Tag Archives: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Bloggers collaborate to comment and expand on the SMEM camp report

Post by: Kim Stephens

Last March the first “Social Media for Emergency Management Camp” took place in conjunction with the mid-year NEMA conference in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. There were many objectives for the camp, but the overarching goal was simply to gather people together who were interested in discussing the impact social media and emerging technologies are having on the response community as a whole. Heather Blanchard, in a stroke of genius, recommended that we enlist the aid of a research team, led by Dr. Clarence Wardell of CNA’s office of Safety and Security, to document the effort.  CNA, is “a non-profit institution that conducts high-level, in-depth research and analysis to inform the important work of public sector decision makers”.

The team listened to our discussions as we organized the camp, captured the data from the camp itself (including tweets from actual and virtual participants), and then researched the topic in-depth, as evidenced by their 74 cited references.  The result of their effort is an in-depth analysis on the role of social media in the realm of emergency management and its potential as a transformative technology. The 46 page report is entitled: “2011 Social Media + Emergency Management Camp: Transforming the Response Enterprise“.

In the report, Dr. Wardell et al. outline three major findings from camp discussions and catalog six recommendations they felt would need to be implemented in order to close the gap between  the current state of social media usage for emergency management and the desired state. The authors do not necessarily identify who should be closing this gap–in some instances the “who” could refer to researchers (e.g. “establishing a baseline on social media usage via a survey of domestic EM agencies”); in other instances “who” could be the SMEM community itself.

There are several of us who blog about SMEM. We have created a collaboration to divide up each of these findings and recommendations and examine them in detail.  Look below to find links to these posts.

Three Key findings:

  1. Eric Holdeman (@Eric_holdeman),  of Emergency Management Magazine’s Disaster Zone, discusses “[T]he need—akin to FEMA’s whole community initiative—to redefine the domestic response enterprise to be more inclusive of all response stakeholders.”  
  2. Cheryl Bledsoe (@CherylBle) on sm4em.org takes on another finding: “The need to identify the relationships between system inputs and the effect of those relationships on the transformation of the response enterprise.”
  3. Gerald Baron on the Crisis Comm blog talks about “[T]he need to define future goals for a domestic response enterprise, particularly as it relates to the integration of new technologies and their associated effects.”
Six Recommendations:
Using social media for emergency response

Image by BC Gov Photos via Flickr

1. Jim Garrow (@jgarrow) at “The Face of the Matter”  talks about demonstrating value. The recommendation from the report states that we need to
“Expand prior work on social influences on citizen preparedness and response behavior to include the effect of social networks when coupled with various messaging strategies. Presumably, the ability to “view” the behavior of others in a given social network will have an effect on citizen decision-making beyond that of messages delivered through traditional media. Concrete data on the extent to which this is true and can be measured stand to bolster the case for increased investment.”
2. Bill Boyd (@chiefb2) at “It’s Not My Emergency” discusses the decidedly sexy topic of “Operational benefits” which is also related to demonstrating value. From the report, we need to
“Demonstrate the value of integrating social media into operations by capturing improvements in the speed and effectiveness of response. Such a demonstration is critical to gaining buy-in. One area where these improvements can potentially be seen most clearly is in real- time disaster relief routing and logistics decision-making. Information gathered through social media platforms could help lead to the development of a set of meaningful metrics as well.”
3. Patrice Cloutier tackles the recommendation that SM should be used more during exercises and real-world events. His post discusses the use of the medium in Canada and in recent events, including Hurricane Irene. The report recommendation states specifically:
“Continue efforts to integrate social media tools and data into response exercises.These efforts are critical not only to understanding the value of social media, but also to creating a level of comfort in their use by emergency managers. In addition, efforts to capture the role of social media and the response ofVTCs through post-event analysis and after-action reports should be funded and formalized before an event occurs.
4. I’m discussing the need for knowledge sharing and education.
“Make the continued creation and refinement of training and knowledge-sharing opportunities for emergency management practitioners a priority.The 2011 SMEM Camp format was an experiment that was well received by the majority of participants.”
The other two recommendations  include
  • “Baseline Establishment: Conduct a survey of domestic emergency management agencies to provide a baseline of social media and mobile technology capabilities (e.g., How many agencies in the United States are currently attempting to use social media tools, and of the ones that are, how are they using them?).” and
  • “Reliability and usefulness: Underlying the issue of social media’s value are issues of data reliability and usefulness. Determine thresholds for data corruption and general reliability in response, as defined through post-event analysis, because they are essential to obtaining the buy-in of leadership at all levels of government.”

