Tag Archives: Pinterest

Information Design: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Post by: Kim Stephens

Looking back on the year, there was one  article that stood out because of its clear use of graphics and imagery to communicate risk information. During the summer of 2013, the Washington Post published a short online report about the hazards at the Potomac River Gorge titled “The Perils at Great Falls.” This spot in the river is a deadly place where 27 people have died since 2001.  Standing on the banks, it looks deceptively calm, but it is what people don’t see on the surface that can kill–erratic currents, jagged cracks, potholes and uneven terrain can trap swimmers.  The article explained those hazards with imagery that eliminated the need to read even one word.  Some commented that the piece was the definition of information design: “…the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it.”  (Wikipedia)

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Each of the major hazards in the river were given a graphical representation. In the image above the person is shown fishing off the bank: water rises rapidly and unexpectedly, sweeping him away. I have captured a screenshot, but the original graphic is animated.

The image below shows hazards beneath the water and on the banks–cliffs that tempt people to jump in, and varied terrain underwater that can kill if you dive in the wrong spot.

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The Dreaded Fact Sheet
Too often,  in the world of emergency management, images are occasionally included–if one can be dredged up, but they are usually not the focus of the message delivery. Below is a typical “dangers of [insert-risk-here]” pdf’d fact sheet intended for general public consumption. One glance and I can tell you how many people have read it..not many. I understand why this happens. There is a concern that if information is boiled down to just a few words and images, then that one key item will be left out. This begs the question: how effective are long and involved explanations if the intended audience won’t take the time to read them?

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 Images and Social Media

Luckily, communicating with the public has gotten easier–almost everyone is connected to the internet (81%) and a large portion of our audience  has smart phones in their pockets (over 60% as of July, 2013). Yet, I still see some EMA websites with risk information readily available–as long as you download the pdf.

However, as emergency management organizations become more comfortable with social media communications,  some have adopted the culture that includes heavy use of imagery.  Pinterest, for instance, is a great example of a social platform almost solely devoted to communicating via images. As an example, here’s the same “flood-water-can-be-dangerous message” on the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s Pinterest page.

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Twitter, surprisingly, is also a social platform where the use of images is key to building audiences and engagement. Recently the company added inline viewing of pictures and video, making it yet another social network where the image is king. In fact, according to Bufferapp, research even prior to this change showed that Tweets using pic.twitter.com links were 94% more likely to be Retweeted. Data analysis also suggests that Tweets with images also are more likely to receive clicks in the first place.

Following my own advice, I will keep this short, but for 2014 I think the trend of communicating risk and preparedness information to the public by using images and graphics will continue to be vital.  We have to present information in a way that our audiences want to receive it, not in the way that is most convenient–even if uploading a PDF is handy.

What do you think?

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Anaheim CERT Plays a Social Game

Post by: Kim Stephens

acertMary Jo Flynn, the Assistant Director of the Emergency Management Division in Anaheim California, consistently surprises me with her creative use of social media and new technologies to engage CERT members. For instance, just a couple of months ago she Tweeted about how she integrated the use of QR codes into a CERT exercise.

Ms Flynn promoted the idea on her “CERT Exercise Idea” Pinterest page and indicated that the QR code exercise was played by adding images, descriptions and/or video to the links in a type of scavenger hunt where each decision got volunteers to the next QR Code Station. What a great way to add a layer of interest!

Social Media Exercise

This month she is taking the concept of adding game-type elements into training to a new level. Intuitively we all know that the best way to learn something is by actually doing it. For this exercise, the learning objectives Ms Flynn would like to accomplish are for CERT members to not only understand social media but also to increase their competency in the use of the tools. In order for team members to learn how to use social networking in a real-world, face-paced environment she has created a game of sorts for them to participate in during the California State CERT conference. The game/exercise requires participants to use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instragram, and points will be awarded based on activity level, measured by their use of live-Tweeting, Facebook posting, Retweeting, and getting ReTweed, for example. Additionally, a team element has been incorporated–which is important, people tend to participate more if they feel they are a part of a group. She  created this video (embedded below) in order to prepare CERT members to participate as soon as they arrive at the conference.
I asked Ms Flynn for more information about the “how and why” of the exercise and she provided me the written answers below. I wanted to post her responses in full so that others could emulate this great example.
Nature of the exercise:
This is a dynamic exercise in which conference participants will utilize social media to generate live social web data.  Their entries simulate making contact with family members or posting pictures as neighborhood situation status updates.  A second part of the exercise includes the identification and analysis of the web data simulating a virtual EOC environment. While the exercise may seem like nothing more than a scavenger hunt or silly networking game, it is an intricately layered opportunity to build team work, practice technical skills, collect and share information and be that much closer and ready to deploy for an actual event.
Why I pursued this exercise:
I’ve been looking to plan small exercises locally for my team that utilized live data but without the fear of sparking controversy or panic when using simulated data in a public forum and I believe as emergency managers we must first do no harm in social media.  I’ve not been satisfied in adding “Exercise” or “Drill” to a live tweet for fear it would be eliminated on re-tweet and lose effectiveness and potentially lose trust from my audience.
Why Now, how this came about:
I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.  My colleagues using the #smemchat have been talking about exercising using events like the Inauguration or Superbowl to practice safely with live data.  I wanted something smaller scale.  When approached by California Volunteers to speak at the conference, I inquired as to whether or not they would promote live tweeting.  Once we agreed on using live tweeting and a scavenger hunt as a mechanism to encourage networking, the rest of the exercise fell into place.  Since then I’ve just been having fun refining some of the “injects” like the video.
Why this exercise is important to me:
Lately I’ve become concerned that the Social Media Emergency Management community has only encouraged adoption of social media without providing enough detail in training, exercising and strategic planning.  I believe we will continue to face challenges from opponents [people who don’t believe social media is important] if we don’t also demonstrate the ability to train and exercise in such a manner as to build community trust.
I’m happy that we can accommodate so many pieces of the puzzle and pull together such a strong national VOST [Virtual Operations Support Team] along with local volunteers and conference attendees to hopefully see success through this exercise.
What to expect after the conference:
I’m a very big believer in capturing lessons learned and I’ll be incorporating feedback into an After Action Report and sharing with Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS).
Thank you Mary Jo! If you have any questions for her, she is on Twitter @AnaheimCERT or @MaryJoFly.