post by: Kim Stephens

Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland)

Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 12, 2012 ZDNET posted a story recounting the amazing experience of Queensland Police Service and their use of social media during the January 2011 floods in Australia. Reading it reminded me of why I find the cause of social media and emergency/crisis communications so compelling. There are numerous quotes from Kym Charlton- executive director of the Queensland Police Service’s (QPS) media and public affairs branch, that could headline a social media and emergency management conference. Each of her statements seem to address the question “Why should I use social media to communicate with the public during a crisis?”

Here’s what they learned:

  • Bypass the Media as the message filter and provide hyper-local information:

“We were able to pump out a whole lot of information that we knew wouldn’t make the mainstream media; they just wouldn’t have picked up that volume of information. It was quite low level, but it was really important if it was about your area,” she said.

  • Get information out in a timely fashion:

“Rather than me sitting in a disaster-management meeting, listening to the premier being briefed, taking notes, going out and giving it to someone to write a media release, then spending the rest of the day chasing around incredibly busy people to clear the information, I started to post status updates as I heard the premier being briefed,” she said.

  • Expect to work long days:

“For example, the day that the Lockyer Valley flooded was the same day that Brisbane and Ipswich realised there was going to be a major flood. All of a sudden, you had the entire population of both cities desperately trying to work out if their houses were going to flood. A lot of people weren’t here in 1974; also, there are way more houses [now] than there used to be. We saw a huge jump of people coming to the page to find that information.” On that particular day, 10 January, Charlton sent her first and last tweets at 4.45am and 11.45pm, respectively.

  • Expect a huge increase in the amount of people accessing your social pages. 

“The numbers surrounding 10 January are astonishing. The QPS Facebook page received 39 million individual story views — the equivalent of 450 page impressions per second — while being updated by staff every 10 minutes or so. (“That amount of traffic would have crashed both our public website and our operational website,” Charlton noted.)

Their Facebook audience grew from 16,500 on 9 January to 165,000 within a fortnight; many of those joined the page during the 24-hour period following the Lockyer Valley torrent. Overnight, the QPS social-media accounts had become a lifejacket to which many Queenslanders clung.

  • Establish your social presence before an event occurs.

“We were in that wonderful position where we knew enough to be able to use it [during the floods],” she said. “It wasn’t a decision where anyone said, OK, we’re going to focus on social media’. We just started doing it because it worked.”

  • Don’t advertise the goods, just deliver them.

“…QPS is just one shining star within a tight-knit constellation of Australian police departments that live and breathe social media each day. None of them have spent a single cent on advertising or promoting these channels; fittingly, they’ve all developed organically through networked word of mouth.”

End result: “…connect humans with one another, and to share meaningful information immediately.”

Thank you QPS Media and ZDNet for reminding us all of this amazing story and example to live up to!

What’s in Your Tweet?

Post by: Kim Stephens

The thumbnail for The Station. Used as their d...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Social Media and Emergency Management chat devolved a little bit today into a debate about what to include in a tweet, specifically hyperlinks, and whether or not it was good practice to cross post between Facebook and Twitter.  The conversation reminded me of a blog post from last year entitled: All in a tweet. The author [no name is given] notes his observations about official twitter accounts during the January 2011 record flooding event  in Australia, as well as people’s reactions and interactions with those accounts. I wrote about this last year,  but wanted to revisit this story since it provides some great lessons on how to design tweets in order to ensure your customers and/or citizens are not only happy, but actually able to understand the information you are trying to convey.

The author describes one particular “channel” on twitter, the TransLink SEQ–the twitter feed for the rail and bus service, and states that they were “an example of how not to use [twitter].” His biggest complaint was how TransLink stated very generic information in their tweets and expected people to go their website for details. The content of this tweet is illustrative: “Services are running throughout this afternoon. Expect delays & some cancellations. Check the website for service status info.” However, as the author notes, this presented numerous problems, especially since most of the users were accessing the information on mobile devices, literally standing on train platforms:

  1. Going to a website on a smartphone doesn’t always work, especially if the user doesn’t have a great signal;
  2. Reading a website on a smartphone is not always easy, especially if the site is not optimized for mobile and;
  3. Since so many users were directed to the website, it eventually crashed.

Another aspect of the story is simply Translink’s non-responsiveness to users.