Be sure to join the #smemchat today (11/11/2011) where we will discuss these findings and celebrate the one year anniversary of that tag on twitter. The tag has been a great place over the past year for the emergency management community to convene to debate this topic in-depth on a daily basis. Read Cheryl’s great post about the history of that hashtag. 

Still not convinced Social Media is important? Read Craig Fugate’s Testimony

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

Here is the link to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate’s written statement of his testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Repsonse and Communications. The stated topic was FEMA’s progress since the enactment of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) five years ago.

On page 7 he states the importance of social media and mobile communications:

“Looking to the emergency communications of the future, FEMA is also developing a next- generation infrastructure for alert and warning capabilities, known as PLAN (Personal Localized Alerting Network). Cell phones are data centers, capable of quickly accessing and storing a large amount of information. One of the major lessons we learned from the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti was that even if the physical infrastructure of an area is completely destroyed, the cellular infrastructure may be able to bounce back quickly, allowing emergency managers to relay important disaster-related information and enabling the public to request help from local first responders. This new, free public safety system allows customers with an enabled mobile device to receive geographically targeted messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area whether nearby cell phone towers are jammed or not.

We are also expanding our use of social media tools. Social media is an important part of the Whole Community approach because it helps facilitate the vital two-way communication between emergency management agencies and the public, and it allows us to quickly and specifically share information with state, local, territorial, and tribal governments as well as the public. FEMA uses multiple social media technologies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach the public. Rather than asking the public to change the way they communicate to fit our system, we are adapting the way we do business to fit the way the public already communicates. We value social media tools not only because they allow us to send important disaster-related information to the people who need it, but also because they allow us to incorporate critical updates from the individuals who experience the on-the-ground reality of a disaster.”

Using Social Media to Aid Recovery

Puyallup, WA, February 9, 2009 -- Located at t...

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Social Media and Emergency Management chat last Friday, July 29 focused on SM and recovery and was moderated by Pascal Schuback, an emergency manager from a large county in Washington State. The transcript is 31 pages long–we were chatty.

My favorite question:  “Recovery is always a challenge to work prior to an event? How are we preparing tools/protocols/training & awareness before hand?” Of course this question is much broader than just the use of social media, and speaks to me about civic engagement in general. I think @tusnamisteph was correct in pointing us to the recent post by ICMA: “Can Social Media Reinvigorate Civic Participation?” Before a community has experienced a disaster it is sometimes difficult to get  in-the-flesh participation (unless, of course, the issues involves taxes–but that’s a different blog). Increasingly community leaders are turning to social networks, including online public forums, in order to gain input and insight from those they serve.

Social sites are important because most static city or county web pages provide very limited capability for engagement, e.g. “send an email” doesn’t allow for a conversation. (See this blog post by a local gov official in England-How digital tools can help connect a Mayor.) Even with these tools, however, the ICMA article points out how input is sometimes still limited to a few, very active individuals (maybe just a few more than normally show up in person).

But these same local governments need to be prepared for the marked increase in the level of input and desire to participate after a crisis.  This is where the “preparing tools” question is salient.  If your community is not using these tools before an event it will be more difficult to implement them afterwards–although not impossible.  Including citizen engagement, I see 3 ways web-enabled communications help in the recovery process.

1. Matching Needs with Resources

The town of Joplin (which recently suffered a historic tornado) provides a great example of how recovery is increasingly social. My favorite example, which I’ve mentioned before, is Rebuild Joplin. This site, which is designed as collaborative platform, lists as its partners the City of Joplin, Joplin Schools, and a multitude on non-governmental organizations. This list also reminds us that it’s really more about relationships than it is about the tool. Their stated goal: “...to support the long term recovery efforts of Joplin residents and businesses. This effort is strengthened by a collaborative approach. RebuildJoplin.org is a central location for finding six recommended local funds that are committed to the long term recovery of Joplin.”  Affected community members are not only able to quickly find access to donated resources but the FAQ tab is a literal one-stop-shop of information. People can find links and advise about all aspects of recovery from “Do I need to sort my debris?” to “What documents will FEMA need from my insurance?”.  For those wishing to donate, a list of community needs and reputable organizations are listed.

Rebuild Joplin also has a Facebook page with over 7,000 fans. Their presence is open, allowing anyone  to post to their page; the posts currently up are completely appropriate, involving information about donations or community recovery events.

