Tag Archives: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Social Pressure: Can it work for Disaster Preparedness?

Post by: Kim Stephens

medium_3955644975In this post I examine what social media, emergency preparedness and get-out the vote messaging have in common–it seems like a stretch, I know!

Every September is National Preparedness Month and the typical information campaign revolves around getting people to understand their risks, make a plan, and get a kit.  But, measuring whether or not people have actually changed their behavior is the tricky part. On October 1 how will we know if people are more prepared for the hazards they face?

In terms of benchmarks, an often cited American Red Cross survey in 2008 found that only one in ten American households had accomplished these tasks. Research in this area also reveals interesting demographics regarding who is more likely to take these steps (e.g. homeowners vs renters, older adults vs those younger than 34, etc.) and why people prepare or not. There are many barriers to disaster preparedness, each with implications for messaging, but it is somewhat common knowledge that risk perception is dependent upon both how the information is communicated (Mileti and Sorensen, 1990) and how it is interpreted through social interactions (Kirschenbaum, 1992).

Can Information Shared on Social Networks Influence Behavior?

If social interactions play such an important role in how people make decisions, then Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management is on the right track. They are experimenting with the social platform ThunderClap, which was specifically designed to influence people via their social connections about a product, idea or movement. The “about” tab states:

Thunderclap is the first-ever crowdspeaking platform that helps people be heard by saying something together. It allows a single message to be mass-shared, flash mob-style, so it rises above the noise of your social networks. By boosting the signal at the same time, Thunderclap helps a single person create action and change like never before.

Fairfax County’s Thunderclap involves accomplishing 30 Easy Emergency Prep Ideas in 30 Days. Participants agree to allow a pre-scripted message appear on their Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr timeline on September 9th advertising the fact that they are doing one, some or all of these preparedness activities.  The platform does have a few idiosyncrasies:

  •  If the County does not reach their goal of 100 supporters then the message is not delivered–at least not on this platform. Talk about an incentive structure!
  • The tool can be a bit confusing. I had to read and re-read what they wanted me to do until I finally realized that I didn’t have to post–that it would be done for me. Although I had no problem with them posting on my behalf, this might cause concern for others.
  • Making a pledge to do a preparedness activity is not the same as actually doing the deed, so although this platform is quite cool–it does not eliminate the problem of actually measuring behavior change, other methods have to used for that purpose.

However, with that being said, the potential to amplify the message and reach a huge audience with this model is immense, since it is based on people’s existing social connections.  For instance, if two people sign up to blast the message to their Facebook friends the reach isn’t 2–it is 300! (The average number of connections is 150.)

Does this work?

031110_votedThe impact of Fairfax County’s Thunderclap might not be known anytime soon, however, quantitative analysis of the 2012 “I  voted” virtual campaign does speak to the potential significance.

On the day of  the 2012 election, for the first time, people could display their civic engagement on their Facebook page with an “I Voted Today” virtual sticker. Researchers wanted to know if this display elicited an “Oh–I need to go do that!” type of response. Apparently, it did. Techcrunch reported the findings:

The first large-scale experimental research on the political influence of social networks finds that Facebook quadruples the power of get-out-the-vote messages. While the single-message study produced a moderately successful boost in turnout (a 2.2% increase in verified votes), the most important finding was that 80% of the study’s impact came from “social contagion,” users sharing messages with friends who would otherwise never have seen it. This is the first definitive proof that social networks, as opposed to television or radio, have uniquely powerful political benefits.

Published in the latest edition of the prestigious science journal, Nature, the 61 million participant study randomly assigned all Facebook users over 18-years-old to see an “I Voted” counter at the top of their newsfeed with the number of total users who had voted on Nov 2nd, which had a link for more information about local polling places. Turnout was verified from a database of public voting records. Interestingly, the 3-pronged experiment displayed two types of “I Voted” messages, one with pictures of friends underneath and one without. Those who did not see pictures of their friends were barely affected by the message at all, “which raises doubts about the effectiveness of information-only appeals to vote in this context,” surmise the authors.

