Tag Archives: craig fugate

#SMEMChat Makes it to Congress

Post by: Kim Stephens

Patrice Cloutier tweeted:

And I’d have to answer…yes!

When the Social Media and Emergency Management #SMEM community started chatting at 12:30EST every Friday almost two years ago, we knew we were on to something. That day, Craig Fugate, the Director of FEMA, joined in–causing those of us who had organized the chat to literally jump up and down in our offices. It was pretty obvious that indeed we had started something that could be quite good.

Flash forward a couple of years, and in order to prepare for the Congressional Hearing that took place today (June 4, 2013) some of the staff for Congress Woman Susan Brooks asked if they could join in the #smemchat. In fact, what the staffers asked Heather Blanchard and I specifically was: “We want to ask you about your Friday activities.” I honestly had to think twice before answering that!  They wanted to join in the chat so that they could talk to practitioners directly, and it appears that the chat–as well as those who participated–made an impression. A couple of funny notes–for one, anyone can join in the chat–permission to participate is never required; and two, no one person or group is responsible for organizing the chat on a weekly basis (some people are under the impression that it is run by FEMA, but that can’t be farther from the truth). Anyone can join in, and anyone can ask questions. I would have to add one caveat: don’t try to sell a product–even a high tech social media gadget–to this group during the chat. It is a very bad idea.

During the Hearing, Ms. Brooks cited the chat as a reference–it helped her understand what the emergency management community was interested in learning from the private sector witnesses. The chats are always a place to get a good understanding of what others are thinking and doing across the country related to social media–which is why it has persisted for so long.

Very cool.

The Hearing was titled: “Subcommittee Hearing: Emergency MGMT 2.0: How #SocialMedia & New Tech are Transforming Preparedness, Response, & Recovery #Disasters #Part1 #Privatesector.” There are a whole lot of hashtags in that title! Below are the witnesses that testified today along with links to their written testimony.

Mr. Matthew Stepka
Vice President
Witness Statement [PDF]

Mr. Jason Payne
Philanthropy Engineering Team Lead
Palantir Technologies
Witness Statement [PDF]

Mr. Michael Beckerman
President and CEO
The Internet Association
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Mr. Jorge L. Cardenas
Vice President
Asset Management and Centralized Services
Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc.
Witness Statement [PDF]

Anaheim CERT to Monitor Social Media During a Disaster

Post by: Kim Stephens

It has been documented that government agencies often experience a 500% increase in the number of followers and “fans” to their social media sites during a disaster. Monitoring those sites and responding to requests for information can become overwhelming: at a minimum it is most certainly labor intensive. Emergency management organizations, both government and non-governmental alike, are starting to understand how enormous this task could be and are looking for innovative solutions to solve the problem.  Anaheim, California has turned to their CERT members.

This tweet by Craig Fugate is over a year old, suggesting that the concept of CERT members playing a role in monitoring social networks or even in reporting observations through those platforms, is not necessarily a new idea. The concept is built on the notion that these folks are “trusted agents,” already trained in basic emergency skills, and  known quantities by the response organization. However, I have yet to really see many CERTs move in this direction, making the Anaheim CERT a really interesting test case.  I interviewed the CERT coordinator in order to determine what was necessary in order to accomplish this goal. (I appreciate their candidness!) Below are the results from that interview.


Roles and Responsibilities: CERT volunteers already serve in a community outreach capacity by supplementing staff in the “hotline room” by answer questions on the phone. The concept is to extend these responsibilities to social networks. The social media monitoring volunteers will be used primarily to keep track of comments and social data posted to the communities’ social platforms. They will also be allowed to retweet (repeat a message on twitter) anything that has already been put out by the Public Information Officer (PIO).  They currently have 3 laptops dedicated for volunteers, loaded with an enhanced excel capability called “Pivot Table”. Pivot table will allow the digital volunteers to record the event and do real-time data-mining, including listing frequently asked questions, etc.  CERT members will be required to monitor the social stream in the EOC hotline room.