The question for communities: Can you build this type of platform before an event? Some are people are trying to do just that, including Pascal Schuback, the chat moderator, who indicated that he is building a site using Ushahidi software. Another person, James Hamilton of Cecil County, Maryland, is looking into a Ushahidi deployment as well, and I’ve also heard rumors about something similar in Northern Virginia. Would these sites be publicly available pre-crisis? Pascal indicated that his would. I think if a site, similar to Rebuild Joplin, was able to list community needs as well as community resources everyday–people would use it and respond favorably. Site administration questions would need to be ironed out, however.

2. Gaining input from Citizens

Facebook has also played a small role in how the community is gaining information for its Citizen Advisory Recovery Team. After the in-person meeting announcements were put up on a local news organization’s FB page, people posted their comments straight to that site. These comments were mined and fed into the final draft. I wonder aloud why they didn’t ask for these comments on their own “City of Joplin” FB page where the event was also announced? Providing an opportunity for citizens to give their input virtually is even more important after a crisis because some members of the population may be displaced and temporarily living in another community. Their displacement, however, would not diminish their desire to have their voices heard.

The city’s own Facebook page, nonetheless, is being used as place to post recovery information and, to a limited extent, as an informal forum for people to ask questions. Another interesting point is that the page is the City’s page, not one of its agency’s, such as local Emergency Management. (Who’s page to use to broadcast recovery info is another planning consideration.) 

The City’s FB page also connects people who are interested in helping with those who need assistance–although recently they posted that there are more volunteers than there are needs.

3. Allowing for Micro-Donations

Another great aspect of social media and recovery is the ability for horizontal distribution of resources, by which I mean the ability for donors to give goods or funding straight to organizations they are interested in helping. This is in stark contrast to a vast “recovery fund” and allows people to really target their donations. This sort of giving reminds me in a way of micro-loans. For example, there is a FB fan page explicitly to collect donations for the Joplin High School band.  They are using the FundRazr app on the site which allows people to donate as much or as little as they can.

Even school districts are posting info on their social media sites about how to donate directly. 

In conclusion, since this has gotten to be a very long post, I can sum up the sentiment from the chat in one sentence:  have a plan in place for how you might use social tools for recovery…start before a crisis.

Related articles

Aussies Establish a Wiki to Distribute Social Media Best Practices

Social Media Strategy Transit Map

Image by Intersection Consulting via Flickr

Post by: Kim Stephens

Social media is still somewhat new for emergency management and related disciplines and therefore sharing information and best practices (and even failures) continues to be important. This is one of the goals I have for my own blog and is a driving force behind a lot of great sites: Canadian Patrice Cloutier’s Crisis Comms Command Post, 999socialmedia from Great Britain, Cheryl Bledsoe’s  sm4em.org, Jim Garrow’s blog The Face of the Matter,  as well as the U.S. DHS  sponsored First Responder’s Community of Practice (FRCOP). (The problem with a list is that you inevitably leave someone out–see my blog roll for a longer list.)

As can be gleaned from my list, lessons and best practices do not have to be limited to the United States. Earlier this year I wrote extensively about Australia and the Queensland Police Service‘s use of social media during the unprecedented flooding in January and then the subsequent Tsunami. Their example is truly something to be emulated and they continue to be a world leader in the use of social media for emergency management. These disasters spurred the Gov 2.0 (gov2qld) initiative in Queensland to explore how social media was used in disasters and to determine how best to share those lessons as well as new “learnings”.  They decided a Wiki would be the best platform not only for knowledge sharing but also for collaboration. The platform that was ultimately created is for use by all disciplines and stakeholders: emergency, government, not for profit, community, business, education and media. They also were interested in including  the public in order to ensure they have the knowledge “to use social media to better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.”Find their site here: Emergency 2.0 wiki.

As a side note, this effort really highlights how social media has brought collaboration and cooperation across emergency managers internationally. I love the fact that they have the #SMEM twitter hashtag rolling on their opening page. They also list many U.S. blogs (including my own and sm4em.org) on their resource page. Many in the Australian Emergency Management community also participate on the #SMEM hashtag (but not the chats since they are in the middle of the night for them). The hashtag is where I first saw them announce the wiki.

International collaboration is certainly one of FEMA’s goals. Just today, on the FEMA blog, they posted about International Partnerships and discussed how the Administrator Fugate and Deputy Administrator Serino met with they Russian emergency management counterparts in Boston.  “Unbeknownst to many, building and strengthening our partnerships with the international community is a large focus for us at FEMA.” We,  it seems,  in the SMEM community, have somewhat unwittingly created international collaboration as well. As the FEMA blog post stated:

“We may live in vastly different places, but we’re part of the same team – and we have a lot to learn from each other in the international community.”

