Tag Archives: United States Department of Homeland Security

5 Ways to Use Social Media for Continuity of Business and Recovery

Autumn Mediterranean flooding in Alicante (Spa...

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Pictures of business owners in Australia returning to flood-ruined buildings in an article entitled After the Deluge, are powerful reminders of why small businesses should be prepared. Imagine walking back into your place of business to find your computer covered in mud: not a good sign.

However, it seems that social media and emerging technologies, such as cloud commuting, can be utilized for disaster communications for small, and even larger businesses, as well as for disaster recovery. I looked at FEMA’s Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation Program to see what they had to say. The program, as described on FEMA’s website:

The Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS‑Prep) is mandated by Title IX of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (the Act.) Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a voluntary program of accreditation and certification of private entities using standards adopted by DHS that promote private sector preparedness, including disaster management, emergency management and business continuity programs. The purpose of the PS-Prep Program is to enhance nationwide resilience in an all-hazards environment by encouraging private sector preparedness.

I examined FEMA’s Continuity Guidance Circular I: for non-federal entities in order to determine if they had considered or provided recommendations regarding various new or emerging technologies for either communications or recovery. I was not surprised that social media was not explicitly mentioned since the document was published January 2009 (a millennium ago as for as SM is concerned). But there were three key points related to SM and emerging tech:

  1. “Planners should consider the resilience of their systems to operate in disaster scenarios that may include power and other infrastructure problems.”
  2. “Organizations may expand or migrate, as appropriate, their communications capabilities, to make use of emerging technologies, but organizations should ensure that any additional communications capabilities they may obtain are compatible with existing equipment and complement the established requirements.”
  3. “Geographic dispersion of leadership, data storage, personnel, and other capabilities may be essential to the performance of essential functions following a catastrophic event and will enable operational continuity during an event that requires social distancing (e.g., pandemic influenza and other biological events).”

This document has a good for list of issues that businesses need to be aware of… but, it doesn’t quite give a “how-to”. So I checked ready.gov for businesses. Again, there are some really great checklists, but I couldn’t find any mention of emerging technologies nor any specific recommendations.

I understand a Federal Agency’s hesitancy to recommend third-party applications, so the best instructions I found were in an article by Chris Brogan, a social media consultant that works with Fortune 500 companies etc. His article addressed how to run your company from your kitchen table, and although he doesn’t mention disasters, its application to COB seemed obvious to me. Read the article, but I’ve quoted him here liberally. His key recommendations mixed with a few of my own:

1. Use Cloud Technologies: Brogan states “My notes are stored in Evernote. Why? Because I can read them on my laptop, on my computer over in the office, on my Android phone, etc. My important work files are stored inDropbox for the same reason… I need things where I’m working. When I create new files, I use Google Docs, so that I know they’re safe and sound and accessible wherever I can get a web browser.”

Continuity Central also reports that – “Companies that utilize public cloud storage are far more likely to have a superior disaster recovery program. Forty-six percent of public cloud storage users were found to have the highest performing disaster recovery programs.” Read their entire report here.

2. Create a presence on the Web with a “storefront”.  This will potentially allow you to stay in business even if your actual storefront is 6 feet underwater (depending, of course, on the  type of business–sandwiches are hard to make virtually). Creating a webpage has become increasingly less expensive with companies like: WebStorefront.net and intuit.com.

3. Mobile Computing: Brogan, “Between smartphones and the iPad (and other tablet computers), we have devices that let us do our business where the action is… If we need to take money remotely, we can use Square.” I also found that Intuit offers an iPhone apps called “go-payment” that allows you to accept payment with a credit card straight from you iPhone.

Brogan again: “You can schedule simple interactive meetings with GoToMeeting (note: they’re a client) on your iPad, use Skype as a video phone or even as instant messaging on your mobile device. There are plenty of other business applications that free you from having to work in front of a desktop or laptop for a good chunk of the day.” PiratePad is another great free tool for hosting meetings. A website will also enable you to keep your customers updated regarding your physical location, if necessary.

My recommendations:

4. Use Social Media Sites for Communications- With 500 million people on facebook, there is a good chance that most of your employees are there as well. If you have a facebook page create a group for employees only. This might allow another avenue for employees to keep in touch after they have evacuated, for example after a storm. The facebook page could also be used to update customers regarding your situation, e.g. when you’ll be open again, how much damage you sustained, etc. Open and honest communications are key.

5. Use Social media sites to get situational awareness updates:  If most communications networks are down, you might not be able to get a call through, but your employees could probably send out a tweet.  For example, if a tornado goes through the town where one of your sandwich shops are located and you are wondering if it is still standing, make it a part of your Standard Operating Procedures for your manager to send a tweet with a pic of the building (if possible) or just a status update. All employees could check-in as to their personal status as well. Tweets will alleviate the need for a call-tree, which not only take a lot of time, but tie up phones lines needed for emergency services.

My final recommendation is that you employ these technologies and procedures before a crisis occurs. For instance, if you are planning on using a “check-in” type system, then create a quarterly test  to ensure employees understand what to expect. No system will work if you are doing it for the first time in the middle of a disaster: planning along with training and exercising are always the key.

Good Luck. Please write in with examples if you have one!