Training: The CERT coordinator is planning to do training for social media monitoring and use of the “pivot table” tool (she is planning to share this training with regional partners). The training  will include: hot-line room standard operating procedures; reporting protocols; rules regarding what they can and cannot say; and, potentially, will require participation in a monthly twitter chat. Volunteers will also be taught “how” to monitor including which search terms to use etc., as well as which platforms to monitor. However, volunteers will be given some latitude to keep track of all the platforms they see fit.  The training currently does not include a module on how to verify information, however, that is a consideration for future efforts.

Linking to Operations: Specifically, regarding reporting protocols and procedures, pertinent information the monitoring team discovers will loop back into the EOC planning and operations section via the PIO. Any life threatening information will be sent directly to the dispatcher and non-life threatening info will get written down on paper or in an email and is sent to the PIO to review then decide which section it should go to. Currently, CERT “digital volunteers” do not have access to WebEOC, but they have discussed granting limited access so that they can input the information directly. (The CERT coordinator supplied the graphic below.) She states: “Depending upon the platform, some steps may require modification.  For example individual [citizens] may post to YouTube which may require a response post or a comment directing individuals to a website or blog with more information. “  She indicated that a determination would also be made whether or not the YouTube video provided helpful content that should be disseminated using other platforms.

What concerns people? The biggest concern of emergency management professionals in Anaheim regarding this new monitoring program is liability: “What if messages are not addressed and then the agency gets sued?”

Thank you @AnaheimCERT for the interview and great responses.

Are you looking to do anything similar with your CERT? Please let me know.

[1] Stephens, Kim, “SMEM chat: Monitoring Social Networks—How do we Listen?”  March, 2011, https://idisaster.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/smem-chat-monitoring-social-networks-how-do-we-listen/.

Crisis Mapping, Crisis Crowdsouring and Southern Storms

Post by: Kim Stephens

Photo courtesy FEMA photo library: Heckleburg, AL

A couple of weeks ago the #SMEMchat group discussed crowdsourcing and crisismapping and I’d like to revisit that topic again today. Whenever I give talks on this subject a lot of people indicate that they have never heard of crowdsourcing. But the wikipedia definition is fairly straightforward: Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call. Jeff Howe, one of the first authors to employ the term, established that the concept of crowdsourcing depends essentially on the fact that because it is an open call to an undefined group of people, it gathers those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas.

I think this definition is best understood by using an example. If you have ever watched the local news and heard the station ask folks to send in pictures of an event (usually weather) then you are witnessing crowdsouring. There is an implicit incentive structure here: the local news channel gets to choose from hundreds of pictures and does not have to hire a photographer; those who contribute get to have their picture shown on television. (There are many books and articles written on this topic–see my bibiliography, I have an entire section on the topic.)

Essentially there are two types of crowdsourcing during a crisis:

1. The provision of intelligence/information.

During this past week’s Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs hearing on the importance of social media in emergency management, the Administrator of FEMA, Craig Fugate, alluded to crowdsourcing by referring to citizens as sources of information. The “task” that is being outsourced is simply the task of providing information from the field. This information answers the first question after a crisis: What just happened?

Washington, DC, April 22, 2009 -- W. Craig Fug...

Image via Wikipedia

In Administrator Fugate’s written testimony, he states: “We value two-way communication not only because it allows us to send important disaster-related information to the people who need it, but also because it allows us to incorporate critical updates from the individuals who experience the on-the-ground reality of a disaster.” In other words, the technology now exist to crowdsource the inflow of critical data regarding the situation after a crisis. Just like the local news station asking people send in pictures, emergency managers can have access to information that allows them to understand the event from the perspective of those immediately impacted, just by monitoring YouTube. For example, there were hundreds of videos of the tornados in Alabama on Youtube, posted in realtime, giving anyone with a computer or a smart phone a great perspective on the amount of damage that likely occurred. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HhzDs1B4YA&feature=related

2. Gathering/Sorting/Making Sense of Crisis Data

If people in emergency management are uncomfortable with data provided by the crowd via social media, then this second type of crowdsourcing is even more uncomfortable: Asking the “crowd” to help gather and sort this data. The emergency management community, however, should understand this concept because it has become a reality after every recent disaster.

