Category Archives: Social Media

Re-Blogged: History of Social Media

Just for fun! It would be really interesting to see this type of infographic compiled with the history of social media and the stories told during disasters. Anyone up for that?

A History of Social Media [Infographic] - Infographic
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Is Your Organization Socially Awkward?

Post by: Kim Stephens

Social Media Outposts

Brian Crumpler, a public employee and author of the “Disastermapping” blog, posted yesterday about social media as the “new professional development.”  He  tries to demystify the tools by stating “Social Media is simply the use of media (written and/or visual) to communicate thoughts and ideas through social interaction.” A friend of mine asked me last week if I wasted my time during the work day “playing around on social media.” The fact that that sentiment is still somewhat widely held makes posts like Brian’s all the more important. Below he states his case:

 Within the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) community, there are a number of people all around the country that I now interact with on a regular basis.  The same is true about the Social Media for Emergency Management (#SMEM) community.  I’ve also had the incredible privilege to explore and learn more about the next frontier of connected data “BIG DATA” (#BigData), interact with incredible minds in the Data Visualization #DataViz community, and even build good working relationships with some of the best minds in many of these fields.

Brian reminds us that the tools he uses to connect with these people should not be the focus of agency or company policy, the focus should be on what he is learning. My 15 year old daughter brought this idea home for me yesterday when I said to her “You are addicted to your phone.” She said, “No Mom, it’s about the people I’m interacting with, not the phone.” When did teens get so smart?

Since professional interactions are vital to most people’s jobs, then why shouldn’t they have the ability to access social networks at work?  NASA asked this question a while ago and wrote about it last year in the article “Beyond 140 characters.”  Two things stood out to me:

  1. They determined that social media were really not much different than telephones and email.
    1. “Most of the existing policies worked with minor exceptions. For example, updates to NASA Policy Directive 2540.1 included replacing the word “teletypes” with “Facebook.” That change, combined with other modifications, resulted in the current NPD 2540.1G revision that allows the use of government equipment to go to sites like Twitter and Facebook, as long as it isn’t impacting your work duties.
  2. They defined people’s  work functions in their social media policy in order to determine how and why people should have access. These groups included  “official spokesperson,” “professional,”and, “private individuals.”
    1.  “Official spokespersons are charged with representing the Agency (e.g., Public Affairs Office, associate administrators, etc.).
    2. The general public and employees (not on the clock) fall in the “private individual” category, which means they are expressing a personal, individual opinion, and not the Agency’s.
    3. In between is “professional,” who uses social media technologies in the performance of professional duties to support NASA (i.e., communications made in a business or professional capacity).”

The healthcare community is also struggling with who should have access. Quite a few hospitals, for example, are using social networks to market their facilities to customers, however, the use of these tools from anyone other than PIOs is still quite new and “scary.” Dr. Farris Timimi of the Mayo Clinic, an organization that is really paving the social media path for the rest of the healthcare industry, explains in the video below why access for professionals is not only important, but vital.  I love his point about trusting staff to use these tools:   “We trust you as a provider with scalpels and lives, we [should] trust you as a provider with twitter and facebook.

Tell me, what kind of access do you or your staff have?


The Social Media Tag Challenge: Crowdscanner describes how they won

Post by: Kim Stephens

On March 31st, the US State Department sponsored a game called  “Tag Challenge” that took social media monitoring to a new level.  It was designed by graduate students from six countries, “…the result of a series of conferences on social media and transatlantic security.”

They constructed a task that would be impossible for one person to complete: find 5 “jewel thieves”  in 5 cities across the globe in one day, photograph them, and upload the image.  The winning team, an MIT affiliated group which dubbed themselves “Crowdscanner,” was only able to find 3 of the 5 individuals, however, much was learned about how loosely connected distributed networks can be incentivized to solve a problem.

