Response to Big Windy Complex Fire Demonstrates Public Information Coordination

Post by: Kim Stephens

The recent National Capital Region (NCR) Social Media and Emergency Management Summit brought together Public Information Officers from across the metropolitan Washington DC geographic region.  One of the topics of conversation, and objectives of the event, was to determine how to have an effective/visible joint information system in an area that includes not only many large municipalities, but also many different layers of government, including Federal entities. The NCR summit attendees are part of the regional Emergency Support Function #15, which is designed to “provide accurate, coordinated, timely, and accessible information to affected audiences, including governments, media, the private sector, and the local populace, including children, those with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, and individuals with limited English proficiency.”

fire“Coordinated” is the key word in that definition, but a description of what should happen and what actually occurs are often two vastly different things. There is, however, a great example of what a well-coordinated ESF #15 effort can look like: the external affairs effort around the  “Big Windy Complex” forest fires in Oregon. How are they doing it?

1. Social Presence is not branded with any particular agency.

The external affairs teams providing and updating information about the Big Windy Complex Fire seem to be operating under the mantra “It’s not about us.” Instead of branding information with a particular Incident Management Team, local emergency management or law enforcement agency, or even the Virtual Operations Support Team that’s assisting with this effort, the name of the fire gets top billing. By branding the fire under an event-name versus an organization’s name members of the ESF #15 team can post consistently across the life-span of the fire. The public doesn’t care WHO is posting, they care WHAT is posted.

bigwindy

Branding the event is also huge in terms of how citizens search for content. For those of you in this business it might seem natural to look to the Type I Incident Management Team’s Facebook page–of course–who wouldn’t look there? It might even seem self-evident to look at the Bureau of Land Management’s social site or webpage; but for the general public, they honestly have no idea who these entities are or what they are responsible for. The public might have heard the name of the fire, or they might just know the location–and that’s what is going in the “Google machine.”

2.  Cooperation is visible.

cooperatorsThe Big Windy Complex blog site mimics the Inciweb standard of listing all “cooperators” on the fire response and recovery effort. The cooperators include local and state entities, as well as Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service. These agencies are hyperlinked along with “Other Useful Links” such as the “Oregon Smoke Information” site. This is a very visible demonstration of cooperation that  implies content endorsement. I think it is key to gaining trust from the public–they might not know anyone who works for the USDA, but they probably know their local Sheriff.

3. Social Is Integrated, Standards are Followed

All of the social sites branded with the Big Windy Complex Fire also illustrate how standard practices are put into place and followed by the entire public information team (no matter which agency or entity is posting).  The standards are visible and can be illustrated by this Facebook entry:

‪#‎BigWindy‬ Complex: 8/17/2013 – Air Quality Summary Report – http://bit.ly/16WHDzI ‪#‎ORFire‬ ^MARH
This information also available on Inciweb:http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/article/3570/20339/

This entry  demonstrates the following conventions:

  • All relevant hashtags are included;
  • Date and times are posted–when appropriate;
  • The person who provided the update is listed (^MARH)–this helps with accountability;
  • Links to official sources-such as Inciweb, are included;
  • The blog site is used as a secondary incident hub (Inciweb is the primary) and is linked to in each social post;
  • Although no questions were posted to this particular entry, it is also apparent from perusing the Facebook page that questions from the public are answered in a timely manner.

Does the Public Respond Favorably?

Although some emergency management work is thankless, social media provides the opportunity for the public to show their gratitude.  It is not uncommon after an event to receive an outpouring of public appreciation, and that is true for the Big Windy Complex event as well. The comment below was posted to the Facebook page and demonstrates that they are clearly reaching the target audience.

I just want to say thank you for this page and all the updates that have been provided. Never once in a million years did I think I would follow Twitter updates and a Facebook page for a wildfire. This is the first first fire my son has ever been on, and although those first several days I was a nervous mom, I can say the updates continually calmed my nerves. The updates are very telling of the management overseeing the fire; the concern for safety, and the desire to communicate to those who are impacted by this fire, whether near or far, directly or indirectly. Thank you, it is very much appreciated.

I agree! Thank you to the folks working on the Big Windy Complex fire for providing such as great case study. Go #VOSTies!

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