There are many organizations whose stated missions are to help organize the crowd as well as the data: CrisisCommons, Org9, Humanity Road, Crisismappers: StandbyCrisis Task Force; Sahana, Tweak the Tweet, and Ushahidi–I’m sure I’m missing a few. The mission of CrisisCommons and the sub-group CrisisCamp–whose co-founder Heather Blanchard also testified before the above-mentioned congressional committee, can serve as an example of the type of support these groups provide after a crisis:

…to connect a global network of volunteers who use creative problem solving and open technologies to help people and communities in times and places of crisis. CrisisCampers are not only technical folks like coders, programmers, geospatial and visualization ninjas, but we are also filled to the brim with super creative and smart folks who can lead teams, manage projects, share information, search the internet, translate languages, know usability, can write a research paper and can help us edit wikis.

The recent tornadoes provide a great example of all of the above mentioned groups’ work. One of the task they are currently performing can be boiled down to one sentence: matching need with the desire to help. This, of course, is fundamental task after a crisis: all disaster plans have Volunteer and Donations Management Support Annexes because it is well understood that if not well organized and planned for, volunteers and donations can sometimes hinder instead of help the response and recovery efforts. Furthermore, volunteers that are turned away can become vocal about not being “allowed” to help, creating a political problem for the responding organizations as well.

One of the main tasks these new volunteer organizations perform is what Patrick Meier, co-founder of CrisisMappers, describes as crowdfeeding: providing information from the crowd for the crowd–skirting or bypassing the “official” response organizations altogether.

How is this done? New communications technologies, such as social media, allow people to broadcast their needs to anyone willing to listen. Above is an example of a “tweaked” or MT–modified tweet, by a Humanity Road volunteer. The stated need was posted by the Salvation Army, who tweeted that they are serving meals for volunteers (the hyperlink provided allows those interested in helping serve get more information). RVAREGal simply tweaked the information so that it could easily be read by a computer for inclusion in a database. She added hashtags for #need, #info and location #loc. As this database of information is built, it can then be upload into a visualization platform, such as Ushahidi. This has been done in support of the southern storms and you can view it at Alabama Recovery Information Map.

The Ushahidi map is a not only a visualization of the information, but also creates an entire ecosystem: links to original source, the date it was submitted (which is key since this information does expire); a description of the information and additional reports with similar data; as well as a form to submit needs or resources directly.

In conclusion, I always like to ask: what are we learning?

  • Non-governmental organizations and the volunteer technical community are working to gather data from the crowd after a crisis and put it into platforms easily used and understood by the general public–they are not waiting for permission by any government agency, and they are usually not registered as a “VOAD”.
  • The public freely shares information about their situation (I need help/I can provide help) on social platforms that can be seen by anyone in the world–not just local response officials.
  • Response organizations could turn to the volunteer technical community for help in sorting through large amounts of data after a crisis in order to process it into usable information.

As Patrice Cloutier stated on the chat, “We ask the public to be prepared, with social media plus mobile technology, they also want to participate….embrace it!”


For more information on the origins and descriptions of crisis mapping see “What is Crisis Mapping? An Update on the Field and Looking Ahead” by Patrick Meier.

Social Media and Emergency Management: Chatting Away

Post by: Kim Stephens

Twitter is a funny thing. For those unaccustomed to its power, it might just seem like a broadcast medium: a place to get your message out, period. But characterizing twitter or social media as such is completely missing the point. At its core, social media (both facebook and twitter) are tools for organizing groups of people with common interest, sharing information, or collaborating. For those of you interested in social media and its application to emergency management, a twitter group has formed around the hashtag #SMEM. This hashtag has attracted emergency managers, first responders, contractors, NGOs, volunteers, interested citizens and bloggers, such as myself. People go there to share information and best practices and to ask questions of the group, on an ongoing basis.

I have created a map of people using the hashtag in order to get a sense of its reach. To my surprise, people from all over the world have used the tag.  But emergency response personnel and/or interested public information officers might not have the time to watch the tag very often, but check it from time to time hoping to see content they are interested in. This is why the concept of a weekly chat was proposed. This past Friday, Jan 28, the first #SMEMchat occurred. Our goals were simple: test the concept and gauge interest.

I have summarized the chat below, and I hope it entices those who were not able to join us to try to mark their calendars for the next one. (Time/date, etc. will be announced on #SMEM).