There was every indication that they were explicitly refusing to respond to direct messages or any sort of feedback.  “The height of their lunacy on Tuesday was when many, many people were asking if the rumour that public transport was halting at 2PM was true, and the *only* response in return was to keep repeating that they had a [web]page with service statuses on it. At no point did they respond to the simple question “are services halting at 2pm.” The only rebuttal of that rumour came from the QPS Media service [Queensland Police Service].

A direct consequence of their inability or lack of desire to tweet out the information was huge spikes in the number of calls to their call center.”Our call centre is receiving a high number of calls, causing delays in answering. Check website for info to help us manage the call volume.”

Two interesting points from the author:

  • relevant information-rich messages are spread further and live longer than information-poor messages;
  • the service is inherently a two-way information flow, and questions and criticisms that flow back are indicators of errors or inadequacies in the outgoing flow.

In sum, organizations that are using social networks during a crisis really need to consider in their content strategy not only what the message is, but what kinds of devices people are using to access that content. Let me know if that is a consideration you have taken into account.

“Information Aid”: As important to disaster survivors as food

Post by: Kim Stephens

After a disaster, the flow of information on social networks is often thought of and discussed in terms of what is coming from the impacted community. We debate at length the value of this content, its veracity and how the first responder community could or should use this type of data. However, what is not discussed as often is the information being provided to the survivors and its impact on their recovery.

Social media have democratized the ability for people to provide what Patrick Meier calls “information aid” or  “information relief” to impacted communities (it is his notion that information is as important as food). This in turn has created a new kind of volunteer, a social media “content curator”.  A study in Australia, published by the Australian Journal of Emergency Management,  looked at this type of activity after the January 2011 flooding and cyclone events and found that citizens who start community-based social media pages (particularly facebook in this example) act as filters and amplifiers of official information for those that were impacted (see the example of this from Missouri). They conclude that not only does this type of activity help provide survivors with timely public safety related information but also enables a sense of “connectedness…both to loved ones and to the broader community, providing reassurance, support and routes to assistance.” They call this  “psychological first aid” which aims to “reduce initial distress, meet current needs, promote flexible coping and encourage adjustment.” See this article for more info about psychological first aid. Their study is one of the first of its kind to look at the role of social media in this capacity and they found that people not only relied on these community pages for information, but that it did make them feel connected to others, encouraged by help given, and hopeful. Of note, the responses for feeling “suspicious or mistrustful of the information” were very low (4 and 5 %).

Content Curators

Although this type of volunteer is starting to become more formalized with efforts by organizations such as the Standby Crisis Task Force, CrisisCommons, and Humanity Road, it also can happen in a very spontaneous and, at first, unorganized manner with a person simply starting a Facebook fan page at the outset of a disaster. This example repeated itself again and again this year, and is best exemplified by the 18 year old girl that started a Facebook page in Monson, Massachusetts while still hunkered down in her basement as a tornado passed overhead. The page was titled simply “Monson Tornado Watch.” It grew to be one of the main sources of information for their town’s citizens as  volunteer organizations and regular citizens alike embraced it as a place to post any and all information they could find regarding response and recovery activities. Very quickly, one-fourth of the entire population became a “fan.” This page is still up and continues to be a place where people congregate virtually to provide and find information about recovery, as well as a place to connect and support each other.

Another great example of this type of social media spontaneous content curator  is from Joplin, Missouri, where many different people and groups started community-based pages with the intention of amplifying official information for survivors. One  facebook page, “Joplin Tornado Info” or JTI , even resulted in a guide: “Using social media in disasters“. JTI was started by a mother and daughter team with no public information or emergency management background. However, they understood the need for standard operating procedures, which they developed and detail in the guide.  Although the guide does not address the psychological reason behind the desire to start this type of facebook page, they do state that they simply wanted  “to be a clearinghouse for information, aid communication, and resources, not to champion any specific organization.”

Another reason their efforts were successful was due to their understanding of the scope of information they should be providing. “Ideally, a page covers a single  affected community.  Otherwise,  the information to be gathered and communicated  becomes  impossible to provide in a meaningful way to your  audience.” They also understood that people were often accessing this information on their smart-phones, sometimes while on their property cleaning up–not sitting at a computer watching the social stream. Therefore, their strategy was to repost vital contnet so that it didn’t get lost. “Timelines move fast, so reposting the same information during the day is a good idea.”