Although voting is a somewhat easier task than doing 30 separate preparedness activities, this research does shed some light on how social sharing can help influence desirable behaviors. Let’s hope people will see these posts and think–I should do that too. Best case, they actually do!

Related articles

Aggregated Social Postings: FEMA and the NCR Social Hubs

Post by: Kim Stephens

FEMA consumed the majority of the Social Media and Emergency Management conversation on Twitter yesterday with their announcement of an update to their mobile application allowing people to post images of damage after a disaster: read more on Mashable.  Another interesting development–yet, much less discussed–was the announcement of their new “Social Hub” a feature on the FEMA mobile website.

photo 1

The Social Hub, as indicated by FEMA staff member Jason Lindy, pulls in Tweets from official or trusted sources and organizes them by topic. The site can be viewed on the desktop but has a better user experience on a mobile device, the intended platform.

A Visual JIC

This new feature is a great addition to  FEMA’s social presence since it allows for a “one-stop shop” of information from all  response partners (see the screen capture on the right). I think it is also a visual demonstration of how each organization and government agency should continue to post content relevant to their “lane” to the audience they have already built. The “Social Hub” aggregates that content and  literally puts everyone on the same page. The site can also help community members find relevant voices: when viewing the content  they will clearly see information provided not only by FEMA headquarters and regional offices, but probably even more importantly, from local officials.

National Capital Region

FEMA is not the only organization that has realized the value of having a Social Hub. The National Capital Region also has a News and Information Page that provides a similar feature–including alerts from partner agencies throughout the region.  The page highlights and provides  links to four main content areas: Emergency Alerts, Weather, Traffic, and Utility information.

ncrBy building the page they recognize that the public might not define “emergency” the same way that Emergency Management officials do. Large traffic incidents, poor road conditions and bad weather can be an emergency for an individual. Another great feature is that the links are not simply provided but the content is pulled into the site, also making it a one-stop shop for information.

Although the public can view official content directly on social networks by sorting information based on key words–I think these aggregated pages provide a valuable service. If you know of any similar sites, let me know!

#CrisisMapping for Recovery: Crisis Clean Up–A Collaboration Tool

Post by: Kim Stephens

medium_8179611271A truism in emergency management is that after a disaster thousands of people want to volunteer–the more high profile the event the more show up, sometimes creating a second disaster. Having a system to organize these altruistic individuals is critical.  As one researcher states: “…the effectiveness of volunteerism depends highly upon how well volunteers and voluntary groups and organizations are coordinated.  In this sense, having vast numbers of people and supplies frequently pose serious challenges for emergency management.”  Coordination, in turn, depends on clear, consistent, and timely communications (FEMA). But how is this done effectively?

The Problem

Aaron Titus, a member of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, knows the ends and outs of volunteer coordination all too well. The faith-based group he is associated with can mobilize thousands of people–ready, willing, and able to work. In the days after Hurricane Sandy, that is exactly what happened: Aaron faced a veritable army of over 20,000 volunteers who needed to complete thousands of tasks across a large geographic area. How could he provide “clear, consistent, and timely communications” as well as a method to determine, track and record what everyone was doing? And…what about all of the other non-spontaneous organizations that also showed up to help?

medium_8236682972Coordinating not only what his own group was doing, but also ensuring that they were not duplicating efforts or leaving out survivors who needed assistance, was a problem that seemed insurmountable. BUT he had a secret weapon. During the southern New Jersey “derecho” storms of July, 2012 he had used  the little programming knowledge he had to sort out a simple, yet brilliant, software solution. With a  job as big as Sandy, he enlisted the help of other developers, including Jeremy Pack, to create a more robust version of that solution that ended up being utilized by more than 100 organizations.

The Tool

What Aaron created, essentially, was a work-order-system/Crisis Map. The system has the following basic components (see an example map here).