Jeff Phillips, an Emergency Manager from New Mexico, agreed to be the moderator and composed some questions to lead the discussion. Questions 1 and 2 dealt with ground rules and how people had heard about the tag after its creation on 11/11/10.  A lot of people learned about it through the people they follow, including Jeff himself. Craig Fugate, FEMA Director,  joined the chat and indicated that he heard about it at the IAEM conference in San Antonio, Texas. In fact, Craig sent out a tweet about the tag and it “blew up” soon after that.

The third question was: “Are you aware that SMEM means bridging SM and EM? What does that mean to you? Why/how do you participate? This elicited some interesting responses but the consensus was “to learn from others” and to have a two-way conversation about how to best utilize social media for in the emergency management field.  Some people pointed out that twitter was the quickest way to pass information worldwide. Others participate on the SMEM tag to “pass useful info to the general public”.

The fourth question was “what are you doing locally/regionally to bridge SM & EM?” Jeff pointed out how in New Mexico they are using the power of social media in a “camp” format and that they have established local hashtags such as #NMEM, #NMFire, #NMStorm and #NMwx. As a side note, following Jeff @LosRanchosEM, is a great way to learn how to use social media to its full extent.

Other comments about bridging SM and EM ranged from developing an American Red Cross team to monitor social media traffic and other info streams for situational awareness (from @zborst), to tweets for Air Crew alerts (@jack4cap), and educating peers. In fact, trying to educate other local emergency managers about the power of social media became a conversation thread. Several people indicated that their local agencies were still fearful of the medium, seeing it as “for teenagers” or fearful to engage due to legal concerns.  Some people pointed out  how useful social media would be for rural areas underserved by any other kind of media–which is a great point.

Recommendations that came from that discussion thread:

  1. Develop FAQs and best practices from collective experiences, aggregate and publish best practices globally. (@FireTracker2)
  2. Provide information to emergency managers about citizens thirst for knowledge during large and small events (from snow storms to hurricanes) and desire to receive that information via social media. Examples exist: in NY  and Australia people were very vocal over a perception of a lack of information coming from their local govs when they knew nearby towns/cities were using social media successfully. @jack4cap illustrated this point even further: “Tuesday nite storms, FL county next door used tweets and nixel. My county, which is larger, better media: NOTHING, nada, NO INFO.”

The fifth question was about the SMEM wiki, were we aware of it? Jeff also asked for other links people followed.

  • I mentioned #lgovsm which is a tag used in Great Britain to discuss social media’s application for local government in general.
  • Others indicated that they use RSS feeds with keyword terms and then subscribe to blogs etc.
  • Just by following the SMEM tag, however, can provide enough reading material to last a lifetime.  People are very good about passing along good articles when they find them.

Question 6: “What points would you like to make about SMEM tag use and twitter etiquette? “Ah, a sore point for a lot of people. It seems the tag, with its heavy use by government officials, is just too enticing to not become a magnet. Key points about netiquette:

  • Don’t spam.
  • Don’t use SMEM for branding.
  • Don’t use it as a billboard.
  • Don’t use interns who don’t have good etiquette.
  • Don’t use it to announce how to get help during an emergency (it’s for discussion–not to pass disaster info. For example, when it snows in New Mexico Jeff sends out tweets that use #NMstorm; he doesn’t send out a tweet saying: “#SMEM It’s storming in NM”.)
  • DO: ask questions on the SMEM tag. People love to engage.

Last Question: “Should we do this again? How often? Move time around? Are you willing to host? Future topics.” There’s a lot in that one question. But the consensus was yes, we should do it again, fixed day, time each week in order to get more people to chat—e.g. they will be able to put it on their schedule.  The majority thought just one or two meatier questions would suffice. But there wasn’t really a consensus on which question for next week, per se.

But… that wasn’t the last question. Craig Fugate chimed in: “Branding issues and use of other hashtags, is there a need for the EM community to have a common way to share info?” This prompted a very good discussion about hashtag use during a crisis. In general, if you have a set tag (ala #NMstorm) that people are used to using, that is great. However, if you don’t, @FireTracker2 noted that you have to use the tag early in the event before the general public starts its own. If not,  your tweets will be marginalized. He suggested just following the public’s lead: “USE WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE USES!– he yelled virtually.

