Tag Archives: Emergency

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

Post by: Kim Stephens

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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.

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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.

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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!

Social Media Accessibility Toolkit: New from Emergency 2.0 Wiki

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

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing those three and all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post by: Kim Stephens

One question that inevitably comes up when discussing social media with emergency managers  is the problem of accessibility: Is the content on social media available to everyone in my community? In turn, community members with disabilities want access to content on social networks and want to use these tools during a crisis. Although there are answers about how best to address these concerns, before today, solutions were not in one handy location. That has changed with the launch of the Accessibility Toolkit on the Emergency 2.0 Wiki (full disclosure–I was involved with planning the launch of this site). The wiki is a voluntary initiative of the Gov 2.0 QLD Community of Practice in Australia, launched in December 2011.

The purpose of the toolkit is stated clearly on the site:

The Emergency 2.0 Wiki Accessibility Toolkit 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.

International Collaboration

The kit was pulled together with a team, they call  a reference group, which included individuals from Australia, the United States and New Zealand. Dr. Scott Hollier, one of the group’s members as well as an Advisory Committee Representative at Media Access Australia, provides some context for why the group felt this tool was necessary:

“We’ve witnessed from recent disasters that social media has the potential to save lives, but people with disabilities often have difficulty accessing important messages as the social media platforms are inaccessible. For example, the main Twitter website can’t be easily read with a screen reader, the device that reads out information on a screen for people who are blind, but important emergency information can be accessed by using an alternative site such as Easy Chirp to read tweets,” he said.  “As people tweet in real time, an accessible app such as Easy Chirp can provide people who are blind with immediate notification of when a fire starts or when flash floods hit a town,” said Dr Hollier.

Information for People With A Disability

The toolkit includes a list of tips, resources and apps that are intended to assist people with a disability to overcome accessibility challenges of social media. Easy Chirp, for instance, is described and linked to, along with information about and links to emergency apps, such as those intended for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing that vibrate and flash when sending emergency alerts. The wiki also includes emergency preparedness YouTube videos that either use sign language or are captioned.

Information for the Professional Communicator

For the emergency sector, government, community, media and business professionals there are practical guidelines listed that will help them make their social media messages more accessible.  For example, information is provided about how to use apps to add captioning on YouTube Videos for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

One of the best aspects of Emergency 2.0 Wiki is that it is a free volunteer-based resource. Their goal is laudable:   “…to build resilience by empowering all sectors of the community with the knowledge to use social media and networks in emergencies.” The fact that they are working to accomplished this goal via international collaboration, knowledge sharing and crowdsourcing locally and globally, is the cherry on top!

If you have any questions about the wiki simply leave a comment here or contact Stephanie Jo Kent, Working Group on Emergency Interpreting at Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc; Founder, Learning Labs for Resiliency.