“The project demonstrates the international reach of social media and its potential for cross-border cooperation,” said project organizer Joshua deLara. “Here’s a remarkable fact: a team organized by individuals in the U.S., the U.K and the United Arab Emirates was able to locate an individual in Slovakia in under eight hours based only on a photograph.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the Crowdscanner team leaders, Dr. Manuel Cebrian of the University of California, San Diego (who also led a team that won the DARPA Red Balloon Challenge in 2009). What stood out to me from our conversation was his emphasis on their incentive structure versus the social media tools. The networking tools were simply the means to the end, but the structure of the reward incentive, which was born out by strong micro-economic theory, was absolutely fundamental to their success.

Another interesting component to the challenge was the interaction between the competing teams, which I found in background information provided by Dr. Cebrian.  Some rival teams actually attacked Crowdscanner on twitter with tweets questioning their competence and encouraging people not to support them. As the challenge period came to a close, these attacks became increasingly desperate–even mentioning that Crowdscanner was not from DC and therefore shouldn’t win. That team emphasized that they were “playing for charity,” which the Crowdscanner team noted “…even though it was clearly not in line with their vitriolic attitude towards us.”

How this competing team used twitter to find information also provides a lesson:

[The other team’s] strategy for spreading awareness consisted of their Twitter account… surfing trending hashtags, and tweet-spamming many individuals, social, governmental and private organizations in the target cities, often with an explicit plea for a retweet. The vast majority of these were ignored and, we believe, reduced their credibility.

Q: What does this challenge tell us about incentives and social mobilization? 

We used an incentive scheme that is designed to encourage two things simultaneously: (1) reporting to us if you found a target; (2) helping recruit other people to search for the target. Here’s how we described it: If we win, you will receive $500 if you upload an image of a suspect that is accepted by the challenge organizers. If a friend you invited using your individualized referral link uploads an acceptable image of a suspect, YOU also get $100. Furthermore, recruiters of the first 2000 recruits who signed up by referral get $1 for each recruit they refer to sign up with us (using the individualized referral link). See their webpage for more info on the design.

Graphic by Crowdscanner

The incentive to refer others is significant, since otherwise, you would actually rather keep the information to yourself, rather than inform your friends, since they would essentially compete with you over the prize. But by paying you for referring them also, the incentives change fundamentally.

Q: What tools were you using to monitor twitter?

Monitoring twitter was the smallest component. In fact,  monitoring  was the easy part, since the data is there to be sorted and analyzed. The biggest challenge was finding the non-twitter data: we had to infer how information was spread.

Q: Why did you all succeed?

We were able to succeed by leveraging a combination of social media and traditional media, and by building up a reputation as a credible, reliable team. Some competitors focused purely on social media, almost using Twitter exclusively to spread their message. This is not enough, as they became perceived as spammers. We were more selective in our Tweets and social media strategy, and I believe this gave us an edge.

Q: Do you think this model could work for finding real “jewel thieves” or high target terrorism suspects? 

Ransoms are complicated incentives. With traditional ransoms, once you have the information you have no incentive to recruit people to help you. Why would you team up?  So the question becomes, how can you structure it so that people are not greedy? We used the same incentive structure for the balloon challenge. These micro-economic models [and the way we employed them] demonstrate that people do recruit their friends, but only if they are provided the right incentive.  If you spread the word, then you get the money.

Q: So, why aren’t organizations using this distributed network model?

Centralized systems are inefficient but they are predictable. In a distributed system you have high efficiency but also have high unpredictability.

Gathering evidence is easy, doing justice is hard. We need to have models that make sense of the data. But currently,  we don’t have this kind of training. It is a new science: “network science” at most, a 10 year-old discipline, and only a few people that can make sense of it. It will take a while for us to be able to use these tools in any concerted way.

Related articles

The December List: Best Uses of Social Media by Public Agencies

Post by: Kim Stephens

Patrice Cloutier , Jim Garrow  and I have decided to provide our readers a December treat. Our self-prescribed task is to scour the web for top destinations related to social media and public safety, or SMEM. Jim is providing the 12 days of social media’s use in public health emergencies and Patrice has a list of 25 SMEM blogs, twitter and/or Facebook accounts, websites, wikis and others, that he finds to be “true destinations of choice”.  My inspiration for our project comes from the document Citizen 2.0: 17 examples of Social Media and government  innovation which sought  “to provide highly successful examples of social media and government innovation”. I also seek to highlight interesting examples but without repeating their findings.

