Tag Archives: Mobile phone

Reach Your Audience in an Emergency: #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

Flooding was rampant yesterday for what seemed like half the country. Social Media was buzzing with images, safety tips and information about the event as it continued to get increasingly worse as the day wore on and the rain seemed unending.

Using social networks to communicate emergency, safety and preparedness information has now, in 2014, become a standard operating procedure for quite a few emergency management and response organizations. As with any standard procedure, each event can provide an opportunity to understand how to improve and adjust. As a person on the receiving end of the information stream yesterday, I noticed three things that could be improved upon.

1.  Ensure posts are “Mobile Ready”

On a day where the situation is changing rapidly, as it does with flooding, people will be looking for information anywhere they can get it. It is important to keep in mind that there is a high likelihood that those searches will be occurring on a mobile device. According to the Pew Research Center The growing ubiquity of cell phones, especially the rise of smartphones, has made social networking just a finger tap away.  Fully 40% of cell phone owners use a social networking site on their phone, and 28% do so on a typical day.” Of course, the deluge we experienced yesterday was anything but typical, so that percentage was more than likely much higher.

With this in mind, when posting content about road closures, for instance, make sure the user does not have to go to another site to get the information, as seen in this Facebook.

“[County X DPW reports] eight (8) roads closed as of 6:00 a.m. this morning. Crews working to re-open all roads today. For complete list of road closures visit: http://YouCan’tSeeThisOnYourPhone.gov”

There were only 8 roads closed–why not list them all? If you are using a micro-blogging site, such as Twitter, that won’t allow listing all roads in one post–do 8 separate posts.

2. Use Images to Make Your Point

A warning about the dangers of driving through standing water is good, such as the one below.

“A reminder to motorist; please watch for standing water this morning during morning commute. Do NOT drive through standing water.”

However, a picture of a water rescues or a stranded vehicle might be more of a deterrent.

3. Reinforce Where Citizens Can Find Information–On Every Platform

FT_13.10.16_GettingNews2There are many ways communities can reach their citizens with emergency information: a website, reserve calls, social media, door-to-door (if necessary). It is important to keep in mind that no single source will reach all of your citizens. Younger people may search social media for news and information (as shown by the Pew Research Center results) and older individuals might not ever look at your website.

However, linking and reinforcing all of those information outlets is important because you do not know where the citizen will start their search. I’ll use my own community as an example. Quite a few cities and counties have the service that allows them to call citizens on home phones or cell phones to provide updates about the situation. In my community, the call yesterday ended with a note to call the “Hotline” for more information. Unfortunately, there was no mention of their own social media sites that were up and running and providing vital emergency information and regular updates.  A quick visit to the county website also yielded disappointing results–there was no mention of the emergency at all and no easy way to navigate to current information. When choosing the “Facebook” link on the homepage, their emergency management page is not even on the list.


In terms of providing information to citizens via social networking the emergency management community does seem to “get it.”  We are now in a position to tweak and refine our processes in order to best serve our communities versus debate whether or not these are useful tools. That’s a good thing. Let me know, what lessons have you learned from recent experiences?

Cell Phone Preparedness: Small County, Great Example


blackberry (Photo credit: arrayexception)

Post by: Kim Stephens

Cecil County, Maryland proves that you don’t have to have huge budgets or a large staff to provide quality service to your citizens.  My last post highlighted Fairfax County and their cell phone preparedness page.   James Hamilton (aka @Disaster_guy on twitter) chimed in that he had written something similar for Cecil County’s emergency management website. The content, however, has some added tips for citizens that I think are really important.  I even like the introduction:

During a major emergency your cell phone may become a lifeline in many ways. Is your cell phone up to the task? Particularly if you have a smart phone such as an iPhone, Android, or Blackberry, there are many resources available that may be helpful in the case of an emergency. This becomes even more critical if you have lost power and/or internet.

There are five things this tip sheet does right:

1.  Points out what kind of phone will work with wireless emergency alerts:

  • If you are shopping for a new phone, select one that is capable of receiving CMAS / Wireless Emergency Alerts messages. Your carrier should be able to direct you to these phones.

2. Highlights specific information regarding the county’s notification system and social media presence:

  • Ensure that you have registered your cellular number with Cecil County’s emergency notification system. This system is only used in the event of extreme emergencies.
  • If you use Facebook or Twitter on your phone, ensure that you are following our Facebook or Twitter accounts. (In an emergency, any phone that can send and receive text messages can receive DES’ Twitter feed by texting “follow @CecilCountyDES” to 40404).

3. Points to and provides hyperlinks to local response partners, including the power company:

  • If your home is served by Delmarva Power, download their iPhone/iPadAndroid, or Blackberry app to report outages and view outage status.
  • Search for an app that will provide you with weather alerts and weather radar. There are many free weather apps for each operating system.