Watch this video about how the QLD wiki got started and the goals for their site.

Emergency Managers should find their funny bone.

Post by: Kim Stephens

Reaching the public with preparedness and mitigation information has always been difficult. The Federal Emergency Management Agency even tried to address this problem with a crowdsourced project: Sharing the Responsibility to Protect Communities Against the Impacts of Disasters This government “challenge” offered no monetary incentive, but they received 188 submissions, nonetheless. (CDCs Flu App Challenge, in contrast, is offering $35,000 in prizes.)

THE CHALLENGE: To come up with ideas on how we can all help prepare our communities before disaster strikes and how the government can support community-based activities to help everyone be more prepared.

Looking through the submissions, there is everything from “Air Port Kitchens for cooking,”  to “Disaster Preparedenss Tax Credit,” to a “Just-in Time Disaster Registry”. Full disclosure, I also submitted an idea that utilizes social media called  “Peer-to-Peer Preparedness.”A lot of these proposals have tremendous merit, but I doubt any one item will be the magic bullet.

Social media is already serving as a platform for emergency management programs to communicate preparedness and mitigation information, but to be honest,  it is difficult to get people to pay attention to your sites when there is not a crisis. How can “be ready” possibly compete with a stalking cat–which has gotten over 21,000,000 million views! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzzjgBAaWZw&feature=related

One recommendation I would have to gain more viewers is simple: be funny. Of course, what is humorous and what is not is up for debate and even research; see this  article: An examination of Cognitive Factors Related to Humorousness in Television Advertising. However, watching this video of a TV-fisherman-personality, I realized that people of all ages (from my 80 year-old dad to my 14 year-old daughter) find this funny.  If the message was “don’t be this guy, do XYZ instead,” it might be a way to reach people.

I’m under no illusion that this would immediately solve our lack of interest in disaster preparedness in the U.S., but a funny personality to carry the message might be a good start to at least promote awareness.  Find the funniest person in your office and think about how to gain viewers through the power of laughter.

SMEM chat: Monitoring Social Networks–how do we listen?

Post by: Kim Stephens

This week the SMEM chat topic was: “How we use social media in an emergency and how do we listen?”  This is an important topic–as someone pointed out, one of the first emergency responders to adopt social media, Brian Humphrey of LAFD, once stated that  70% of Social Media is active listening. Click here for transcript on “What the Hashtag”.

Q1: Do different emergencies require different kind of monitoring?

Yes and no, the tools are probably the same, especially since there aren’t that many monitoring tools available. But different types of events probably require different tactics–for example, a natural disaster vs. a man-made or terrorist-type event; or a fluid vs static crisis. Chris Hall who monitors events daily, explains that  during a fluid event such as a wildfire, keeping up with situational awareness via mapping is very important. In contrast, after the Japan quake, the tactics included identification of victims in the affected area, rescue needs and first aid needs. This was followed by identification of needs of the survivors, such as shelter, food, water, etc.

Kate Starbird of “Tweak the Tweet” who also monitors SM daily, suggested that differences that do matter seem to be notice vs. no-notice crisis events, as well as the number of people affected, geographic location, culture and language.

Of course, in a terrorist type event, Chris points out that you will need to be listening to see if anyone is trying to intentionally propagate misinformation. Additionally, information coming from response organizations probably will be much more guarded.

Follow on Q: Does your strategy change given the scale of an emergency if so, how?

Large events require more of everything, including the need to listen more. This might require more listeners, which of course led to the question of who will be available to help with that task? See thorough discussion of this point below. Also, Chris pointed out that during a large-scale event people from all over the world will be listening.

Q3: Do different channels get different info?

This is an interesting question which really points to why you, as a response organization, can’t just be wedded to one type of social media platform. The CDC, for example, uses 17 different social media tools–and I’m probably understating the number. In Japan, facebook and twitter aren’t the most popular social media platforms.

This discussion, however, quickly went into a facebook vs. twitter convo. Wendi Pickford suggested that you can explain information more in-depth on FB than on twitter, and therefore you can squash rumors a little easier there. Others, including Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross, seemed to think FB was more important for relationship building.