For the first day of this project I would like to visit the ghost of Christmas Future–hey, I never said I was great with analogies. I have chosen to highlight one government agency’s newly designed website that beautifully integrates social media channels.

The Rationale: Public agencies are beginning to understand the importance of social networking sites (blogs, twitter, facebook, google+) as a way to communicate more effectively with their citizens. In turn, however, these tools have left the community’s flat, static website looking very dull, and visits to these traditional sites eventually plummet. The solution? Integration. Although integration isn’t that new, after reviewing many local communities websites, it hasn’t been fully realized either.

Why should public agencies care about their website? I believe it could become a very important consideration for crisis communications. Think about your own community. How many different agencies have a role in a crisis?  How many of those agencies have a social media presence? An integrated community website could combine all of the real-time messages of these agencies onto one page,  providing a one-stop shop for information (a virtual JIC). Just as an example, this type of integrated site could include  the twitter feed of the school district, the feed from the Department of Transportation listing  road closures in real-time, the blog posts and tweets from the Mayor, and how-to videos about the placement of debris for pick-up from the Department of Public Works.

The Example: The US European Command provides one of the most beautiful examples of an integrated website I’ve seen from a public agency.

The interface design for the site is svelte. If you have ever used the twitter application  “Tweetdeck” it will feel very familiar. The article: 9 Ways to Transform Your Website Into a Social Media Hub helps discern what they have done right:

  1. The social media “buttons” are present and readily accessible at the top of the homepage;
  2. The blog is connected and only a “tease” is visible–with a picture, of course;
  3. Videos are embedded on the site;
  4. The site is highly “shareable”, there is a way to tweet, +1, and “Like” all of the articles and videos;
  5. The website is “fed”, with a stream of real-time content called “News from the Wires”;
  6. A photo stream has a position of prominence in the middle of the page;
  7. The site is powered by Google Translate, allowing it to be seen in multiple languages (key for a European Command site);
  8. Top stories rotate on the homepage for visual interest.

The one item not present is the facebook widget, but with all of the visually pleasing content, it is not necessarily missed. Bookmark their site and wave it in front of the IT department when your community decides its website needs an overhaul.

Today’s Stories by Patrice and James:

In a crisis, Social Media are the new flag poles.

Guest Post by: Rachel Goodchild (New Zealand native, and Blogger.)  This is an exerpt from a longer piece on social media’s application in business.) I (Kim Stephens) have added some  additional thoughts and observations.  Photo credit:  Martin Luff:

When the Christchurch Earthquake hit (all too literally), it was early in the morning. Much to the frustration of locals struggling to find what was happening, it was not picked up and reported by media right away. However, twitter was awash with information, and users were able to check on each other en masse. As they checked on who had power, what damage had been experienced, and if everyone in that online community was ok, it was clear that the speed in which information could be communicated across this network, often through mobile phones, was astounding.

From a business model, this demonstration of social media’s power to connect with people, solve problems and communicate a message fast and fluently was never more powerful than in those early hours, and later on in the days that followed, with the news of each aftershock becoming broadcast through twitter and facebook a good twenty minutes earlier than the now primed media organisations. Journalists began to use and quote from these sources, half drafting a response ready to go live within minutes of each new event, rather than hours.

This disaster has impacted our people, and our economy, but has also clearly demonstrated how fast a message can get out on the social networks. It also showed how easy it is for one piece of misinformation to grow. Early reports on twitter of looting in the streets turned out to be one or two isolated incidents. Imagination and one hundred and forty characters can be a dangerous combination when unhindered in their message.

Twitter works well in a crisis situation because it’s not device specific. As Catherine Arrow [a New Zealand based, public relations consultant] explains, “You can access it where ever you are. With an Iphone and a flip camera I have everything I need to broadcast a message” This can then be resent out from the people following her to whoever is following them and so on.

(Rachel’s piece continues to discuss the pure business application of social media when organizations are not in a crisis, for more info click over to her blog.)

