Tag Archives: Public Safety

SMEM Report Recommendation: Education and Knowledge sharing are needed.

Post by: Kim Stephens

The CNA report entitled “Social Media + Emergency Management Camp: Transforming the Response Enterprise” was written by Dr. Clarence Wardell and Yee San Su  in order to document the findings from the first-ever SMEM camp, and almost more importantly, to explore how social media and emerging communication technologies are changing the way we disseminate and receive information before, during and after a crisis. (See this blog post by Heather Blanchard of  Crisis Commons’ that summarize the report and the SMEM effort in general.)


The authors offer 3 key findings and six recommendations for moving forward if we would like to see widespread adoption of social networking by the emergency management community. One of the six recommendations is the need for continued education and knowledge sharing. Specifically the authors state that we need to

“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.”

As the authors indicate, in this early stage of the use of social networking as a tool for crisis communications, there are still many unsettled questions that can pose significant challenges to adoption. This includes a lack of clarity with regard to laws, policy and guidance. The authors state, that we are in a “Wild West situation, as the available technology has surpassed the rules and guidance that are currently in place.”

However, with that being said, there are many organizations that are using these tools in creative ways and we can measure their success  based on their own stated goals and objectives. Even though there are no formally recognized and accepted  “best practices” we are certainly starting to understand the value these organizations are gaining from using these tools. Informally, many of us, including myself, often find organizations that are doing great work in this area and promote these efforts as best practice examples. As Dr. Wardell inferred, highlighting these successes will help us create “buy-in and subsequent adoption and investment [from other] organizations.”

Knowledge Sharing

As forerunning agencies use social networking tools on a daily basis and during real-world disaster events, they are also learning effective strategies. The sharing of that knowledge is invaluable.  Nonetheless, as the technology and adoption rate matures,  I do expect that we will also need to have better answers to the following questions:

  • What does an effective public safety SM presence look like?
  • What metrics can be used to determine success?
  • How can we measure impact–e.g. what are the “outcomes” versus the “outputs”?

Furthermore, knowledge sharing does not necessarily have to take place in a conference or a formal setting. Hundreds of emergency management professionals engage in knowledge sharing on this topic on a daily basis on twitter via the #SMEM hashtag.  There are also many emerging sources of information, including blogs and wikis specifically for this topic. For instance, see the Emergency 2.0 Wiki from Australia whose stated purpose is to “share and advance knowledge, by providing best practice guidelines on how to utilize social media in all phases of emergency communications.”  These guidelines, when fully fleshed out, will provide an amazing resource for all public safety organizations. 

Discussion Points

In the meantime,  below I list some of the more important questions most people raise when discussing social media usage for crisis communications. As you will notice, these discussion points relate to processes, internal procedures, goals and objectives, NOT how to use specific tools. The social networks may change (e.g tumblr versus facebook) but organizations can build structures, policies and procedures that enable them to engage on any social platform. (Each of these subjects are addressed, to some extent, in the CNA report.)

  • Why should public safety organizations use these tools? (e.g. Is there a broad use of social networks in your community? Does your local news media expect to receive information via social networks? )
  • What are your organization’s stated goals for public outreach (no matter what tool you utilize) in each phase of the emergency continuum? This will ultimately help determine if the effort is successful.
  • What resources (human and technical) are necessary to implement a social media campaign during each phase of a crisis?
  • What resources are available to augment your staff in a crisis–e.g. virtual support?
  • Who in your organization should be using the tools on a daily basis and who should be using the tools during a crisis?
  • How have other public safety organizations structured themselves to rapidly update SM content in a crisis? How have they integrated these efforts with other agencies and channels? How does this relate to the Incident Command System?
  • How can public safety organizations collect, sort, and verify data from social networks to provide real-time situational awareness?
  • What policies need to be changed or adjusted in your organization in order to allow for personnel to use these tools?
  • What is the policy regarding publicly provided content? This relates to both storage of the data for FOIA purposes, and how to deal with comments, questions and concerns raised through these platforms.
  • What are some effective strategies for reaching the intended audience with preparedness, response and recovery messages? (Strategies do change during each phase.)