Twitter Monitoring:

On twitter, the tools for listening are fairly straightforward, including following the hashtags people are using for the crisis; following key actors such as community leaders, local media, other response organizations; and by using matrix tools (such as tweetdeck) to follow multiple streams of info. Other tools, such as google realtime search don’t even require that you have a twitter account to follow what’s happening. These are all mostly free tools, but there are some vendors that are now selling applications that incorporate SM monitoring and data into their overall situational awareness platforms. But if cost is a concern, organizations can start monitoring with the free tools first.

Facebook Monitoring:

Facebook is much different mainly because it is often presumed that you cannot monitor people’s pages unless you are personal “friends”– even if they are one of your fans.  Kate Starbird mentioned how FB is difficult to monitor due to stricter privacy policies, as well as the fact that there’s no real ability to aggregate data from FB sites “Facebook doesn’t allow collection/monitoring, except in-house.”

But @EmergencyTraffic pointed to some tools you can use to monitor facebook–linked above.  As I’ve noted before, if your response organization attracts people to your page as the “go to” source for information, then people will post situational awareness information as comments–especially if you asked specific questions.

But, I have found that some FB pages are not necessarily even monitored very well on a daily basis. This example on the right is from a state emergency management organization’s page. They have allowed a young woman to post questionable content to their wall. This has been up for seven days and is still one of the first posts you see when going to their site. Some would use this example as an excuse why they shouldn’t engage at all, so I’d like to make three quick points:

  1. Your policy should state that people canNOT advertise on your page.
  2. Monitor often enough so that you can remove  irrelevant postings.
  3. Don’t allow people to post to the wall, just in the comment section.

Q4: Resources—staffing and volunteers–how do we get the people to make this work? Many EOCs don’t have enough people to do their planned tasks, so who listens to the SM channels?


  1. 911 operators? I’ve heard some organization hint that maybe 911 operators would be the right resource for monitoring SM platforms. Most people on the chat, however, thought that was not the way to go since they are under-resourced to begin with and the skills necessary for monitoring and analyzing the data are not part of their normal functions. So would the answer lie in virtual volunteers instead? (See this article tweet 911, tweet 911 by @chiefb2, for a thorough discussion of the challenges associated with of this approach.)
  2. City County Employees: Chris suggested starting with city/county employees, who are already trusted–e.g. public works employees. Heather Blanchard calls this concept “sourcing your own crowd”. My concern, would be that their contracts would precluded them from this type of additional duty, particularly when incorporating the necessary training. It might work, however, if they volunteered and understood that they wouldn’t necessarily be compensated for the time.  But I can see the can of worms this might open.
  3. Local citizens who use social media. Cheryl Bledsoe suggested that EMs should be collaborating before a crisis with local heavy social media users. Jim Garrow indicated that Ozarks Red Cross and @MRCPhilly are planning to use volunteers for the monitoring function. I love what Kate Starbird said, however: “Real solution lies in combination [of] human computation, plus tools (crowd).”

4. CERT: This comment from Administrator Fugate led to a robust conversation about the role of CERT for social media monitoring. Some suggested it was not only a great idea, but was already happening (e.g. http://twitter.com/ecert).  Some suggested this concept could be broadened to include CERT members reporting observations through SM platforms such as preliminary damage assessments. But in order to make CERT SM monitoring a reality for most locations, standard training protocols would probably need to be established.  This new role would also have to be integrated into plans and exercises.

Cheryl Bledsoe, EM from Washington, stated that they don’t use CERT for SM monitoring “…because CERT, by theory, is self-deploying and not tasked out directly by the EOC.” She also noted that being able to use CERT or not would directly relate to their proficiency in the medium. To be honest with ourselves, most CERT members are not people who enjoy using these platforms in their daily lives. However, would this new function attract a different kind of volunteer? Maybe someone who might find this type of work more interesting than the normal CERT roles. Or, as Kate Starbird asked, could there be a special class of CERT just for social media monitoring?  But Cheryl asked, “Is this role, already being filled by organizations such as CrisisCommons?”

5. HAM radio operators: Others suggested using HAM radio operators for SM monitoring, and this is a discussion we have about every other week. Some people think it’s a great idea, others, not so much. It probably depends on the local HAMs these folks know personally.

6. Pre-trained EOC volunteers: Marcus Deyerin went in an entirely different direction, he stated that some OEMs use pre-trainined EOC volunteer support teams. So it might be “[e]asy to add SM monitoring positions to these groups.”

Alicia asked as a finally question: Why? Chris Hall summed it up: it’s expected, it’s important to the mission, and it improves situational awareness.

Follow up discussions recommended:

  • @densaer stated: “I think we need to reevaluate the role of PIOs re EM. More like intel functions.”
  • Via Patrice Cloutier: NIMS and other docs will have to be reviewed re; SM and roles in JIC for example.
  • eCERT training to monitor SM platforms (a toolkit: policy, best practices, all in one location).
  • Strategies for overcoming liability concerns with using volunteers to monitor SM for your response organization. (An already suggested strategy: “[having] a good plan and meaningful training.” via Kris Hoffman
  • Communicating through social media channels during the recovery phase.
  • Which elements of the response “own” the inbound and outbound messaging? via @dshawnfenn

A big thanks goes to the host Alicia Johnson, Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Urban Area, as well as everyone who took time out of their busy days to engage. As always, I participated, but most of the thoughts expressed in this summary are not my own.

Links and resources for monitoring mentioned during the chat:


Here’s what I learned at the SMEM camp: March, 2011.

Post by Kim Stephens,

The SMEM community chats on Fridays at 12:30EST, we share daily on the SMEM hashtag articles and info,  but this week marked the first time this community came together, in person, in the style of a crisis “camp”.  I was describing how the camp came to be to one of the participants and I kept using the word “we” and “us”.   “We” organized the breakouts; some of “us” approached NEMA to allow for the day in conjuction with their National Conference; “we” will be organzing other similar events. A particpant stopped me and said: “Who is WE?” So, if you are wondering the same thing, here’s how “we” have defined ourselves on the CrisisCommons wiki page:

SMEM is an open community with participants from federal, state and local crisis management entities and those who support domestic incident response systems including private sector, non-government organizations (NGO), technology volunteer communities and individuals.
In November 2010 a group of people coalesced around this idea, established the #SMEM hashtag and a theme “bridging Social Media and Emergency Management”.#SMEM seeks to build a common understanding and “experience exchange” to support the use and inclusion of social media, public data and technology innovation to support mission objectives of emergency management to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate against disasters.

Why does this group feel compelled to volunteer their time, effort and often personal expense (particularly when traveling this week) in order to advance this agenda? I think this one tweet might say it all. If 500,00 people are going to social media platforms in a crisis in the first 24 hours, we, as the emergency managment community need to be prepared to comunicate in that medium.

So what did this meeting accomplish? The stated goal was simply: “To discuss social media and new technology’s integration into the disaster continuum, in public, private and non-governmental organizations; to examine issues, opportunities, and challenges surrounding this new form of communications; and to lay the foundation for the development of solutions to questions and concerns raised by the emergency management community.”

Lea Shanley and I were responsible for the session on policy, “Perceived barriers and proposed solutions”. I think we really addressed the latter part of that objective “questions and concerns”.  The thing I found the most fascinating was how limiting these barriers really can be. One local government representative told our break-out group that they engage in social media at all times–expect during a crisis. Here’s how she described it: “Let’s say, we tell people they should evacuate because we heard through social media channels that a fire had shifted and was now headed in their direction. But then, the fire shifts while they are evacuating and now they are in harms way. We could be liable for giving them wrong information.” So instead of having to worry about how to monitor social media and how to put out timely information, they shut it off altogether. That was very interesting and a little depressing, frankly, to hear.

The other impression I got from some of the attendees in my session was that for some organizations, it’s just too hard. They described the barriers as too high. These barriers include: how to protect personal privacy data; how to archive the information; how to keep the public from using it as a 911 system; how to keep out the trolls that add horrible information to your page–e.g. they are uncomfortable with the “social” aspect altogether; how to treat the information as a record; how do we write all of these policies with limted staff/resources. I think the overarching theme could be summarized as follows: How do we keep from getting sued? However, despite these seemingly impassable obstacles, we  were able to walk away with a sense that amongst all of this anxiety, there is opportunity.

3 Opporunities to move past these perceived barriers:

1. Engage senior leaders to discuss benefits of social media as another means of communication. If an organization’s senior leaders, to include the political leadership, can understand the importance of engaging the community through these social platforms, then and only then, will they be willing to put effort into overcoming these barriers. Furthermore, by taking the mystique out of the medium, senior leaders might better understand why it’s important (e.g. people kept referring to how these barriers had to be overcome when email was introduced). The folks in attendance did think that overall, it can be demonstrated that the pros of social media do outweigh the cons.

2. Demonstrate value through examples in other cities, counties and states and get a mentor to help you through the process. Best practice examples are always a great way to demonstrate value, but I think Shayne Adamski from FEMA, made a great suggestion in his final summary at the end of the day. He said, find a mentor from another city to guide you. The camp was the first step in that mentoring process, but more people can actively search out mentors from the SMEM hashtag. There’s always comfort in knowing that someone else is doing this, and learning from their experiences.

3. Find example policies and guidelines. Regarding policies in particular, there are many policies that have been written by other EM agencies (local or state). These can be used as a starting point in order to reduce the amount of effort an Agency’s legal team would need to devote to development. Many resources already exist, and attendess of the camp, now know where to find that information. I’ll list a few resources here: sm4em.org, my bibliography, and IACP Center for Social Media.

On a personal note, I have worked with the people on the SMEM tag since last November, and I knew how devoted and dedicated these people were already. But, having the pleasure to meet them in person was an amazing experience. This is most professional and committed group of people I have ever been associated with-ever.

Peer-to-Peer Preparedness: Entry to the FEMA Preparedness Challenge

Post and Challenge Entry by: Kim Stephens and Scott Reuter

Problem: Engaging teens with emergency preparedness information.

High school students often do not concern themselves with thoughts of disaster preparedness, unless of course, they have personally lived through one. The problem of reaching teens with emergency preparedness information can be addressed by making the content relevant and personal to their lives: But how?

Teens sharing stories about living through or preparing for an imminent disaster would encourage others, at a minimum, to think about hazards in their area, and at best, to help and encourage their families to prepare for those hazards.  The process of story-sharing would take advantage of the fact that teens seem to be most interested in information/content that comes from other teens. Kids have stories to tell: teens living in a high hurricane-risk area would have mostly likely evacuated or prepared to evacuate at some point in their lives, or kids in an earthquake regions might have experienced tremors and had to attach bookshelves to their walls.

But how do we encourage kids to share these stories in a relevant and somewhat structured way that will be seen by other teens as “cool”?

Solution: Create a scholarship contest to foster the development of student-produced disaster preparedness information in a multi-media format for national distribution.

Contest Objective: 1. Reach as many teens as possible with student-created content.

Contest Objective  2: To unleash student creativity. (Similar to how this FEMA Challenge has unleashed citizen creativity)

Contest Concept:

1. Use existing media outlets in schools, such as Channel One News or similar channel designed for high school distribution, to both announce the contest and the end result. This site, in particular, has many benefits:

  • It already has age-appropriate information, interactive games and quizzes about natural disasters.
  • The site has a “You Tell It” section for students to submit videos.
  • The site also has a large social media fan base of students with over 47,000 fans on their facebook page.
  • There is information on disasters and lesson plans for teachers.

2. Students would be encouraged to submit a video to the “you-tell-it” section.  The video would be judged on several criteria, such as:

  • Does the video help others understand what it’s like to be in a disaster?
  • Does the video show others how to prepare for a similar disaster?
  • Does the video help create awareness that training for disasters makes you more likely to take actions that can save your life – and others?

However, it should be noted: The more criteria the more stifling, therefore, standards will need to be carefully crafted.

3. Include popularity of video as 50% of the score. This is important for several reasons:

  • If students need others to view the video in order to win, they will pass the URL to their peers through existing social networks, their personal facebook pages, YouTube, twitter, etc.
  • Although there is no guarantee that the videos will go viral, there is a much greater chance of widespread viewership if popular vote is part of the award equation.

4. Award the school that wins the contest with scholarship funds that will be parceled out by the school’s administration. This will:

  • encourage schools to participate and encourage them to help students with the project.
  • allow for the schools to boast about the result (vs. an individual) and therefore, encourage even more viewership.
  • allow for easier dissemination of the award.

We’ll see how well this entry does in the contest. If it doesn’t win, I still believe it is a good concept that should be pursued.

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.

5 Ways to Use Social Media for Continuity of Business and Recovery

Autumn Mediterranean flooding in Alicante (Spa...

Image via Wikipedia

Pictures of business owners in Australia returning to flood-ruined buildings in an article entitled After the Deluge, are powerful reminders of why small businesses should be prepared. Imagine walking back into your place of business to find your computer covered in mud: not a good sign.

However, it seems that social media and emerging technologies, such as cloud commuting, can be utilized for disaster communications for small, and even larger businesses, as well as for disaster recovery. I looked at FEMA’s Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation Program to see what they had to say. The program, as described on FEMA’s website:

The Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS‑Prep) is mandated by Title IX of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (the Act.) Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a voluntary program of accreditation and certification of private entities using standards adopted by DHS that promote private sector preparedness, including disaster management, emergency management and business continuity programs. The purpose of the PS-Prep Program is to enhance nationwide resilience in an all-hazards environment by encouraging private sector preparedness.

I examined FEMA’s Continuity Guidance Circular I: for non-federal entities in order to determine if they had considered or provided recommendations regarding various new or emerging technologies for either communications or recovery. I was not surprised that social media was not explicitly mentioned since the document was published January 2009 (a millennium ago as for as SM is concerned). But there were three key points related to SM and emerging tech:

  1. “Planners should consider the resilience of their systems to operate in disaster scenarios that may include power and other infrastructure problems.”
  2. “Organizations may expand or migrate, as appropriate, their communications capabilities, to make use of emerging technologies, but organizations should ensure that any additional communications capabilities they may obtain are compatible with existing equipment and complement the established requirements.”
  3. “Geographic dispersion of leadership, data storage, personnel, and other capabilities may be essential to the performance of essential functions following a catastrophic event and will enable operational continuity during an event that requires social distancing (e.g., pandemic influenza and other biological events).”

This document has a good for list of issues that businesses need to be aware of… but, it doesn’t quite give a “how-to”. So I checked ready.gov for businesses. Again, there are some really great checklists, but I couldn’t find any mention of emerging technologies nor any specific recommendations.

I understand a Federal Agency’s hesitancy to recommend third-party applications, so the best instructions I found were in an article by Chris Brogan, a social media consultant that works with Fortune 500 companies etc. His article addressed how to run your company from your kitchen table, and although he doesn’t mention disasters, its application to COB seemed obvious to me. Read the article, but I’ve quoted him here liberally. His key recommendations mixed with a few of my own:

1. Use Cloud Technologies: Brogan states “My notes are stored in Evernote. Why? Because I can read them on my laptop, on my computer over in the office, on my Android phone, etc. My important work files are stored inDropbox for the same reason… I need things where I’m working. When I create new files, I use Google Docs, so that I know they’re safe and sound and accessible wherever I can get a web browser.”

Continuity Central also reports that – “Companies that utilize public cloud storage are far more likely to have a superior disaster recovery program. Forty-six percent of public cloud storage users were found to have the highest performing disaster recovery programs.” Read their entire report here.

2. Create a presence on the Web with a “storefront”.  This will potentially allow you to stay in business even if your actual storefront is 6 feet underwater (depending, of course, on the  type of business–sandwiches are hard to make virtually). Creating a webpage has become increasingly less expensive with companies like: WebStorefront.net and intuit.com.

3. Mobile Computing: Brogan, “Between smartphones and the iPad (and other tablet computers), we have devices that let us do our business where the action is… If we need to take money remotely, we can use Square.” I also found that Intuit offers an iPhone apps called “go-payment” that allows you to accept payment with a credit card straight from you iPhone.

Brogan again: “You can schedule simple interactive meetings with GoToMeeting (note: they’re a client) on your iPad, use Skype as a video phone or even as instant messaging on your mobile device. There are plenty of other business applications that free you from having to work in front of a desktop or laptop for a good chunk of the day.” PiratePad is another great free tool for hosting meetings. A website will also enable you to keep your customers updated regarding your physical location, if necessary.

My recommendations:

4. Use Social Media Sites for Communications– With 500 million people on facebook, there is a good chance that most of your employees are there as well. If you have a facebook page create a group for employees only. This might allow another avenue for employees to keep in touch after they have evacuated, for example after a storm. The facebook page could also be used to update customers regarding your situation, e.g. when you’ll be open again, how much damage you sustained, etc. Open and honest communications are key.

5. Use Social media sites to get situational awareness updates:  If most communications networks are down, you might not be able to get a call through, but your employees could probably send out a tweet.  For example, if a tornado goes through the town where one of your sandwich shops are located and you are wondering if it is still standing, make it a part of your Standard Operating Procedures for your manager to send a tweet with a pic of the building (if possible) or just a status update. All employees could check-in as to their personal status as well. Tweets will alleviate the need for a call-tree, which not only take a lot of time, but tie up phones lines needed for emergency services.

My final recommendation is that you employ these technologies and procedures before a crisis occurs. For instance, if you are planning on using a “check-in” type system, then create a quarterly test  to ensure employees understand what to expect. No system will work if you are doing it for the first time in the middle of a disaster: planning along with training and exercising are always the key.

Good Luck. Please write in with examples if you have one!