Social Media are the Flag Poles (Story continued: by Kim Stephens)

Emergency management organizations implore people to include in their personal preparedness plan a physical place to rendezvous after a crisis, for example, the flag pole. With the advent of social media, however, this new rendezvous location can now also be virtual. I understand the limitations of only relying on a network that might possibly be down, nonetheless, the Christchurch earthquake has provided us with some interesting examples of this concept. Rachel mentions people checking on each other “en masse” via social media. In a recent post, I discussed how companies could use social media after a disaster for continuity of business purposes, to include accounting for staff whereabouts and safety. This is exactly what happened in New Zealand with the telecom company.

I feel a little guilty eavesdropping on this company’s Facebook page, but I think how they used the platform is a great example of my flagpole metaphor. This particular telecom company had an active role in the disaster response:  restoring and maintaining communications. However, they also, of course, needed to account for all of their employees. Above is one of the first posting to their facebook page after the quake.

Subsequently, they used the site to find people who had not yet been accounted for. (This person was found.)

This is just one example, but with each new event we are increasingly seeing people using social media to “check-in” and to “check on” friends, families and employees. Businesses should understand that if they do have a social media presence, it can be used for so much more than developing relationships with customers. It really can become a hub for your employees after a crisis. Maybe its time to think about including this in your preparedness plan.

Related Articles

Dropping the Social Media Ball in Australia

Moreton bay islands

Image via Wikipedia

Post By: Kim Stephens

Ignoring social media as a form of crisis communications has consequences for local governments, no matter where you reside. Recently, I wrote about how the Queensland Police Service did an amazing job with social media to keep their population informed during the unprecedented flood events. Apparently, the fact that some communities were getting this service was not lost on surrounding areas that did not have access to the a constant stream of information and interaction.

As noted in a story in “The Westerner“, an online newspaper from down under, the local Moreton Bay Regional Council did not use facebook or twitter during the recent flooding events, even though they had a presence on those platforms. Apparently, officials there did a terrible job relaying emergency information, which people attributed to their lack of a social media presence. Last week, one councillor who was fed up with the problems of information flow pushed the other members to vote on whether or not to embrace social media as a means of emergency communications. The unanimous decision in favor was said to come “…on the back of sheer frustration of a lack of information getting to residents.”

Also, an Australian blogger recounts the story of how citizens reacted to this lack of information, which seemed to have caused some real problems: residents were told to flee rising flood waters via SMS text, without any subsequent information about where to go.
On Sunday, the weather began to worsen. Sheets of rain crashed down on the region, cutting roads. By that afternoon, Toogoolawah, west of Caboolture, had been isolated by floodwaters.  Rising water had swamped Gympie and Maryborough and cut the Bruce Highway just north of Caboolture and south of Gympie. A number of other local roads were also cut.
But residents searching for information on the road closures were not going to find it too easily. There would be no road condition reports provided on the Moreton Bay Regional Council’s website until the next day. Being a Sunday, no council officers were available to post the information online, leaving residents to search in vain. Many residents complained the warning had come too late to even get out of their homes.
The residents’ frustration was vented in the form of comments on the local newspapers website. This open forum for airing concerns also turned into a make-shift information exchange, again demonstrating the citizens thirst for knowledge from any source:

“When we got he notice to evacuate, my husband was stuck on one side of the river and I was at home with a car, dropped out electricity, so phone out, and then the mobile out. Tried ringing and ringing to get advice but no one answered. I will not forget this..” one resident wrote.

Another stated:I too am very disappointed with the council. I live between Sheep Station Crk and Caboolture river. Being stuck in the middle with no way out. No information from council as to what to do and where we could go. Disgraceful MBRC.”

Just wondering if anyone knows how Seeney Street in Caboolture is please? We have a house in the street and have not heard anything as yet.

Now that the Council’s facebook page is being utilized, they are still getting lambasted. One person posted on the page “way to drop the ball…” Others lamented that their small area didn’t get the media coverage other larger cities did, saying that this lack of media coverage should have prompted the council to provide even MORE information, not less.