  • Intake: An online intake request/assessment form is made available to 2-1-1. This enables the 2-1-1 operator to input information (as non-personally identifiable, as possible) about where the work needs to be done, who is requesting, and what is being requested. These forms are customizable–for instance, if a disaster hit an area with a large population of non-English speakers, a field for “language spoken” could be added.
  • ccuLegendTracking: A case number is generated for each request and the form syncs to a map–automated fields are included to alleviate confusion, for instance,  the county-field is automated. Whether or not the work is on private or public property is also noted–which is VERY important.  Communities need to keep track of all public volunteer work in order to count this against FEMA’s public assistance contribution requirements.
  • Categorization: The software includes categories and codes for the work order request based on completion and type. Regarding completion,  a red icon indicates work is “unassigned,” yellow means “claimed,” green is “completed,” and grey is “out of scope.” There are two categories of work indicated: flood damage or tree/wind damage. This distinction is made because some organizations do not let volunteers operate chain saws.
  • Assignments:  Affiliated organizations, as well as organizations that can prove they are legitimate, are allowed to access the map in order to claim work and record completed work. By claiming work, the group essentially says, “We can do this one.”
  • Stop-Gaps: The system has features that prevent the same request from being recorded more than once. When the 2-1-1 operator starts to enter a name or address a field pops up listing all similar entries.
  • Updates: The volunteers doing the work can update the status on the software system, which is seen by the 2-1-1 operator. If someone calls back to 2-1-1 asking about the status,  the operator can see if a group (as well as which group) has claimed the work.
  • Reporting: 2-1-1 staff can generate summary reports about the work requested and completed to provide to local or state emergency management officials.

*****In response to a few questions on Twitter, there’s one point of clarification. The ability to sign-up for the tool is available to any organization participating in recovery, including 2-1-1.

Unique Solution

There are a couple of things about this  volunteer-work-order system that are unique. For one, no group is “assigned” tasks or even a geographic area–as is often done using a grid technique. They can choose what, when and where to work on their own. Also, even though the system is online, the privacy of the requestor is protected–only those groups that have been granted access can see all of the detailed information: the public-facing maps on the Crisis Clean Up website do not include homeowners names, addresses or phone numbers–see example below.

I also like that this system is integrated into the existing government partnership with United Way’s 2-1-1. A lot of State and local communities have started to use 2-1-1 to communicate emergency recovery information. For example, officials in New Jersey state “…2-1-1 is a critical communication link between emergency management professionals and the public-at-large. By the very nature of the 2-1-1 system, NJ 2-1-1 is perfectly positioned to respond immediately during times of crisis. It is structured to manage the expected high volume of crisis-related calls and the 2-1-1 staff is trained to direct callers to services most appropriate for their needs.”



So how much does this all costs? Unfortunately, it is free for anyone to use. Why  “unfortunately?” Free usually means that the product or the solution is not sustainable–although it is open source. They do have a “donate” button on the website, but I’m guessing their list of contributors is quite small. Aaron and his team work on this software tool as a labor of love–however, I’m sure they would be happy if the Knight Foundation, or another philanthropic organization provided them the necessary cash flow to ensure disaster-impacted communities could have access to this amazing tool. If you are interested in volunteering with them I’m guessing Aaron would be pleased to hear from you–especially if you are a seasoned grant writer! Contact him via Twitter @aarontitus.

Bonus Video:

Volunteer photo 1. Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunaparknyc/8179611271/”>Luna Park Coney Island</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Volunteer photo 2. Credit: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vixwalker/8236682972/”>Vix Walker</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Note: Developer Andy Gimma now co-leads the Crisis Cleanup project, along with Chris Wood.