Recommendations gleamed from the discussion on hashtags:

  • Use tags related to the area: “#boulderfire perfect, #fourmilecanyonfire too complex, #wildfire too many false positives.” from @allhazardsblog
  • Cheryl Bledsoe (EM from Vancouver, Washington) stated: “I like seeing state tags like #CA #NM with the incident tag so users quickly know geographic region of threat”.
    • This is a good point, and a good reason why #911 would never work
    • Craig gave a shout out to Tweak the tweet—others mentioned that format as well.
    • @IndianRiverCOEM indicated that @NWSChat was something worth looking at for good collaboration.

It looks as if Indian River had the last word. Nonetheless, I think it was a great discussion and opportunity to collaborate. I look forward to the next chat. Join us! Folllow #SMEM for more info and to volunteer to host! Click here for a complete transcript.

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


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.

The Need for Challenge Grants!


Image by jim.greenhill via Flickr

Opinion piece posted by Claire B. Rubin

In recent weeks I have noticed two requests for ideas that can use new digital and interactive media to improve some aspect of emergency management. The first was the challenge issued by Craig Fugate for ideas on preparedness, and the second is in the popular blog done by Eric Holdeman, titled Mobile Apps for Emergency Management. Both share the same sentiment – make your good ideas public, essentially giving them away, with no remuneration.  After that, who knows who will pick them up and develop them.

Now, I am a public-service oriented person, and I do a great deal of pro bono work in the EM community. In fact, this blog is just one of many examples. But I have to wonder how many people think this is the way to advance the state of the art and practice of emergency management. As someone who just happens to have quite a few ideas of projects that would be a contribution to EM, I  wonder just how widely held this expectation of a “challenge-with-no-grant” is. ( I would also add that people on salary who expect this pro bono work may not realize that such innovative work often is done by those not on salary.)

So, How about some contests or challenges with a modest incentive – like $10 or 20 K? This would allow independent thinkers and doers to come up with some much-needed projects and products. Several federal agencies have done this and had a return on their investment that was substantial. And businesses use competitions with great success.

In the emergency management and homeland security communities most of the funding goes to large contractors, where the total cost is in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let’s be fair and let’s be creative.  We need a few good challenge grant opportunities, especially for the newly emerging area of endeavor of applying digital and interactive media to emergency management.

How about some of our readers stepping up to the plate and supporting small businesses and start-up entrepreneurs?  I hope we have some brave leaders out there who will sponsor a challenge.

Social Media is DATA.

By: Kim Stephens

Craig Fugate spoke at the Red Cross Social Media Summit and implored the audience not to think of social media in terms of each of the component parts (e.g. Facebook, twitter, etc) but as sources of data. You can follow him on Twitter via @ CraigatFEMA.

How we deal with situational awareness information/data coming from non-traditional-communication channels is one of the biggest challenges facing the emergency response community.  Unfortunately, we are playing catch-up to public expectations.

In his talk, Fugate noted the public’s use of social media in crises is growing. One of the many challenges this presents is the ability of first responders and governments to monitor such information and act on it in a timely manner. [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=fugate&iid=8762078″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8762078/press-secretary-gibbs-fema/press-secretary-gibbs-fema.jpg?size=500&imageId=8762078″ width=”234″ height=”310″ /]

This point was made in the Red Cross-survey,  74% of respondents age 18-34 agreed with the statement: “Emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their websites and social media sites so they can respond promptly to any requests for help posted there.” Clearly, many younger citizens have high expectations in terms of responses and replies to their requests.

How we organize ourselves to sort, aggregate, verify and then visualize (e.g. maps or timelines) all of this information is truly yet to be determined: it’s difficult enough during run-of-the-mill events, much less during a large-scale disaster.  The participants at the summit discussed  these questions, you can view their collective responses on the summit’s blog.  Another important paper, written by John Solomon and Dr. Roni Zeiger in anticipation of the summit, also addresses these concerns: “The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media“. Yet, even these papers leave the reader with more questions than answers.

But just having emergency managers agree that social media is data and not a disease would be a good start.