As a side note, the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) has contracted with Mantitou, Inc. to develop social media training. The company is in the early data collection stage and has asked the SMEM community to assist them in their effort by providing the following:

  •  best practices in utilization of social media in all phases of emergency management;
  •  examples of measured impact from use of social media;
  • challenges and solutions or approaches to implementing and advancing use of social media within emergency management organizations.

(If you are interested in providing content for this effort let me know and I can pass that info along to their team.)

To view the CNA  report and its resources you can click to http://wiki.crisiscommons.org/wiki/SMEM_Initiative or the below links:

Four New Sources on Social Media added to Bibliography

Looking down on the campus of the University o...

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

I wanted to highlight the 4 new sources I added to the bibliography:

  1. Lesperance, AM et.al “Social Networking for Emergency Management and Public Safety.”  August 2010. Prepared for Department of Energy by Battelle. Accessed Sept. 2010. <http://nwrtc.pnl.gov/docs/social.networking.pdf>.

This report was prepared for the Interagency Biological Restoration Demonstration Program and is the summary of the workshop titled “Social Networking for Emergency Management and Public Safety” held this past March in Seattle, Washington. The workshop addressed current uses of social media as well as obstacles agencies might encounter in pursuing this new form of communications (including internal policy constraints). Best practices were highlighted and  potential future uses were discussed.

The workshop led to several conclusions:

 Agencies have to trust the public on some level to manage emergencies. All emergencies are local, and public.

 More needs to be studied in regards to how crowd sourcing leads to robust decisions. Experts in general tend to struggle with the concept that people are turning more and more online to a fan base to help guide their decisions.

 Deferring the release of information is no longer an option. Social media tools can be used; they are being used and used well in the emergency management community. Agencies must consider the ramifications (staffing, resources, control of information) when joining the social media conversation.

 Public demand and competition, even among government agencies, will drive the data. One city cannot afford to remain silent when others are openly sharing.

 People want information, and they expect it immediately. The challenge will be balancing resources and accuracy against the need to produce instant information.

 Government agencies may have to change policies, practices, and skill sets to effectively use social media. They will need to use new terms like branding and dialogue. They may also need to partner more broadly.

2.  Yasin, Rutrell. “5 ways to use social media for better emergency response.” Government Computer News. 2 Sept. 2010. Accessed Sept. 2010. <http://gcn.com/articles/2010/09/06/social-media-emergency-management.aspx>.

Another useful article, which can be found on the Government Computer News blog. In sum, the 5 ways social media can be used during an emergency response:

  • Reach a wider audience.
  • Send and receive emergency alerts.
  • Monitor the conversation.
  • Integrate data sources for situational awareness.
  • Collaborate with responders.

3. “Project EPIC: Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis.” University of Colorado, Boulder and University of California, Irvine. 2010. Accessed September 2010. <http://epic.cs.colorado.edu/>.

I mentioned Project Epic in my post on Sept. 10 in connection with  their work during the Colorado Wildfires.  The EPIC project, led by Dr. Leysia Palen, is supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation and is one of the few empirically-based projects related to social media, or what they call “computer mediated communication.”

4. Palen, Leysia, et. al. “A Vision for Technology-Mediated Support for Public Participation & Assistance in Mass Emergencies & Disasters.” British Informatics Society Ltd., Proceedings of ACM-BCS Visions of Computer Science. 2010. Accessed Sept. 2010. < http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~palen/computingvisionspaper.pdf>.

This is a formal paper. The abstract:

We present a vision of the future of emergency management that better supports inclusion of activities and information from members of the public during disasters and mass emergency events. Such a vision relies on integration of multiple subfields of computer science, and a commitment to an understanding of the domain of application. It supports the hopes of a grid/cyberinfrastructure-enabled future that makes use of social software. However, in contrast to how emergency management is often understood, it aims to push beyond the idea of monitoring on-line activity, and instead focuses on an understudied but critical aspect of mass emergency response—the needs and roles of members of the public. By viewing the citizenry as a powerful, self-organizing, and collectively intelligent force, information and communication technology can play a transformational role in crisis. Critical topics for research and development include an understanding of the quantity and quality of information (and its continuous change) produced through computer-mediated communication during emergencies; mechanisms for ensuring trustworthiness and security of information; mechanisms for aligning informal and formal sources of information; and new applications of information extraction techniques.