#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]

#SMEMChat Receives Honorable Mention

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: Blue ribbon

English: Blue ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alex Rose (@U62 on Twitter) thought it would be a great idea to submit the #SMEMChat for the FEMA Citizen Corps “Partners in Preparedness Award.” Since #SMEM is populated with people who are collaborative by nature, a Google Doc was stood up where many of us contributed to the entry. I was asked, on behalf of the group, to send it in with my contact information.

I am happy to report….we almost won! Darn! We didn’t come in first, but honorable mention is not too shabby. Below is the email I received from the National Office of Citizen Corps.

Dear Partners in Preparedness

We are pleased to announce that you have received an honorable mention for the 2012FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness Awards! Thank you so much for promoting and sharing with us the amazing work that you do to help prepare your communities for disaster. It was obvious that you all put a lot of thought, time, and energy into your applications.  Thank you again for inspiring FEMA to continue to recognize achievements in Individual and Community Preparedness. As a recipient of an Honorable Mention, you should receive a certificate from FEMA in recognition of your accomplishments, and you will be recognized on our website.

While you were not selected to receive an Individual and Community Preparedness Award this year, please know that even among an exceptionally strong pool of applicants, your submissions really stood out! We received over 150 applications from every corner of the country, and we may follow up with you in the future to learn more about your programs and efforts – you’re all contributing to a safer America, and your work should be celebrated! We hope that you will apply again next year. Thank you again for your time and your efforts.

The National Office of Citizen Corps

 Here is the link: http://www.citizencorps.gov/newsevents/awards/2012/2012winners.shtm

Yea us! Thanks to everyone who contributed and a special thanks to Alex Rose!


Researchers Study Waldo Canyon Fire Twitter Activity

Post by: Kim Stephens

U.S. Air Force Academy Waldo Canyon Fire

U.S. Air Force Academy Waldo Canyon Fire (Photo credit: Official U.S. Air Force)

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of California-Irvin are currently participating in a project titled “Project Heroic”  (funded by the National Science Foundation). The overarching objective is “to better understand the dynamics of informal online communication in response to extreme events.”

As part of this project, the team turned their attention to analyzing Tweets surrounding the recent Waldo Canyon Fire, which started June 23, 2012. This fire was a significant event–the introduction to the research report summarizes the stats:

Over 32,000 residents from Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park, as well as several small mountain communities along Highway 24, were forced to evacuate… More than 346 homes were destroyed… U.S. Highway 24 was closed in both directions for much of the event. The Waldo Canyon Fire is the most expensive fire in Colorado State history with insurance claims totaling more than US$352.6 million dollars, according to The Gazette.

This significance was reflected in the amount of Twitter “buzz” surrounding the event as well. The research team collected over 100,000 messages that used the hashtag #Waldocanyonfire from more than 25,000 unique Twitter users. (I find it interesting that they only analyzed Twitter data, however, the ability to easily quantify and sort the information makes the platform desirable for researchers.)

They examined the data based on several factors: time of day Tweets were posted, content, who was posting (citizens or government organizations connected to the response effort) and who was following those accounts. Specifically they asked: Did these accounts have an increase in followers, and if so, what Tweeting behavior led to the greatest increase? (Not a surprise, they found that the more information an organization provides, the more people follow them.)  In terms of content, the Wordall above was used as a graphical representation of the types of information relayed by government accounts. As can be seen “evacuation” was the most often mentioned.

One thing I  found really interesting were the results of the Retweet analysis. They assumed that government information would be repeated, especially during an emergency, however, they found “this increase is largest for [local] organizations.” An aphorism often stated by the emergency management community is “All disasters are local”–Twitter is proving that statement to be more than a common saying. This also means, to me, that local organizations should learn how to use these tools–but that’s another post.