In conclusion, as emergency management organizations grapple with how to deal with this type of spontaneous volunteer, it is worth keeping in mind  what the authors of the Australian study found:

“…social media in this context is not to replace face-to-face support or contact, or to replace official warning services, but it can expand capacity to deliver information, extend the reach of official messages and limit the psychological damage caused by rumours and sensationalised media reporting. A mix and balance of official and informal information sources and communication channels is likely to be the best way to enhance emergency management capability.

Empowering individuals and communities to help themselves through provision of accurate, timely and relevant information and a mechanism to connect with others are fundamental needs that social media can deliver. The dynamic and organic nature of social media is such that pages and sites take on a life of their own. Self-regulation and careful administration are elements that serve to ensure that the sites that succeed are those that listen and support the needs of their users.

Research about Communicating Risk becomes a Hard Reality: HardenUp.org

Post by: Kim Stephens

Communication

Image by P Shanks via Flickr

How do you create resilient communities?  It’s a tough question. Just yesterday I sent out a tweet about preparedness and the ubiquitous fact sheets that government agencies produce. Does anyone read them? If someone does read them, do they take action, e.g. prepare a  “go-kit,” or purchase insurance, etc.? Maybe, I mused, images of disasters would help encourage people to prepare. One of my colleagues @Cherylble (Cheryl Bledsoe)  answered “@Kim26stephens, you presume a natural interest in emergency management and I would tender ppl only interested if hazard is imminent #smem”.

An imminent hazard is certainly something that spurs action. Therefore, it would seem that if the public only knew and understood their risks (e.g. the frequency of hurricanes)  then they would take the necessary steps to mitigate those risks. But the research study “Communicating Actionable Risk for Terrorism and Other Hazards” – Michele M.Wood,1,∗ ,† Dennis S. Mileti et. al., published 10 June 2011,  found that it is much more important “… to emphasize the communication of preparedness actions (what to do about risk) rather than the risk itself.” They call this type of activity “communicating actionable risk“.  Another key finding, which is highly relevant in today’s connected world, was that “households in American are most likely to take steps to prepare themselves if they observe the preparations taken by others…”. I’m effectively boiling down an entire article to one paragraph so I suggest you read it,  however, it is interesting to note their conclusion:

“Communicating preparedness actions to motivate people to act is more direct than communicating risk and hoping that people will infer that they should take actions, and then, based on their inferences, act. This is a substantial departure from theoretical perspectivies and program practices that seek primarily to communicate risks so that people might, then, infer that action-taking is warranted.”

This research has been put into direct practice in Queensland Australia, an area of the world I seem to write about weekly. I am seriously in awe of the new website put together by Green Cross Australia in partnership with a veritable alphabet soup of government agencies, volunteer organizations, research institutions and even private industry called: “HardenUp: Protecting Queensland“. They do about a million things right here, but most importantly they do communicate actionable risk and then, from within the framework of the site, encourage people to share and promote their preparedness activities in a seamless manner.  As an aside, Green Cross Australia has a focus on climate change and helping people adapt to the potential changes that could occur, such as increased natural disasters and changing sea-level.

It’s not surprising that people will react if they see others preparing. If a storm is coming and I see my neighbor nailing up plywood on windows, I’m likely to think, “Hey, that looks like a good idea.”  However, how can we make more subtle preparedness activities visible and essentially social when there’s not a storm?  You guessed it: social media.  HardenUp offers multiple chances for citizens to share how they are preparing. When users create their plan (in a really nice interface, by they way) they are asked to post what they have done to their social network.

The “tips” section is also designed for sharing. It was envisioned, in part, as a way for people who lived through major disasters to communicate what they learned. In order to get the survivors input, however, some clarifying had to be done about the name of the site.

In a message to survivors, Jelenko Dragisic, CEO of Volunteering Qld and a HardenUp partner, stated that their intention for the website was definitely not to tell people who suffered losses from last year’s major flooding events to “Harden Up,” rather their intention was simply to communicate to the segment of the population that is not prepared. He also implored these survivors, who know the dangers all too well, to share their experiences.

