Tag Archives: Emergency Operations Center

One Tweet Tells the Story of How to Engage

Post by: Kim Stephens

Although Hurricane Isaac ( or #Isaac if you are on Twitter) has still yet to decide where it wants to make landfall in the United States, it has already produced some pretty interesting social media lessons from my perspective. One tweet stood out for me:

In this tweet, a person states “Going through my first Hurricane. I’m actually really scared.”  The American Red Cross answered them by retweeting and adding a simple “Good Luck” to the message, but they also included a link to preparedness information.

At first glance this tweet doesn’t seem that noteworthy. Upon full inspection, however, it can be seen as a representation of  how monitoring social media with specific key words (in this case it was probably “hurricane” since the tweet did not mention Isaac) can create opportunities for engagement, a way to share vital information, as well as a way to help people going through stressful situations. Furthermore, the ARC tweet was repeated 17 times, reaching 1000s.

The citizen that sent out that tweet to no one in particular was probably surprised that the American Red Cross responded to them. They might have felt the “digital hug” that the ARC likes to talk about when discussing their social media efforts, and I bet she felt a bit of reassurance–something along the lines of “…if that organization is listening, then I might be able to turn to them if I need help.” I’m also hoping that the person checked the hurricane information page and took as many last minute steps to prepare as possible.

What the citizen, I’m sure, didn’t understand, is the amount of dedication to social media monitoring it took to be able to answer them. The American Red Cross is legend in its social media prowess, and with good reason. They have devoted time and resources to social media, including carving out space in the Emergency Operations Center for a Digital Ops Center (complete with both hardware and software donated by Dell Computers) in order to monitor social media before, during and after disasters. Why have they committed such effort to social media? My guess is that they understand that it is almost impossible to engage with community members via social networks unless you understand the conversation, and in order to understand the conversation you have to be online, monitoring what is being said. They want to know: What are the concerns? What are people talking about where we might be able to offer assistance? What is needed from us?

If your organization is using social media to simply push out your message, and you are not trying to participate in the conversation, then you are missing opportunities. Opportunities to show you care, as well as to educate.

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Mobile App to Help with Damage Assessment Data Collection

Post by: Kim Stephens

Austin Peay State University’s Geographic Information System center, located in Clarksville, Tennessee has a close working relationship with their local Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency. They have assisted them, and the broader District 7 multi-county Homeland Security District, with crisis and mitigation mapping  for many years. I believe this intimate understanding of emergency responders and their needs helped the geographers comprehend how emerging technologies could be applied after a disaster.

Mike Wilson, manager of the GIS Center, and his team obtained funds from the South East Region Research Initiative (SERRI), a program managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for DHS, to develop a mobile application called DMARK–Disaster Mitigation and Recovery Kit. The app’s main function is to assist with the collection of damage assessment data via mobile phone, which can then be transmitted back to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in almost real-time, if wireless connectivity is available. According to Douglas Catellier, a GIS analyst and one of the creators, it also has the ability to match damage assessment data with existing, pre-event databases. I think this feature might be its the most powerful contribution:

The data can also be tied together with Property Assessor data so that actual property assessments can be checked and the damage estimates can be tallied using a computer database rather than the pencil and paper method that is currently the most common.  DMARK also allows for the damage assessor to photograph and or make a digital voice recording  for each property being assessed that is tied directly to that property record in the database.  Special needs data can also be collected and the record flagged so that managers can get to those who may have special needs in a timely manner.

it's real :)

Image via Wikipedia

According to their press release, the app was unveiled last year as a proto-type and field tested during last May’s (2010) massive Tennessee flood event. This revealed the program’s power–drastically cutting down on the time it took to collect damage assessment data, but it also pointed to several ways the program could be improved. For one, they would like to build it out for all major operating systems–it’s currently only available on Android operating system for mobile phones as well as laptop and desktop applications for administrative management.Another concern was the data form included in the app. It originally was just a standard form, but they would like to allow users to create and download their own forms, according to the release.  “That way, DMARK can be used by emergency personnel for any type of situation, from an earthquake in California to a hurricane in Florida.”

This looks like a great new way to deal with the massive amounts of data that has to be collected after a crisis. For more information visit their website: APSU GIS Center.