The moral of the story is self-evident: learn how to use social media to the fullest extent, and learn it before the next emergency.
For More information:

The Evolution of Public Warning: From Paul Revere to Social Media

Guest Post by: James Hamilton aka @Disaster_Guy

Listen, my children, and you shall hear….Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere

For many Emergency Managers, the term “public warning” may conger thoughts of the Emergency Alert System and sirens.  Although highly valuable components of a comprehensive warning program, we must question the effectiveness of these warning methods in modern culture both in terms of reaching our target population as well as achieving the desired result of motivating those individuals to take appropriate protective actions. Can we leverage other new technology platforms to trigger “old tech” public response?
The Emergency Alert System (EAS), in its traditional capacity, relies on mainstream broadcasters (radio and television), to deliver an audio message to the public to provide warning of a potential threat as well as recommended protective actions. While EAS fills a very large and critical role in warning the public of such events, there are several factors that limit its reach and effectiveness. In modern culture, many individuals no longer turn to traditional broadcast media for information or entertainment. They may be viewing network programming via DirecTV, listening to XM Radio, watching programming via Hulu, or keeping up with friends on a social network such as Twitter or Facebook. Although some of these voids may be filled through the development of the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) many of the benefits that will hopefully be gained through IPAWS implementation will realistically take quite a long time to materialize.
So, as Longfellow lays out his (at times historically inaccurate) tale of Paul Revere, what can we learn from this very simple public warning campaign carried out by a patriot over two-hundred years ago? Let’s spend a moment to examine Revere’s version of an emergency notification system. As part of the Sons of Liberty, Revere and others monitored the movements of the British “regular army” and devised a plan to warn those in Concord and Lexington of any advancement the army made. On April 18, 1775 the army began to cross the Charles River and their plans were put into action.

The sexton of the Old North Church hung two lanterns from the steeple to provide a visual warning to Charlestown located on the opposite shore that troops were advancing by river. Although not intended to be a primary method of warning, this was done in the event that riders were captured and unable to reach their destinations. As Revere set off on horseback directly over the river to Lexington via Charlestown, William Dawes took off for Lexington on a longer route. Both riders stopped at various points along their route warning others who in turn set out on horseback to carry the word. It is said that as many as forty riders from throughout the county joined the effort further spreading the message.

As we can see from a brief look at the events of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty realized something about delivering a warning that we frequently forget or underestimate today: to ensure effective warning and an effective response, we must ensure that our delivery paths include redundancy, diversification, and amplification.

Fearing capture, redundancy was achieved by these patriots as they took two different routes to Lexington. They also ensured further redundancy, in the event that they would both be captured, by diversifying their warning method to include a visual warning by lantern to Charlestown. Finally, and perhaps the most highly successful, they amplified the message by stopping along their route and warning others who in turn warned their neighbors and then carried the message further.

As Emergency Managers, we have many tools available to us to achieve the same type of redundancy, diversification, and amplification that Revere, et al. employed. We must continue to embrace traditional warning concepts such as EAS and warning sirens, however, they are only one piece of the puzzle and have significant limitations. A couple of things to consider:

  • For a mobile population we must also offer opt-in services that allow for messages to be received via email, telephone, and SMS text message.
  • Ensuring that each of these warning platforms is fully compliant with the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) will ensure, among other things, that they can take advantage of additional distribution paths that will be available exclusively through the new IPAWS program such as Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) that utilizes Cell Broadcast technology and integration with the National Weather Service’s NOAA Weather Wire and NOAA Weather Radio services.
  • If efficiently specified, procured and designed, each of the separate systems utilizing open CAP standards can independently trigger the rest. This allows an Emergency Manager or his authorized representative to initiate a warning message through a single system yet have that message broadcast over multiple platforms and mediums.