4. Describes cloud computing options and why they are important:

  • Consider hosting emergency information such as insurance policies and a home inventory in an online repository such as Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox so that it will be accessable to you on your phone or from any computer after an emergency.

5. Describes power issues and how to address them:

  • Consider purchasing a solar or hand-cranked charger for your cell phone.

Thanks again to James for directing me to their great tips. If your agency is doing something interesting please let me know!

PBS video explores Crisis Mapping

Image representing Ushahidi as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Post by: Kim Stephens

Here is a great video by PBS published May 13, 2011 that  explains the power of crisis mapping. They explore its use in Haiti to the most recent crisis in Libya.

This extraordinary ability to connect has turned a modern convenience into a lifeline through a system called crisis mapping. It first gained prominence after the earthquake in Haiti, when people used their cell phones to send text messages to a centralized response team. Since then, crisis mapping has been used to help victims in emergency zones following the tornadoes in the Midwest, the earthquake in Japan and the unrest in the Middle East.

Watch the video here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/security/video-crisis-mappers-mobile-technology-helps-disaster-victims-worldwide/9325/

How can the Emergency Management community use technology to improve resilience?

Congestion caused by a road accident, Algarve,...

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

David Wild from the All Hazards Blog, recently asked: “How can we effectively engage citizens in disaster and emergency management?”  Read the article for all of his suggestions which include using social media more aggressively and finding ways to give people more skills and power (such as EMT or firefighter training) to help respond during disasters “when resources are stretched.” All of his suggestions were good ones, but I was most interested in his second recommendation:

Start true innovation in the use of technology in Emergency Management. Identify where the rest of the world is technologically way ahead of the EM community, and embrace these rather than trying to replicate them in an expensive fashion. Buy everyone involved in EM an iPad. Employ people to write apps for EM. Give these away free to everyone, not just emergency managers.

The desired result of any disaster preparedness communications plan is to increase the resilience of a community. By communicating risk information we hope to change behavior in some way (e.g., persuade people to complete a family response plan). Unfortunately, disaster preparedness information often is delivered in formats that are generic, static, and impersonal. But new mobile and computer aided communications, such as social media, can provide the most effective means of communicating risk information to citizens ever available to the emergency management community. Apps are an important tool because they can be written to provide mobile, location-specific risk and hazard identification information.  Also, personalized, geo-located information increasingly is becoming an expectation if not a demand of the public, owing to their experiences with companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google and even Facebook.

An interesting example of an emerging technology is the use of geo-located information in traffic navigation systems, described in Discover Magazine’s September issue; see “Future tech: Tomorrow’s cares may finally realize the driver’s great dream: a cure for the common traffic jam”. The author outlines how people’s cell phones traveling in their vehicles have provided data necessary to monitor traffic more effectively.

“Some 4 million phones now report their speed and position to Nokia-owned Navteq along; millions more report to other traffic-data service….Those numbers are sent off in much the same way that text messages are, except it happens automatically, without your involvement.”

Privacy is protected by tagging the data with a random-identifier with no personal information attached. This vast amount of information translates into better navigations systems that can predict jams and route the driver around them.

Within a few years, travel-monitoring services such as Navteq plan to refine the predictive process by turning you into a real-time, on-the-scene traffic reporter…you will soon be prompted to feed the companies information about delays.”

When a driver hits the brakes they will be asked to answer simple “yes” or “no” questions (hopefully designed not to distract the driver too much) such as “Is it an accident?” ‘Is is blocking more than one lane” etc. Once the data is anaylzed by the central computers at the nav companies, the info will be quickly disseminated to vehicles in the vicinity in order to avoid the “mess”. The article even calls it “crowdsourced navigation”.

The expression “Every citizen is a sensor”  is taken literally in this case. I like this example because it demonstrates how solutions to emergency management problems, such as how best control traffic during mass evacuations, could be aided through the use of technologies developed for non-EM functions.

Texas town, a best practice in use of social media

QR Code for "An internet of things"

Image via Wikipedia

The new buzz phrase of the day is “open government”. At the national level this has led to many new initiatives, one of which is the DHS sponsored National Dialogue on Preparedness. This site allows people to submit ideas regarding preparedness grant programs and incentives. They encourage people to address:  “Which grant programs have been successful in building preparedness capabilities? Which programs can be improved? How can we effectively balance local emergency management needs with national mandates for security and resiliency?” People can vote on ideas with a virtual thumbs up or thumbs down.

At the local level,  Manor, Texas (population 5600) near Austin, Texas is using social media in many ways, not just Facebook, twitter, etc. but also for collaboration or “opening government,” similar to the DHS initiative. In Manor, good ideas can result in actual prizes (see “getting credit for your contribution”) in an effort to garner as much participation as possible. Their collaboration effort, called “Manor Labs,”  is described on their website as “an open innovation platform designed to allow you to help us solve problems that plague our local government...” The idea submission system is powered by the proprietary software Spigit and is worth perusing.