Lesson Learned

Based on their findings they drew some conclusions–which, by the way, are some of the same conclusions we in the SMEM community have noticed with only anecdotal evidence. It is quite nice to have hard numbers to back up our own observations. They found:

  • When an event occurs local organization gain large numbers of followers.
  • Establishing a social media strategy pre-event is important. Organizations should not judge attention demand for social media during non-event periods.
  • Content generation on Twitter varies in a predictable way based on the time of day. Interpreting changes in attention needs to take this diurnal cycle into account.
  • Original content tends to be produced by local organizations, while retweeted content tends to come from non-locals.
  • Low rates of directed messaging indicate a trend to use Twitter as a broadcast channel more than a conversational channel.
  • Inclusion of a URLs may show that these organizations recognize the limitations of information shared via Twitter, perhaps due to the character lengths, requiring links out to additional information.
  • Hashtag use indicates these organizations are developing a sophistication in how to participate effectively during a disaster event.

Using YouTube to Communicate Preparedness Messages

Post by: Kim Stephens

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

When communicating life safety and preparedness information online, it is really important to remember what retailers have already learned: video sells your message much better than text. The article “10 Web Video Stastics You Need to Know” details some interesting trends in how people are consuming web-based and mobile content. Five key points:

  1.  Visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average (Comscore)
  2.  59% of senior executives prefer to watch video instead of reading text. (Forbes)
  3.  50% of smartphone users watch web video on their mobile device. (Google Blog)
  4. Video and other multi-media product viewing options were rated more effective than any other site initiatives in an Adobe survey of almost 2,000 interactive marketers. (Adobe)
  5. Video in email marketing has been shown to increase click-through rates by over 96% (Implix Email Marketing Trends Survey)

What does that mean for the public sector? It means that we need to be more creative in content production and distribution. This, of course, is already happening. A simple search on YouTube for “emergency preparedness” yields 17,900 results. The content of these preparedness videos, however, does not always compel viewership. To be frank, if your video is lame, no one is going to watch it. Content is king–even with video.

One of the best videos I’ve seen to date is the recent Department of Homeland Security grant funded project produced by the city of Houston, titled: Run, Hide, Fight, which describes what citizens should do in the event of an active shooter in an office building (or any building). The release, or at least circulation, was very timely–just after the movie theatre shooting in Colorado. The best thing about the video is that the viewer feels genuine concern about the actors. I watched the entire 5:55 minutes to see who survived.

I did find the content, however, to miss the mark in some respects: they completely forget people with access and functional needs, both in terms of production and distribution. The video is not captioned nor is there a script readily available, and furthermore, they depict every person in the video as young and able-bodied. What about a person that does not hear that a shooting is happening in the building? What about a person that is in a wheelchair and therefore can’t run, hide, or fight easily?  They also disabled the comment section on the YouTube platform, which is unfortunate, in my opinion. How else will they learn what people thought about the content?  Nonetheless, the video is compelling. It made me consider my own exit and/or hide plan.

Does your agency have any videos ready for production? Let me know!

Is Your Social Network Ready for a Disaster?

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)  recently sponsored a Facebook app contest with the goal of  getting people to designate friends or family to be their lifeline after a disaster.  The concept was born out the notion that people already turn to their social networks in a crisis for support,  so why not create a way for folks to think about this before an event. The winning application is called bReddi and it is quite innovative: the developers not only integrate the concept of lifelines into the product, but they also promote personal preparedness activities, coupled with information about specific geographic risks and hazards.

There are 3 things I think they executed really well.

1. Buttons and Badges

Most government emergency management  websites contain information about how to prepare for a disaster presented as a list of items the citizen should accomplish. These lists are often static without anyway for the person to either track their progress, enter the information, or be rewarded once completed. This app, however, not only provides the all-important to-do list, but allows the user to type their content directly into the app and see their progress via a status bar of percent complete. For anyone who attended grade school, seeing a 0% on what looks like a report card strikes up not only a little fear, but a desire to make it go away. Once completed, users are rewarded with a badge to be proudly displayed on their Facebook page. The badge serves two  purposes, it alerts the user’s Facebook friends to the app and provides another incentive to finish.