DHS/FEMA Using Web 2.0 to collaborate, share, listen and learn

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Image by jim.greenhill via Flickr

Post by: Kim Stephens

Through the use of Web 2.0 tools and social media, DHS and FEMA are trying to increase communications and collaboration with the state and local emergency management community and the general public as well. A lot has been written about FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate’s commitment to social media. It seems that he mentions the importance of the medium in most of his speeches. This week FEMA went “all-in” with the publication of their own blog. The first post on Dec. 14th was from Craig himself. He stated:

At FEMA we have a Facebook pageTwitter pageI tweet and earlier this year we launched our first-ever mobile website, but what we didn’t have was a blog. Well, now that we have one, you’re probably wondering what you can expect. Plain and simple, this will be another tool we’ll use to communicate and let you know what we’re up to. This won’t be another way to put out our press releases – this is a way to communicate directly with you.

The blog also features all of the posts from the Administrator in a tab called Craig’s Corner. Yesterday he wrote about the White House Tribal Nations Summit.

But I think comments from citizens and how FEMA addresses them will be one of the most interesting aspects to watch. They do have a comment policy which states:

This is a moderated blog. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly “off topic” or that promote services or products or contain any links. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. (emphasis added)

But based on the comments already on the post, it is obvious that they will not be dis-allowing critical comments. One commentator stated in reaction to Craig’s post about the tribal summit: “Where was FEMA when the Sioux had a massive power outage due to an ice storm?”  This could serve as an example for local governments trying to engage the public through open forums but fearful of criticisms that might be leveled at their agencies.  In order to have an open dialog, it is necessary to listen to both criticisms and complements.

The second way DHS and FEMA are engaging the emergency management community is through a new web portal called First Responders Communities of Practice. DHS has created a somewhat secure environment– registered users only– where response community members can collaborate to share ideas, lessons learned and best practices.

It won’t surprise you to know that I am most interested in the community of practice called “Making American Safer Through Social Media”. Listed there are social media policy examples; reports, analysis and papers; related news articles, and more. Just the other day I found an excellent report called Social Media on Incidents, Some Lessons Learned by Kris Ericksen.

I think the take-away here is that we all have a lot to learn, and the best way is by sharing and listening. I’m glad DHS and FEMA are providing an environment to do just that.

Developing a Model for Tapping Technical Volunteers: From Crisis Mappers to DHS’s NET Guard

Post by: Kim Stephens

The International Conference of Crisis Mappers brought together a network of people who, as described on their website, work at

Leveraging mobile platforms, computational linguistics, geospatial technologies, and visual analytics to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies.

Their well publicized crisis mapping effort was done during the response to the earthquake in Haiti, but Patrick Meier of Ushahidi has tried to find a way to formalize the formerly ad hoc nature of the group with a “Standby Crisis Mappers Task Force“. This group would be organized in advance of the next big event to work with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or (OCHA). He envisions the group providing three things:  (1) technical support with regard to software deployment and development; (2) multi-media support including “media monitoring, geo-referencing, mapping, blogging on updates, etc.”;  and (3) a general support element, the Crowd Force Team, which would include individuals without any particularly specialized skills other than a willingness to help.

Others have talked about a Virtual Crisis Crowd Coordination Center (Gisli Olafsson in particular), which could potentially complement the Task Force concept. The VCCC (which has way too many C’s to be an acronym) would be a place for people to register their interest in volunteering their technical skills (remotely) to be matched with the needs of pre-registered organizations.

It seems we are grappling a little for a model to tap the cognitive surplus of more-than capable people that want to volunteer their technical skills during disasters.

But it’s worth noting that the Dept. of Homeland Security is already moving forward with a pilot project called “NET Guard” or National Emergency Technology Guard, which provides a way to deploy technical volunteers during crises. Although this model was not designed for people with the technical expertise available to the Crisis Mappers community, the model is worth considering.

The DHS website describes the project and its rationale as follows:

Information Technology (IT) and communications systems are vulnerable to damage from natural hazards, accidents, and acts of terrorism and play an essential part in the effectiveness of response operations. Most of the National Planning Scenarios contemplate the loss of, or significant damage to, IT and communications systems.

Following authorization in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the NET Guard program concept was developed through a DHS scoping initiative and work group involving stakeholders and potential partners including state and local government representatives, emergency managers, potential private sector partners and DHS Divisions. DHS/FEMA will use the NET Guard Pilot Programs to test and further evaluate and develop the program concept.

The NET Guard Program is envisioned as a means to provide emergency, temporary reconstitution of IT and communications systems, or installation of emergency, temporary IT and communications systems, for governmental entities, private non-profit entities performing governmental functions, and private sector entities providing essential services. The NET Guard Program is also envisioned as a means to surge additional IT and communications resources into impacted areas to assist entities with emergency IT and communications system activities.

The concept of the team includes several similar themes present in the Crisis Mappers Task Force concept in that volunteers

  1. will be verified with having relevant expertise
  2. tested as an asset during exercises
  3. established and maintained by either a government entity or through a private sector sponsor (e.g. the IBM tech volunteer team)

The NET Guard would be part of the Citizen Corps but with local emergency management affiliations (which is key for the development of trust) and are envisioned to be incorporated into their local agency’s emergency operations plans. Included in their functions in the pilot program–but buried way at the bottom– is the function of…”staffing expertise for GIS applications, social networking”. I feel like I found the needle in the haystack!

So, the questions I would ask then are:  (1.) Would the Crisis Mappers Task Force ever be envisioned for use in response efforts inside the United States? (2.) Where do volunteer efforts such as the Crisis Commons fit with these models, particularly in the U.S.? And (3.) If this is intended to be a local asset, what happens when a community is impacted and your asset has evacuated? In other words, it doesn’t take into account people that would like to contribute that live no where near the event.

See Also:

The Promises and Challenges of Crisis Response Tech Volunteers