 Many people think they can leave it up to insurance and government bodies and emergency organisations to come to their rescue, both literally and financially. Or they believe there’s nothing individuals can do when faces with a natural disaster. But those people are wrong…being prepared can make a hell of a difference. Knowing how to get out, having emergency supplies, being informed, really can be the difference between life and death…As people who’ve had direct experience of this, I invite you to share your stories with other Queenslanders.”

User-generated tips are also linked to social media to encourage peer engagement: visitors can view all of the tips and then click the “Like” button to instantly post their favorites it to their facebook page. Peer pressure is also subtly applied throughout their site, for example,  a “ticker” runs at the bottom of every page that states  the number of preparedness actions that have been taken to date: 10,530. I love the tag “What about you?” next to the number. In other words, according to a Green Cross representative, Jeremy Mansfield: “Harden-up is not about vulnerability, but a call to action to build self-resilience.”

Although preparedness is the goal, risk awareness is one of the objectives. The site designers have incorporated a database of over 150 years worth of community-based historical disaster data.  According to Jeremy:

One of the key differences of the site we feel is the ” Information asymmetry” providing people links to knowledge that contextualise  risks, preparedness/resilience and longer term issues around adaptation etc. We think it’s the first time a site has attempted to integrate 150 years of weather history along with regional climate history & trends served up at a suburb level.

I also really like how  “HardenUp” has been built to eventually become a one-stop shop for all emergency information. For example, the “In the event” Hub is turned on if there is a crisis and will house community and authority feeds and real-time maps. There is also a tab to search for volunteer opportunities.

I covet this site. I want one in my community, and I want to help build one for every state in the US. Am I being overly effusive?

Related Links

How do we reach young people with disaster info? Think mobile.

Post by Kim Stephens

When Volunteering Queensland wanted to develop a “Disaster App” that also addressed the needs of young people, developers took a novel approach: they asked youths what they wanted. Specifically they conducted in-depth research through a series of facilitated workshops in a process they called “participatory data collection.” They found that the App “must be flexible, adaptive and youth-targeted in terms of content, language, imagery and interaction and importantly, stream real-time, localised information. The research has also revealed the need for a streamlined source of information and directory of services and resources that young people can easily engage with.” The analysis was led by Anthony Frangi of the School of Journalism and Communication of the University of Queensland and it resulted in the report titled: Strengthening Youth Resilience to Natural Disaster with Smartphone Technology.

I found this report fascinating since it dovetails almost the exact same issues we encounter in the U.S., although I know of no similar research that asks American youths what they would like to see in a disaster App. We tend to take a one-size fits all approach. However, it is interesting to note that for the most part, the youths  that participated detailed the same kinds of information requirements as adults. One exception, however, is possibly in how they determine whether or not they will volunteer. As I’ve seen with my own teens, they want to volunteer, but only if people from their friend network are also participating.

This report is also valuable in terms of the cited research they provide as background information. For instance, when discussing resilience  as it pertains to young people they state:

… youth have particular needs and different means of communicating, and as bigger risk-takers than their adult counterparts are often perceived as requiring additional support, including peer, and role models for safety behaviour. Additionally, young people may also require assistance post events, in order to fully ‘process’ the events around them. Disaster management often assumes young people are ‘passive’ with little role in communicating risks or preventing and responding to disasters; with such responsibilities awarded to the grown-ups; and certainly it is an under-researched area. Choong et al (2008) counters this, arguing that youth have great capacity to play positive and important roles in disaster resilience, including being a part of the knowledge making processes – before, during and after disasters, and engaging in positions of leadership and responsibility within the community and among peers.”

This report is certainly one to bookmark if your agency is considering developing an App, I’ve already put it in my list of resources. By the way, here’s the App they eventually created. According to their website the App allows people to do following:

  1. Register with CREW to be an emergency volunteer;
  2. See current emergency volunteering opportunities;
  3. Access all the key contacts for emergencies in one place and save your own emergency contacts;
  4. Watch short disaster preparedness and response videos;
  5. Find out what you need to have in your emergency stay/go kit (and check them off when you’ve got them);
  6. Read the latest news from www.emergencyvolunteering.com.au.

New Report on Twitter Use in Queensland Floods

Post by: Kim Stephens

A new report was released this week which examines the use of Twitter during the January 2011 flooding event in Queensland, Australia.  The report was led by Dr. Alex Bruns and Dr. Jean Burgess of the Media Ecologies Project, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) with Kate Crawford and Frances Shaw of University of New South Wales (see citation below).  They examine the role of Twitter during that event by applying a rigorous research methodology, which is detailed in the report.