2. Risk and hazard information is prominently featured.

Often, information about hazards is  divorced from information  about preparedness.  The bReddi app, however, connects the user to the hazards they could experience based on their  location–which is obtained from the Facebook profile. The home “dashboard” not only lists these potential hazards, but the content is linked to a live FEMA newsfeed. (This is actually a little bit of a criticism for me–I think it would be a bit better if the content came from more local sources, however, I understand that there were probably development constraints. Maybe V2 will provide this feature.) The “history” tab also provides a visualization of regional historical-disaster data for 8 different hazards: flood, tornado, fire, earthquake, hurricane, pandemic, terrorism, and volcanoes.

Historical and real-time disaster data is displayed on the home tab as well, which not only gives the user a personal “threat summary” but also illustrates the threat summary for favorite friends and the national average. Seeing a national average is not necessarily useful information, since a threat of fire in California does not threaten me here in Maryland, however, seeing the threat scale for  friends might provoke me to invite others to the app. For example, Bill Boyd, a fellow blogger, has a bit of yellow on his scale where mine was all green, prompting me to want to encourage him to prepare. (As a side note, Bill is a firefighter and already well prepared, I’m sure!) This illustrates how the developers considered the concept of shared responsibility: I see my friends are in danger, I can help them prepare by sharing this app…brilliant.

3.  Design

The entire app has a pleasing user interface, easy to understand graphics, and easily executable tasks. The content can also be taken offline by printing out a wallet-sized emergency info card.

One tiny criticism, I do wish they would explain to the user what is involved in being someone’s “lifeline.” What does that mean for the designee? What responsibilities does that entail? Although I think this information is explained on the companies’ website, it should be spelled out in the app itself more prominently.

I am now curious how local governments might take advantage of this app. Will you direct your citizens to it? Let me know.

Social Media in House DHS Appropriations Bill for 2013

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: Washington, DC, June 10, 2009 -- Mich...

English: Washington, DC, June 10, 2009 — Michael Moore and Mike McCormack train on video software at the first FEMA multimedia workshop at FEMA Headquarters. FEMA brought videographers into the training so they could learn new methods of story telling and keep up with the expansion of the use of social media tools. FEMA/Bill Koplitz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading the great post today in the National Journal about the Joplin 2011 Tornado, what really caught my eye, however, was this paragraph:

“If the House version of the bill appropriating FEMA’s budget for 2013 becomes law, Fugate will have to show that the agency has a plan for deploying social media. A provision requires FEMA to improve its ability to collect data in real time through social-media monitoring and messaging and directs the agency to produce a report on the utility of social media in disaster response.”

Whoa. I’m sure this is old news–I have been under a bit of a rock lately–meaning I’ve been traveling too much, but here is a link and the specific language from the Library of Congress :

“Real-time information gathering is critical in the wake of a natural disaster. Enabling first responders to utilize the most recent, up-to-date data is a key component to ensuring emergency response efforts. One way to collect real-time data is through the emergence of publicly available, social network messaging to provide insight into the aftermath of natural disasters. The Committee understands FEMA is examining ways in which to expand the application of this type of real-time data collection through social media as well as other uses of social media during disasters. As social media continues to become an even more powerful tool, the Committee directs DHS and FEMA to harness and apply these capabilities in support of its emergency management mission. The Committee directs the Administrator of FEMA to provide a report to the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House detailing efforts to use social media in disaster response activities no later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act.”


The Automation Modernization account funds major information technology projects for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


The Committee recommends $58,048,000 for automation modernization, the amount requested under `Salaries and Expenses’ for the Office of the Chief Information Officer. Public Law 112-74 requires FEMA to submit to Congress a strategy for a comprehensive plan to automate and modernize their information systems. Using this plan and the information FEMA incorporated into the Office of Management and Budget’s `IT Dashboard,’ the Committee directs FEMA to fund all automation modernization programs from within this new appropriation. This new appropriation will facilitate better oversight of automation programs.

