Tag Archives: Community Emergency Response Team

National Capital Region: Social Media Summit

Post by: Kim Stephens

The National Capital Region is  hosting a social media summit today, July 19, 2012. I am more than privileged to attend, facilitate and present at this event. As of last count we have about 130 people scheduled to participate from across the region including local, state and federal officials.

The goal of the meeting is to “discuss, define and discover solutions for the use of social media during emergencies in the D.C., Virginia and Maryland area.”  We asked people about what they hoped to get of the meeting and there were varying responses, all with the word or concept of “learning” in them.

  • “I hope to learn how other organizations are using social media…”
  • “I hope to get ideas/information about how to use the tools to gain situational awareness”
  • I want to learn as much as I can!

One of the focuses will be on what we learned from the recent Derecho storm that hit this area pretty hard. Whether or not organizations were using social media for the first time or the 100th, there will be plenty of areas for reflection.

From my perspective, I will be using my 8 minute spark presentation to talk about lessons I personally learned just last week while helping facilitate a CERT training seminar for deaf,  hard of hearing, and interpreters on the Gallaudet campus in Washington, D.C. At the training, I presented a module on social media: I came away with a few new ideas and changed perceptions as did some of the CERT members–it was a great information exchange! Some observations and outcomes:

Chris Littlewood presents at the CERT training sponsored by ServeDC.

  1. Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals are very visual–ASL is, after all, a visual language. Therefore, the written word doesn’t carry as much weight as the signed word. Lesson: Response agencies should include as many pictures and videos as possible to communicate their message.
  2. Gallaudet is considering creating 1-2 minute protective action videos in  American Sign Language for each of the common hazards in DC. These videos will be available on YouTube. This also means other response organizations will be able to link to this content in Tweets and in Facebook posts–and even on their websites.
  3. Facebook is the platform of choice of most older deaf individuals–there were a lot of professors and educators in the room versus students; however, I was told that the younger deaf population does use Twitter. There initially was  a misconception that Twitter was only text and therefore, not as user friendly to the deaf community as Facebook–where videos and pictures can be easily posted. Explaining how hyperlinks worked helped ease that concern.
  4. Videos posted without adequate captioning are useless, annoying or both. If you do this you are sending a message to this community that states loud and clear: “We don’t care!”
  5. There are interpreters for the deaf throughout the DC metropolitan area that are ready, willing and able to help in a crisis. Why not pull them in to help with social media?
  6. If your response organization has a social media presence, market it to the deaf community. Don’t expect them to magically find your information–actively seek them out and encourage them to follow you.

Chatting about Impediments to Social Media Implementation

ESA/ESOC goes Social Media _10

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

The third discussion on the #SMEMchat (Social Media for Emergency Management) hashtag, hosted by Joseph Moore, was very lively. The topic for the week was “common obstacles in implementing social media in emergency management.” Of note, some British social media enthusiast that use the hashtag #lgovsm (local government and social media) for discussions, also tweeted about impediments to implementation in a separate conversation. Although the Brits are not necessarily emergency management types, the impediments they listed proved to be very similar to the ones we discussed–their suggestions to overcoming these obstacles were also very interesting.  I didn’t include every tweet, thought or even discussion stream in this summary. For a transcript of the entire SMEM chat go here. The concepts here are an aggregation of the opinions of everyone in both chats and aren’t my thoughts alone (although I did participate).

Barriers: Buy-In

In Britain, their discussion seemed to focus on management buy-in as the biggest impediment. They listed managers concern with loss of message control as a problem: “managers [are] anxious about losing control of the message,” wanting to “own” the message. Message control was also brought up with the Americans. The expectation on social media platforms is that citizens are allowed or even encouraged to post information and comment on postings, but some saw this type of engagement as a culture shock to many in the emergency management community. “[I] think the idea of engaging others is tough and tougher still in Social Media.”

This could be based on the simple fear of what people will say and do on these sites–will they post wrong, inflammatory, racists, crude material? Or will they bash our response efforts like they bash government on newspaper websites? This has led some in the EM community in the US to disable the ability for citizens to comment on their facebook page. However, some participants saw disabling comments as a false choice: citizens will still comment, but now, you are no longer a part of the conversation: “The public will comment with or without government control. It will just be in a different channel. Better to engage than be blindsided.”

Others pointed out that the fear of citizens bashing your efforts might be somewhat overblown, and even if people do comment negatively “we should embrace the comments…that’s how we learn.”  As someone succinctly put it: “We are not moderators or eavesdroppers, we are [should be] part of the conversation.” Others pointed out that one the benefits of being engaged and accepting comments is also the ability to stop rumors before they gain ground. For example, people will use social media channels to ask government agencies if something is true or not–but you can only answer if you are there.

Other Barriers:

Some suggested, however, that a lack of social media adoption had nothing to do with fear of engagement: “I would think its more [about] information overload than fear? Many agencies were overwhelmed prior to social media.” So, even if social media has buy-in from management, are their perceived or real costs associated with its implementation that prohibit its adoption?

