Social Media are sources of Data: Now What? SMEM chat

Post by: Kim Stephens

This week I found via @LoulouK (who hosts the chats about local governments’ use of social media in Great Britain) a fantastic archiving resource: What the Hashtag?!. WTH?! is a user-editable encyclopedia for Twitter. I’ve never been more excited about an application. I already updated the SMEMchat page to include a description (feel free to edit my definition), the related hashtag, and external links. This archival system seems to be something we’ve all been waiting for: yes, you can go back in time longer than five days; yes, it sorts it from oldest to newest so that you can read the transcript in a more natural way, vs. having to scroll all the way to the bottom and read up; yes, I’m excited–did I say that already?  I’ve set the date/time parameters for the transcript of this chat and you can find it here.

Links shared just before and during the chat:

This chat was hosted by Heather Blanchard, of CrisisCommons.

Q.  How can EM break out of PDF Sitrep into providing a data stream as data become available, instead waiting for a “final” doc?

This question led to a debate about the usefulness of sitreps in an era of rapidly available information, and about the true role and utility of sitreps. Chris Hall (@Firetracker2) thought breaking out of the old model of pdf sitreps into realtime data streams was a policy issue, e.g. approval cycles and decisions on what needs to be the final “product”.  Of course sitreps are outdated the minute they are completed (this has always been true, even before social media). So some suggested, that maybe live data should somehow be included.

But Cheryl Bledsoe and others noted there are reasons we have sitreps: they are a “slice of time” and can provide and highlight key points that are important for decision-makers. Also, by reading back through them, they show the evolution of the incident. Chris agreed with this stating that sitreps provide good info for the relief team to catch up on “nuances” of the incident, and James Garrow noted that they were the best way to catch up if you were not closely following the situation stream. And let’s not forget as their archival value for post disaster litigation.

But I like how @resudox succinctly stated it: “Sitreps are a snapshot and should be verified information: actionable & traceable for future reference. Live data is for tactical changes.”

Q. How can data within EOCs be platform agnostic? Are there current standards that should be used within Ops Ctr?

Cheryl suggested perhaps we should start with open data and open-sourced data code as a standard. NtbgroupEM agreed: “different needs, different data but same standards.” He went on to say standards=access, and aggregation =context. TiJTechOps pointed everyone to a data standard managed by OASIS based on XML (link above).

Q: Should the purpose of a sitrep be redefined or revised based on emerging technologies? If so, why or why not?

This question was never really answered per se, but it did spark a debate. Patrice Cloutier stated that the need for constant updates can add a real risk of “interference” from senior execs or elected officials, he went on to say that goes hand in hand with greater expectations from our audiences who shape perception, which impacts politicians. But others disagreed: @tiJTechOps states: “constant updates stop unnecessary questions from senior execs, allowing you to do your job”.  I’m guessing that he was implying that the constant updates would be automated. (Side note: We can actually look to the military here for lessons learned. Their blue force tracking system is a way for commanders to get real-time data from the field on the movements of troops. Some people feared that this would lead to generals in the Pentagon trying to interfere with commanders on the ground–but those fears never materialized.)

Q: What are the technical/infrastructure needs that will have to happen for Ops Centers to be able to create and distribute data streams?

The answer from Chris really summed it up:

“Power, Intact IT infrastructure, BANDWIDTH and lots of it.”

Q: What position in your operations center collects, conducts analysis and develops products from data? Which OPs Center filters that data? and if there is no current position for this, where would you place data aggregation, filtering and visualization?

Currently, sitstat is done in the planning section and data gathering is a task for the Public Information Officer(s) in the Joint Information Center. As Cheryl notes, the planning section should be all about aggregation, filtering and visualization, “Along with ‘channels’ being monitored and identified in the Comms Plan developed by logistics section.” Patrice thought that “SM monitoring, including crowdmap (crowdsourced data gathered from public social media platforms and text messages) should not only be a PIO function but Ops and plans/intel should be in on it too. He goes on to postulate that the planning section should have a position that deals with data gathering, analysis and curation. @zborst suggested that volunteers, such as CERT or college-type students, could be utilized to help with aggregation and filtering of data.

@DB7 (David Black, an emergency manager from Toronto, Canada)  noted: “I have assigned SMEM monitoring in the past to our ARES team. But that may not work for others. Depends on the nature of the team.”

(ARES stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Services): despite the stereotype of ARES people being of an older generation, an image put forth by some in the chat–and taken exception by others, David stated that his volunteers are college engineering students.

But Cheryl noted the need for PIOs to monitor whether messages are changing public behavior “planning=incident focused. PIO=public.” But @jack4cap states

“sorry to disagree, but needs to be a separate function…”

He says that they are planing to use CAP cadets in one EOC to monitor rumor control, so why not social media? Cheryl asked about the DHS NETguard pilot project which tested the development of teams of technology volunteers. Heather summed up the less-than promising status:  “unscoped, unfunded, not a priority for DHS.” hastatusllc called this job we were grappling to define the “Human Router” and used the example of Andy Carvin (of NPR, who has been tweeting info about the middle-east uprisings). “We don’t have a place on the ORG charts yet.”

The discussion then devolved into a facebook vs. twitter free for all. Neither won, but Chris summed it up: ” Know your audience prior to an incident through engagement w/ tool THEY use Not what U want to use.”

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