The final warning component that I would like to focus on, however, is message amplification. Revere and cohorts achieved this by stopping at homes and adding additional riders to spread the word.  Today, emergency managers can significantly leverage the population to further disseminate warnings. In fact, the public will do this whether you ask them to or not. What you can do however is provide them the message via a medium that simplifies that process.  By utilizing social media services such as Twitter and Facebook, you can place your warning message into the public domain. Both of these services make it very easy for users to further share information that they receive. In the case of Twitter, a user can simply click a “re-tweet” button to further spread your message to all of their followers.  The same is true of Facebook’s “Share” button thus spreading your message to all of their friends.  In the social media world, when content spreads from person to person it is known to be “viral”. Yes even in a pandemic, warning messages spreading virally is highly desirable to achieve.

Increasingly, people look to confirm information regarding a threat from multiple sources.  By diversifying and amplifying your warning message you can increase the chance that your citizens will see your message via multiple different outlets thus providing that level of confirmation and assurance regarding the validity of the threat and the need to take prescribed protective measures.  The same is true when your message is being shared with them by a friend through a social network. With a little luck by placing this information into the social stream you can also create relatively easy to track intelligence regarding the emergency, however, that is a subject for a different day.

So, what can we do to facilitate the “new old way” of warning?

  1. Embrace every distribution avenue possible: especially ones that are free and relatively simple to implement.
  2. Keep in mind that the public is a message carrier and not just a message recipient.
  3. Encourage integration with existing systems. Talk to the vendors that supply emergency notification systems such as EAS Gateways and Mass Notification Systems and ask them if their systems integrate with the Application Programming Interfaces for social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. If you are a large jurisdiction, consider writing the requirement to directly interface to these and other social networks into your RFP’s.
  4. Finally and most importantly, remember that there is no single way to warn the public of an emergency and if you are not using every platform at your disposal you are missing critical portions of your population.

Queensland Flood Event: Leveraging Technology During a Crisis

Post: By Kim Stephens

My last post discussed the Queensland Police Department’s effective use of social media during the current flooding disaster to disseminate information. Now I would like to turn to examples of  how social media can facilitate “citizen helping citizen”.  Citizens aiding each other during a crisis is obviously not new, what is new is the ability to leverage technology, such as social media and crowdsourcing platforms, to amplify efforts and potentially even take some of the pressure off traditional response organizations.

Eventually, it would be worth examining the efficacy of these campaigns based on some sort of established criteria. For example, the five criteria outlined in Ushahidi’s own evaluation of their effort in Haiti were: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability. But for now, I’d like to just catalog some examples of these endeavors and take a quick stab at their relevance based on number of users/distribution.

1. Citizen to Citizen Aid: Housing

Finding shelter is a common problem in any disaster. But Oz Flood (a “social media project by “Get-Up Australia”) has essentially crowdsourced the problem by providing a platform where people can describe their housing needs and then be matched with homeowners willing to open their doors. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen home-sharing sites, during the Colorado wildfires around the Boulder area there was a similar effort. This one, however, seems to have more widespread participation, with about 400 homes offered–22 pages of homes were listed at time of writing.

I can hear lawyers groaning over the potential liability issues, but the organization’s “Terms Of Use” seems to be in order:

OzFloodHelp is provided on an “as is” basis, and without any warranties, representations or conditions, express or implied, in respect of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.
Under no circumstances are we liable or responsible to you for: (a) any direct loss, claims or damages (including negligence and breach of contract); or (b) any special, punitive, indirect or consequential loss including loss of profit or revenue, loss of data, loss of opportunities, loss of goodwill or reputation, or liabilities arising from third parties, (even if we have been advised of the possibility of your loss) resulting from any aspect of your use, or inability to use, OzFloodHelp or the Services.

You indemnify us, our officers, directors, employees, agents, affiliates and representatives against any claim, loss or damage incurred by you or any third party arising directly or indirectly in connection with your use of OzFloodHelp and the Services.

2. Citizen to Citizen Aid: Pets 

Finding your lost pets is another common problem in a crisis. Facebook pages, such as the one pictured on the right, have sprung up to fill this need. The “Lost and Found” site uses the power of social media to disseminate information about animals affected by this event. The stated goal is simply “just hoping this page can help to reunite some owners with their pets after the devastating floods that have hit QLD 2011”.  As stated in the paper “Crowdsourcing Critical Success Factor Model” by Ankit Sharma, one criteria for success is sufficient crowd participation. That seems like an obvious criteria when trying to reunite animals with owners. This site, with over 10,000 fans, seemed to be a great example.