This led to a discussion on barriers that had to do with resources, both human and material.  Three main points emerged:

  • Hardware/software systems can be necessary for implementation:
    • In the US, chat participants also pointed to some hesitancy based on concerns with how social media might interact with legacy IT systems.
    • Filtering/aggregation/validation software systems can be utilized for data analysis but these tools are not widely understood.
  • Education and  Training is necessary for staff:
    • both basic and advanced training is needed
      • staff with social media skills could be used to help educate others (even if they aren’t in the communications/PIO shop).
      • Some noted, however, that we often work in silos, which makes this suggestion a challenge.
    • Clear plans, policies, procedures goals and objectives are necessary. You need to: “Have a bloody good policy”  first [before implementation].
  • Extra staff is necessary to help filter, monitor and analyze social media during a crisis.
    • Some on the American chat asked if the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) could be used as volunteers to help during times of crisis–but that idea didn’t seem to have much traction.
    • (I mistakenly stated that the QPS media unit in Australia used 25 social media staff, when in fact they have 25 media staff with only 1 devoted full-time social media person. They did in fact use volunteers to help bolster their social media staff in order to operate 24/7 during the recent flooding and cyclone disasters).

Overcoming Barriers Since the Brits listed senior management buy-in as the biggest impediment, they discussed how to overcome this problem; the Americans mostly discussed getting other emergency managers on board, although getting senior management buy-in was also seen as important. Both groups, however, essentially said that when talking to either one-person or a group about social media: “Start with the benefits rather than the technology.”
There were many suggestions regarding how benefits/value could be demonstrated:

  • Demonstrate added value based on added situational awareness: “we wouldn’t have known ‘xyz’ if we weren’t engaged in social media.”
  • Participants suggested using these tools and ideas:
    • Do a Google Realtime search to show what is happening now.
    • Send out a tweet asking for your social media circle to respond.
    • Use “trendsmap” to show a visualization of  twitter trends of a map platform.
    • Send tweets in emails to “the boss” or skeptics before the same news is announced by the media.  “Early notice before news-media demonstrates value” of social media.
  • Demonstrate other handy tricks:
    • 40404 twitter quick follow.
    • Facebook fan follow: text (url vanity name) to 32665.

Some people focused on how non-users could learn from communities already using social media by reading case studies. Some suggested that type of information is currently being collected  on sites like the newly created Sm4em.org (social media for emergency management). It was also recommended that that site host forums for people to ask questions of early adopters (e.g. how do you…) People also focused on some of the lessons learned from social media’s current use. For instance, in Australia, the Queensland state government’s social media presence survived under the pressure of thousands of hits a day (450 hits per second on facebook during the height of the flooding disaster). One QPS tweet stated: “Other sites were crashing with overload.” Most local governments use locally hosted servers for their websites, which can’t withstand that kind of influx, whereas, social media on third-party platforms, can handle spikes in traffic. Although, some noted the “fail whale” on twitter, which shows up when the site is over capacity.

(As an aside, in an email and not part of the chat, the QPS social media specialist was essentially shocked that people doubt the value of social media:

Are the ROI questions really coming from comms departments???
Our Facebook page was serving an average of 450 story views a second in the peak day of the floods (and in population terms we are a relatively small state with roughly the same size as Louisiana). We averaged a post/tweet every 10 minutes.  The national TV networks all regularly ran our tweets on their news crawlers and radio stations read them out over the air the moment we posted them.

Ask them how much it would cost and how long it would take to get that kind of exposure not using social media.  ;)

Another suggestion for demonstrating value was to provide non-users with examples of how the people in their own community are using social media and to introduce them to local power users who could also potentially be mentors. Chat participants said that not only should new government users get to know these people virtually, but should also go meet them in person (in tweet-ups) in order to realize that “there are real people behind the electrons/avatars… [it] goes a long way.” Also, getting people to understand value could be accomplished by “just having them monitor social media for a while (2-3 months) to get comfortable with the medium.”

With regard to resources, there are examples that could be provided of how social media can actually save time, money and help rather than hinder reputations.”

  • Demonstrate citizen expectations: citizens of the future will expect/demand their local governments use social media (we are seeing a bit of that now).
  • Demonstrate how social media is one of the tools that can amplify your message.

And finally, in the emergency management world, including social media in an exercise/table-top drill would be a great way to demonstrate value.

In the American discussion the question was posed: Who are your advocates? Even though FEMA was noted as being a huge advocate, it was also stated that FEMA should create more training modules on social media, which could help lend credibility for those who remain skeptical. Others noted that having their own community members as their advocates, citizens and elected officials alike, is the best avenue to success.

I think that’s a great note to end on–if you have the backing of your community, you will succeed!

Some other resources mentioned on one or the other chats: