Tag Archives: iPhone

#SMEM Challenge for 2013: Strategically Monitoring Social Media

Post by: Kim  Stephens

Eye on Flat Panel MonitorOne of the biggest #SMEM challenges for emergency management and public safety organizations is determining whether or not, and increasingly how, they will monitor social media. In the past year we saw a change in mindset: a desire to actively listen versus simply push content to the public. Yet, monitoring can seem like a daunting task.  During large-scale emergency events millions of new posts, pictures and videos  are added to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. every day. How can a small local public health, first response, or emergency management agency sort through all of that? In this post I will outline strategies I have seen employed to effectively deal with this seemingly insurmountable task.

Where do we start?

Numerous questions come to mind when considering monitoring social networks:

  • How ? What software do I need, if any? (And relatedly, how much will that cost?)
  • Who? Who will be doing this work?  Will this only be done when the  EOC is stood up and resources can be shared by all response agencies? or  Will resources be required to monitor social media all the time if we have social accounts?
  •  What is done with the information gleaned from monitoring social media? How is the information shared (if at all) with response partners when there isn’t an EOC or JIC?

Establishing objectives

Each of the questions above are dependent on the objective(s) established by your organization.  The first step is to determine why: Why are we listening? What is the expected outcome? Only then can you  decide what resources you will need, how you will share that information with response partners, and what tools are required.

Your emergency management organization might decide to specify a number of objectives. Some of the more common ones include:

  1.  To determine if the organization’s message is getting across or if conflicting information (rumors) is being conveyed: Are people  confused about what to do (e.g. how long to boil water)?
  2. To determine public sentiment regarding the organization or, during a crisis, about the overall government’s response effort: Are people angry about something that is happening?
  3. To determine the most commonly asked questions and concerns.
  4. To quickly answer direct questions, or questions directed at the community political leadership on topics that involve your organization: Are people asking the Twitter-happy Mayor when debris will be picked up in their neighborhood?
  5. To determine what other organizations are saying, in order to both ensure messages are coordinated, and to amplify mission related content.
  6. To determine the extent of damage and impact of the disaster event. (Advanced)

It should be noted that law enforcement officials might have completely different set of objectives. They might monitor social media to actively look for people (or evidence) from those who have been involved in a crime as well as to enlist their followers in helping them identify suspects. They could also monitor the accounts of a person that has been brought to their attention by members of the community (e.g. a person has been posting strange comments that point to criminal intentions). In this post, however, I will stick to emergency management concepts since that is much more familiar territory for me.

Low Budget Solutions

Of course, part of the strategy for listening or monitoring social media has to include determining who will be responsible for doing these tasks. I recommend you also read the post that describes VOST (Virtual Operations Support Teams) for some ideas on how you can expand your efforts when required. Nonetheless, there are many things that can be done by an organization to make monitoring social media a bit easier, especially if some of it is completed before a crisis.

The following simple steps are based on processes described by emergency managers who have made the most of the free tools at their disposal. Even though these items might seem like obvious courses of action, I have cited them here for a reason.    I have included some basic 101-type info since people often ask these questions.

1. Create Lists and Like Pages of Response Partners: It is important to know and keep track of what other response organizations are saying on social networks, even if (maybe especially if) they are in a neighboring county. If you and your neighbor put out conflicting content, believe me, the public will notice. (This happens in quickly moving events–road closures are a prime example.)

  • On Twitter, set up a list(s) of all “trusted sources” including government agencies, first responders, political leaders,  volunteer organizations and local news media–don’t forget to include federal agencies such as FEMA, EPA and HUD.  Twitter.com explains how to create a list in 4 simple steps.
  • Include social streams of all response partners on your website or Facebook page, so the public can easily find them as well. See a best practice example from Australia: Queensland Police Service Alert, which has the embedded Twitter feeds from their response partners organized by sector: transportation, power and water, etc.
  • On Facebook, “Like” all of these same organizations.

Coordinate Offline: It should be noted that in addition to doing the work online, a good practice is to have every government official responsible for posting to social networks  participate in recurring meetings to talk about strategies and coordination before a disaster event. (How can we ensure information is updated on our social media accounts, simultaneously? How can we share content/intel that we are seeing from the public ?) The speed of social media might require new, or at a minimum, faster coordination processes. 

2. Invest in a smart phone for the person monitoring social media: Smart phones are a great way to monitor your social media presence when you are away from a computer. Both Twitter and Facebook can provide smart phone notifications to the administrator every time the account is mentioned, replied to, re-tweeted, etc. You can also set up a way to receive notifications when other organizations post updates as well.

  • Twitter.com has a great help page on this topic.
  • Facebook has similarly helpful “How-To” page about how to receive push notifications on a mobile device. There is also information here about the Page Manager App that lets admins check on their Page activity, view insights and respond to their audience from their mobile device. This app is only currently available for iPhone and iPad.

3. Read

I once asked the social media manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency how he monitored the agency’s social stream, he simply stated: I read.  Surprisingly, keeping up with what is happening on social media does not necessarily take complicated software, especially if reading is done strategically.   In order to prevent being overwhelmed,  you can limit the content that you look at to some or all of the following:

  •  Read comments and questions directed to your organization. This step is probably the most important: if your organization is actively posting content, more than likely, people will be posting comments and questions…AND they will expect a response.  Reading comments and “@” messages will also allow you to gauge how your efforts are being received.
  • Read what is being posted by your trusted-sources on the list(s) you have created.
  • Read comments and questions posed from the public to your response partners and elected officials.
  • Read information based on keyword searches and hashtags.   This strategy involves searching for key words, such as the name of the event, in order to find pertinent content.
    • During an active event, people often post pictures and video to Twitter (more so than other platforms) and mention the location and /or name of the town. (For specific instructions see Twitter advanced search and the “How-To“).  It is important to note, however, that any early pictures should be treated cautiously. Some folks think it is quite funny to post fake images.
    • Possible search terms: name of agency, name of event, name of municipality.

4. Actively ask for information

There is nothing wrong with asking your followers or the general public for information via your social networks. People often provide valuable situational awareness information to you anyway, for example, posting on your Facebook page: “There are power lines down on Elk Road.” Some organizations have tried to give the public a way to provide information in a more structured way. Good examples of this are the not-so-new USGS’s earthquake detection program  “Did you Feel it?” and the recent Fairfax County Hurricane Sandy Crowdmap that allowed people to post their observations.

Soliciting information is almost the opposite of  “data mining.” Data mining involves  automated computer processes  intended to make sense of or find patterns in vast amounts of content posted to social networks (see this post by Patrick Meier for more info). I suspect that this process will be one of the hottest topics for 2013 as more of these tools (discussed in this previous post)  come online. Nevertheless, if your organization is simply trying to keep up with mentions and comments, then advanced software is probably not necessary…although highly coveted. Coordination and collaboration with your response partners,  however, continue to be some of the best tools in your toolbox.

If you are still reading, let me know if you have established objectives or listening strategies.

Note: A majority of this content came from a post I did for WRHSAC.org.

How Can University Emergency Managers Use Social Media?

Post by: Kim Stephens

I recently gave a talk to University Emergency Managers about how they can use social media to enhance their communications with students, particularly during the preparedness and response phases. This presentation is available here: Social Media’s Application for Universities.

The great thing about talking to this audience is that they understand that almost 100% of their population is using web-based and/or mobile communications. Therefore, I spend zero time putting up statistics on who is using social media and why it’s important. They get it.  So instead, I introduce some concepts and ideas they might not have considered.

Universities are adept at using social media for public relations, as an example, Texas A&M’s main facebook page has 200,000+ fans. But when it comes to communicating public safety information the number of fans on those pages (both the emergency management page and the campus police page) drops dramatically. This almost begs the question whether or not this information should be posted to the main site. Some universities have already come to that conclusion, and I think it is probably a good idea.

I have also found that quite a bit of emergency preparedness info is still very much stuck in a web 1.0 world. We all have an arsenal of “fact sheets” and quite a few emergency management organizations simply post them to their website.  One sheet, not from A&M, described the dangerous localized flooding that occurs almost every year in and around the University. The page implored the kids to “KNOW YOUR FLOOD RISK”. However, I have to wonder how many student ever saw or read that sheet. There are a lot of things competing for students’ attention, to say the least. Hazard identification is  probably not at the top of the list–unless of course they are geography students.

So, even if information is posted to the most trafficked site, and not in the form of a bland fact sheet,  how can we ensure our message gets through, particularly preparedness information that tends to be ignored?

1. Games. One new hot term is “gamification.” It is described as “the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.” In other words, not only making something fun but also challenging and rewarding. The reward does not have to be tangible, in fact, it turns out earning status is more of an incentive than earning a trinket.

Some Universities are already using mobile or web-based platforms to engage student with games like SCVNGR, mostly to orient freshman students to campus. The game is a mobile application for iPhone or Android. Others are designing their own scavenger hunts using applications such as Foursquare. Texas A&M used this app to encourage all of their students to explore the campus (5200 acres) but with the unadvertised motive of boosting the number of student followers to the University’s twitter account.

Although this example did not include emergency preparedness information, I have to ask, why not have students find campus safety features such as tornado shelters, fire extinguishers, evacuation routes or even identify hazards, such as the aforementioned flash flood areas?

2. Games or prizes for visitors One issue for campus emergency managers is that there are often huge influxes of visitors to their campuses for special events, particularly sporting events. How can we get information to these folks? Twitter has a handy fast follow feature that’s well known to the #SMEM community but not as well known by others. A University Office of Emergency Management could ask visitors to text from their cell phones to the number 40404 “follow @universityEMA” . This would allow campuses to get all kinds of information into the palm of every visitor. In order to get people to use the feature, a free cola product could be offered at the football game, for example. In order to make people understand the benefit, tweets should have useful info such as what streets on campus are closed to traffic and how to most quickly exit the parking lot. But don’t forget to remind people how to turn the feature off after they leave!

3. Crowdsourcing.  Challenges, like the ones the federal government have been designing since early 2009–see challenge.gov, work by asking the public or the “crowd” to submit solutions in order to win a reward, usually a small sum of cash but occasionally just status. Universities are particularly well suited for this type of innovate problem solving because they have 1. a huge talent pool to pull from and 2. class credit and other natural campus incentives to give away (football season passes, etc).  The emergency management community should get into the act by creating a challenge designed to find creative ways to get preparedness information to the student body. This is also important because if we try to create something #fun students might see it as #lame.

4. Crowdsourcing after the crisis.  Patrick Meier of Ushahidi, I believe, was the first person to coin the term “bound crowdsourcing”. This concept limits the crowd to a smaller group of trusted agents. As an example, monitoring information from social media after a crisis would not have to be a completely open process, but could be limited to this group of trusted sources (e.g. a twitter list of these folks could be constructed) . This is another thing college campuses have in abundance, a plethora of people that are trusted with student safety everyday: graduate assistants, professors, resident advisors and staff. I propose that these people could be trained to send information to emergency services after a crisis via text message or twitter in order to indicate the situation around campus–particularly non-emergency information.  SMS text or twitter are important because they tax bandwidth much less than voice. I can envision this working after a crisis where, for example, professors or RAs could text whether or not all of their students are accounted for and provide prelimarly damage assessment information as well.

School is starting soon and September is National Preparedness Month. Let’s get creative!

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!