The report has a list of 21 key findings in the executive summary. To me, the most interesting aspect of what they discovered was the weight the most visible emergency services account, @QPSMedia, carried in the twitter-sphere. It demonstrates how valuable this communication became during the flooding as people gravitated to official information. What they confirm is the notion that if your agency participates on social platforms with consistent, clear, timely messages, you can become the voice people trust.

Here’s the list of their 11 finding regarding @QPSMedia:

  • As the most visible account on #qldfloods, the Queensland Police Service Media Unit account (@QPSMedia) played a leading role in disseminating timely and relevant information to the public, and in coordinating and guiding the wider discussion.
  • The Queensland Police Service was able to ‘cut through’ effectively: to reach its immediate audience as well as be passed along and thus amplified many times over, with the help of other Twitter users acting as further information disseminators, especially at the height of the crisis.
  • Tweets from and to the @QPSMedia account were overwhelmingly focussed on providing situational information and advice. Engagement between @QPSMedia and its followers remained topical and to the point, significantly involving directly affected local residents.
  • By contrast, the overall #qldfloods discussion contained substantially more tweets discussing the wider implications of the disaster and offering personal reactions, often sent from elsewhere in Australia and the world.
  • @QPSMedia’s ‘#Mythbuster’ tweets – directly tackling the rumours and misinformation about the floods which circulated on Twitter and elsewhere – were especially successful, and very widely retweeted.
  • The central role of @QPSMedia as an information source was widely acknowledged and applauded by Twitter users even while the disaster event itself still unfolded. This also places @QPSMedia well as an important participant in the Twitter-based coverage and management of future crises.
  • Additionally, @QPSMedia also played a crucial role in enabling affected locals and more distant onlookers to begin the difficult process of making sense and coming to terms with these events, even while they were still unfolding.
  • The tenor of tweets during the latter days of the immediate crisis shifted more strongly towards organising volunteering and fundraising efforts, but more strongly so in the overall #qldfloods discussion than in the @QPSMedia conversation. @QPSMedia provided information on volunteering opportunities, but did not significantly promote fundraising schemes.
  • Retweeting of messages focussed especially on tweets with immediate relevance to the crisis at hand: tweets containing situational information and advice, and news media and multimedia links were retweeted disproportionately often. In general #qldfloods discussion, though not in the @QPSMedia conversation, this is true also for help and fundraising tweets. Less topical tweets were far less likely to be retweeted.
  • @QPSMedia’s now established position as a leading account for crisis communication in Queensland places it well to explore more systematic approaches for crowdsourcing situationally valuable information directly from the Twitter community, in addition to continuing its role as a key information disseminator.
  • Similarly, @QPSMedia is also in a position to build further dedicated links to the Twitter accounts of key media organisations and civic authorities, to develop a more comprehensive social media crisis communication infrastructure in Queensland.

Citation: Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Kate Crawford, and Frances Shaw. #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods. Brisbane: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2012.

Social Media’s Use in Emergencies: Research from Victoria, Australia

Post by: Kim Stephens

We often lament in the emergency management community that there isn’t enough quantitative data regarding the use of social media in disasters. A new report from Australia is helping to fill that void. During the 2011 Victorian Floods social media was difficult to ignore. The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner and the Victorian State Emergency Service therefore  commissioned Alliance Strategic Research to conduct an independent research project to explore and document social media’s use during that event. The research objectives:

  • document social media comments during the Victorian floods
  • analyse and ascertain the nature of these comments
  • establish flows of information and recommend approaches for future events

I haven’t had a chance to read through the entire report yet, but they have a great video describing the major findings. Two things that stood out to me: one, people start talking about recovery issues during the height of the crisis; two, the tone of people’s responses are more positive than negative.

Here is their summary of major findings:

  • the key behaviour documented was spreading information through social media channels, with the information generally helpful and positive in its nature;
  • regional areas of Victoria are active in social media;
  • different social media channels were used for different types of communications at different times;
  • social media volume increases with the population of the affected area, severity and duration of events;
  • Twitter was the most active medium, and was used heavily by media outlets;
  • evidence of a one-to-one communications model, with community members engaging with each other individually.

This link will take you to their homepage where you can download the full report.