Manor is also currently engaged in a six month pilot program to test  a two-way communications platform which will allow citizens to send information to responders  during a crisis. This initiative is also powered by proprietary software developed by Civiguard. It will be interesting to see the results.

Another one of their initiatives is a system called  “QR-codes”. The White Paper entitled “Redefining Government Communication with QR-Codes” gives a complete account of the capability, but in general it is a bar-code system that allows users to receive on-demand information via their smart phone and a hyperlink:

After installing free decoding software (listed in the resources section), an individual can scan a City of Manor QR-code with their camera phone. They are taken directly to the linked site or prompted with the embedded URL. Although each QR-code appears to be the same image, each links to separate websites relevant to their location and placement.

An example of how it will be used:

Eventually, the City of Manor will tie the QR-codes on city vehicles into a realtime work order system so that if a resident is curious about why a city vehicle is in their neighborhood, they could simply scan the side of the vehicle for a real-time work order update. This would bring a layer of transparency to government that was never possible before.

I have not listed all of their initiatives, but I encourage anyone interested to take a look at what all this very small Texas town has been able to accomplish.

Did Crowdsourcing work for the BP Oil Spill? One local official says “no”.

Image representing Ushahidi as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Post by: Kim Stephens

Last week I found an article on another blog, Emergency Management , about Santa Rose county in Florida that used the off-the-shelf mobile software called”Xora” to track the oil spill. Xora’s publicity explains how it works:

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=bp+oil+spill&iid=9527089″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9527089/drilling-relief-well/drilling-relief-well.jpg?size=500&imageId=9527089″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]”… the Emergency Management team members go out on water patrol boats to scout for oil spill product or boom problems. When product is found, the team member photographs them and then fills out a form on a mobile phone, noting the type of product. The photo is attached to the mobile form, and both are submitted from the phone directly back to the EOC for follow-up. Xora automatically captures the product’s GPS coordinates for documenting precise location, thus giving the EOC real time reporting and pictures. The EOC can then decide how and when to respond based upon the type of products found and what resources are needed to respond to the situation. The pictures could easily be forwarded to other operational command areas to dispatch the appropri- ate equipment.”

This reminded me of the deployment of Ushahidi software for the Oil Spill Crisis Map, which is a visual representation of reports of oil and its effects.  One of the key differences between the technologies is that instead of only responders reporting oil, citizens are allowed and encouraged to contribute: “This map visualizes reports of the effects of the BP oil spill submitted via text message, email, twitter and the web. Reports of oil sightings, affected animals, odors, health effects and human factor impacts made by the eyewitnesses and the media populate points on a this public, interactive, web based map. The information will be used to provide data about the impacts of the spill in real time as well as document the story of those that witness it.”

I was interested in whether or not Santa Rosa county  integrated any of the information found in the Oil Spill Crisis Map into their GIS system, or even if any of the data in the Crisis Map was being used to deploy emergency response personnel to verify or follow up on the information. I contacted a Daniel Hahn in their emergency management office, here is his reply:

“We are not integrating any of our information into ushahadi, a site I have recently become aware of and looked into. We were using Xora so as to be able to photograph and pinpoint potential oil threats to our inland waterways. It was also used to show the condition of deployed boom and confirm or refute the presence of response vessels. One problem I see with ushahadi in its current form is that it appears that  anyone can post anything, and as we soon learned during Deepwater Horizon, EVERYONE had oil in their backyards, or saw it in the bay, when in reality it was something else entirely (Sargassum, June grass etc…).

I too have been very interested in the use of social media as an emergency management tool, and the recent Red Cross study gave me hope that we as an EM community might keep up with technology and societal norms. I think controlled mediums where information is put out by EM is the best form of social media. In this way EM can have followers, and control over what is put on the site (i.e., the ability to delete incorrect of erroneous information). I do not see this ability with ushahadi. Ushahadi is good for what it was created for, which if I am correct is capturing and reporting human rights abuses. As an example I pulled up Santa Rosa on Ushahadi and saw where someone had posted oil washing up on Baldwin County beaches, when Baldwin County is in Alabama, not Florida. An organization called surfriders posted they were doing dispersant testing off shore. Who are they and what are their qualifications (rhetorical question)?” Daniel Hahn, Santa Rosa County, Florida.

This official clearly is interested in social media but doesn’t necessarily trust the public to provide valuable or reliable information. I think it would be interesting to see if any emergency response organizations along the Gulf Coast utilized this tool.  Hopefully, the map was able to provide a way the citizens of the Gulf to testify, which is what Ushahidi means, what they saw and the impacts that they felt. However, a more in depth analysis will be needed in order to determine whether or not the Oil Spill Crisis Map had any impact on the response effort.