According to the `IT Dashboard’, FEMA has $271,700,000 in fiscal year 2013 for information technology, to include three programs classified as `major investment.’ However, the Committee is unable to identify how these programs are funded in the fiscal year 2013 budget. This new account will therefore provide the visibility needed in this area of investment. FEMA is encouraged to work with the Committee prior to the submission of the fiscal year 2014 budget request to delineate the specific programs and types of activities to include in this account.

Get those proposals ready!

Social Networks and Collaborative Resilience

Post by: Kim Stephens

Gloria Mark and Bryan Semaan in their 2008 study “Resilience in Collaboration: Technology as a Resource for New Patterns of Action”  found that in communities that have been disrupted (they focused on war zones) “technology played a major role in providing people with alternate resources to reconstruct, modify, and develop new routines, or patterns of action for work and socializing.”  Prophetically, they stated in their conclusion that they envision a system where people could simply give status updates regarding their well-being after a crisis.  Furthermore, they predicted crisismapping: “our data also point to the potential of utilizing collective intelligence in providing online information about the disrupted area. For example, people could collectively update a satellite map online with up-to-the minute information on local disruptions in their area.”

As Mark and Semaan indicated, resilience is defined as the ability to cope with an unexpected situation and “bounce back.” But… “new ways of using resources to be resilient [has] led to the emergence of new structures with consequences for work and social lives.” They provide several examples, for instance, in Iraq a University student video taped classes for friends who could not travel to campus after curfew: that practice became adopted and formalized by the institution.

Fast forward four years and we clearly see the  major role technology plays in fostering collective resilience. These “new structures” regarding how people communicate and collaborate have penetrated society–war zone or not. After a disaster,  information communication technologies that require very little, if any, actual technical skill have leveled the playing field regarding who can provide “information aid,” and have also allowed people to organize themselves in ways previously unimagined.  I’m not quite sure we in the emergency management community have fully grasped this impact nor have we adapted or adjusted our systems to take this into account .

For me, FEMA‘s use of the tool “Aid Matrix” provides an example of the disconnect.   AidMatrix is designed to match volunteers and donations with organizations who distribute those items. This software solution seems to be designed for mostly large corporate contributions, although citizens can contribute monetary donations to the list of “leading organizations in humanitarian relief”.  Regarding non-monetary donations, they state:

Please keep in mind that leading relief organizations typically seek sizable, bulk donations only when they meet the service delivery needs of a particular relief operation.

AidMatrix also allows for volunteers to match their skills  to organizations working in the impacted area… in theory. The portal, however, isn’t spun up for every event and I have heard complaints that even when it is used, it isn’t stood up quickly enough. People state that they find out about the tool around the time the event is over, see pic of the tweets from two people from the #SMEM (social media and emergency management) twitter community. Other concerns focus on the low rate of adoption and use. To my knowledge the portal is rarely, if ever used during events that do not meet the threshold for a disaster declaration.

 The recent April 16th tornado in Oklahoma also provides an illustration: searching the portal by state, the potential donor or volunteer receives the following message: “The Volunteer Portal is not currently active for Oklahoma“.  In contrast, the  Woodward Tornado Info (WTI) Facebook page most certainly is active, with over 2000 fans. The page is administered by Amber Wolanski, who also stood up the Joplin Tornado Information page. WTI was ready to go within hours of the event, no MOU or paperwork required. The community has utilized the collaborative space to post about needs of those impacted and even to broadcast information about a missing teen (unrelated to the tornado).

This type of Facebook page should no longer be news: this is the new normal. When there is a crisis people will stand up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to help match those with the desire to help with those in need. In the words of the scholars mentioned above, people are adapting existing technology to meet the pressing needs of the event.  Those of us in emergency management should embrace this newfound resilience, but how?  There are admitted limitations to matching needs to resources through a Facebook page. As a follow-up post I’m going to discuss one community-based, bottom-up donations management solution that was also born out of a tornado event. Stay tuned.