3. Citizen to Citizen: Situational Awareness Information 

The Australian Broadcasting Company is currently using the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform as a way to determine the extent of the flood’s impact by receiving reports directly from the citizens. They stated reason for the effort: “ABC correspondents, reporters, presenters and photographers have been covering many dimensions of the flood disaster.  However, the mainstream media cannot be everywhere at once.”

Their goals: “This Crowdmap aims to combine verified reports from government agencies and media outlets including the ABC but potentially invaluable information supplied by people like you, who simply see, hear or record incidents or situations due to the floodwaters.” They indicate that they are “particularly interested in incidents (things that “happen”) or situations which provide useful information to those affected by this disaster. This includes situations such as: Property Damage; Road and Bridge Closures;  Evacuations; Injuries and Electricity Outages.” In other words, situational awareness data.

As of writing, they had 99,769 reports filed with about 99% of them verified. (By quickly looking through the data, however, it’s easy to spot exact duplicates). The reports are broken down into categories listed below. The best part of the platform just might be the ability to receive location-based Alerts based on categories of interest, although I think one shortfall is that you can only receive them as an email. Anyone can sign up to receive alerts on the following categories:

  • Electricity Outages
  • Evacuations
  • Hazards
  • Help/Services
  • Property Damage
  • Recovery Assistance Required
  • Roads Affected
  • Schools Recovery
  • Volunteer Efforts

Again, the efficacy of this campaign will need to be studied, but the amount of reports is initially impressive. I’d be interested to know, however, if local response organizations signed up for alerts and if they did, did it provide them with any new information? Did it aid them in their response efforts? At least local officials are aware of the map: the QLD police facebook page included a link to the platform.

I’m sure there are many more examples, but I think these three give a taste of the impact social media and technology are having in crisis response and recovery, and it is especially interesting to see this unfold in a modern country with a modern response apparatus. There is a lot to learn from this event.

Queensland Police Facebook Page: Best Practice in Public Engagement

Brisbane CBD and the Story Bridge, Brisbane QLD.

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Australian flooding event in Queensland is proving to be a good example of the use of social media during a crisis. Although there are multiple facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs and even a crowdsourced map created around this event, I’d like to focus on the Queensland Police facebook page. The fact that the page has almost 165,000 fans points to its relevance, but their content and use of the platform I believe, make it a model to be duplicated.

What lessons can we learn from this site:

1. Be the clearinghouse for information.

The Queensland Police facebook (QLP) page appears to be created in terms of customer service: how can information be provided to the citizen in a no-hassle format.  For instance the Flood Info tab has a comprehensive list of categorized hyperlinks to information that citizens would naturally look for during a crisis. Although this information might also be available on other government websites, by providing it on the facebook page, citizens have a one-stop shop, if you will. Info and links are provided on these topics:

  • Recovery and Clean Up 
  • How you can Donate
  • Weather and Road Condition
  • News Organization links
  • How to get help
  • What do if you hear the flood warning siren
  • Evacuation info.
  • How to get assistance

In addition they also link to maps, both the ESRI generated display of areas that have already flooded, as well as the “Brisbane City Council flood maps” of areas most likely to flood.  With regard to the predictive model, they provide the caveat:

Please note these are NOT guaranteed predictions – areas outside these might flood too. Yellow areas on the maps mean places where water runoff from rain, drains etc might cause flooding. Blue areas on the map mean areas where rising river levels might cause flooding.

Keeping these maps online and available was a bit tricky, apparently. They thank “who downloaded these maps and kept them available when the Brisbane City Council’s own website was down.”

2. Seek Information From the Public

A picture was taken of a person in the water and the police turned to the facebook page to solicit information about him or her (it was initially difficult to discern if the person was male or female). Within 2 hours of posting the police provided an update on the Wall that she had been found alive and well, having been rescued by members of the public downstream. Although it doesn’t appear that the tip regarding her whereabouts came from the facebook page itself, having 164,000 people view and then potentially share the message could not have hurt.

3. Provide Pictures and Videos of the Crisis

Although their page only has a few pictures of the flood event (about 40), they also have YouTube videos posted from press conferences. Undoubtably there are thousands of citizen pics of the flood circulating on photo-sharing websites such as Flickr, so this doesn’t have to be the main focus, but… people like pictures.

4. Appeal for decency and be upfront about your intentions.

We understand that everyone feels very deeply about the current disaster in Queensland, and are keen to share information and participate in the conversation. However, we are presently incredibly busy trying to provide up-to-date information on the flooding situation.

The more time we have to spend cleaning up your posts, the less time we have to do our real job. Consequently, we are appealing to all users to follow a few simple terms, which will really help us out:

***Don’t spam us***

This means don’t repost other people’s appeals, requests or offers. If you see something offensive on Facebook, report it to Facebook, don’t link it to our page!

***Don’t link to any any non-government page*** We don’t have time to check the content of links, so we will remove them.

***Don’t swear*** We want everyone to be comfortable visiting here to get the important information we try to provide.

By following these simple guidelines, you will help us to get through this challenging time.

5. Use facebook’s Chat feature to talk directly with the public.

The ability to “chat” with the public is a great feature in facebook. It appears that by monitoring their page, the Queensland police determine topics that are “running hot” and then set up time and a date for the public to ask questions about that particular topic directly to the relevant officials (other than the PIOs who normally monitor the facebook site). It appears that someone serves as a moderator for these events which is a also a good idea. The chat is saved and cataloged on the facebook page for anyone to read after-the-fact.

I find looking to other countries to see their use of social media fascinating. It appears they have similar issues that we are facing here in the United States, and some are taking full use of the platforms to communicate with the public. Finding best practices does not have to be limited to our borders.

Emergency Management Resource Site Needed for Social Media Implementation

Post by: Kim Stephens

I have come to the conclusion that the emergency management community needs a website to assist them in their efforts to implement social media campaigns.  Although I am quite proud of this blog and its list of resources, I find myself envious of the social media site built by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, and the U.S. Department of Justice.  The mission of the site, as stated on their webpage:

…to build the capacity of law enforcement to use social media to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen police-community relations, and enhance services. The IACP will be creating practical tools and resources to enable law enforcement personnel to develop or enhance their agency’s use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations.

By highlighting the service this center provides, I hope to draw the attention of maybe IAEM, NEMA or even the ICMA to try to develop a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA to create a similar resource for the emergency management community.

Information and how-to’s regarding the implementation of a social media presence are available for local OEMs if they search for them. However, there really  isn’t one central location, not even the First Responders Communities of Practice (FRCoP) site, where a local agency can go to find everything from best practices, to a hyperlinked directory of every OEM in the country using social media. The FRCoP is more of a forum where first responders can discuss problems and highlight best practices, but since it relies on input from the community itself, it does not represent a complete compendium of information.

The first “getting started” page of the IACP site is a good example of why the EM community should be a little green with envy. For instance, under the Policy Development tab, there are model policies, legal considerations and guidance; under Strategy Development, agencies are encouraged to determine their goals and objectives before implementing a SM presence;  and of course, there is a tab for tutorials and guides on how to set up SM pages.

Although you can peruse the site yourself, I’d like to highlight another feature I found interesting, the topics page. This page provides timely information about 16 different topics, each with a description and then three tabs:

  1. Case studies
  2. Current news, and
  3. Publications

Publications include such items as fact sheets. For example, under the alerts & notifications topic there are fact sheets on twitter and facebook in printable, PDF formats.

One last page I’d like to highlight is the page on Case Law. Again, this page is presented in a searchable format with hyperlinks to full cases once you find the information you were looking for.

Although the emergency management community could turn to the IACP site for guidance, I believe there are issues specific to the EM community that they don’t address (crisis mapping and ICS, for example).

My hope is that those with an interest in social media and emergency management can make some noise for either an agency or an association to copy this very useful resource.