Some consideration ought to be given to adding the new video-sharing-mobile-application from Twitter called “Vine” to your Public Safety Organization’s communications toolbox. However, if you don’t have teenagers in your house you might not be sure what Vine is or what it could do for your organization. Currently, Vine is one of fastest growing video-sharing apps and tops Apple’s app download chart. Some Federal entities have noticed: the White House is already taking advantage of this new means of connecting to their audience and GovLoop recently posted an article titled “Vine: Government’s 6 seconds to Shine.”
What is it?
For detailed background information on this new social sharing application, see Twitter’s FAQ page here, but in a nutshell, Vine allows users to post very short (only 6 seconds) of video content to the application via a smartphone. Other Vine users can follow you to see your posts, however, content is easily shared via either Facebook or Twitter and can also be embedded in a blog (as demonstrated below). In fact, “A post on Vine cannot be viewed outside of the Vine app unless it is shared on Twitter or Facebook, in which case a link for the video will be made publicly available.” The Vines loop–so unless you click away from the video it continues to play over and over, although this can be a bit annoying, it is actually pretty good feature for getting your point across.
Public Safety and Emergency Management organizations are having a hard enough time finding resources to post interesting content to the “big 3” social media sites–YouTube, Facebook and Twitter–so thinking about adding responsibility for another social network might seem ludicrous. However, in my opinion, the forced brevity of Vine actually makes it a great tool for preparedness messages and maybe even for protective action information/demonstrations. In terms of preparedness messaging, this video below is intended to be funny versus instructional, but it inspired me, nonetheless. (Click the x to hear the sound–otherwise it is muted.)
Although the Vine above is shot all at once, a great feature of the app is the ability to stop the action. Once recording from within the Vine app, to stop the scene you simply tap the screen of your smartphone and then tap again to restart. This feature makes it a great way to create instructional snippets without having to edit the content post-production. See this cringe-worthy “How to Fail” video below by the same slapstick comedian from above (I hope this young man has a good relationship with his local EMTs).
Adding very short video content to your Agency’s Tweets and Facebook posts could be a very valuable asset. Instead of saying: If you catch on fire remember to “Stop Drop and Roll” you could actually demonstrate what to do. Similar demonstrations could be done for “Duck, Cover and Hold On” or “Don’t drown–Turn Around.” Increasingly this is an image driven society–this tool provides another way to insert ourselves into the conversation.
Let me know–is your Agency considering Vine or have you already started using this tool? I’d love to see some public safety examples.
I recently saw a presentation about GeoFeedia, a social media monitoring software system, at an SMEM-type event sponsored by the Metropolitan College of NY’s Emergency and Disaster Management MPA program. Their presentation, along with the ensuing conversation, inspired me to take a closer look. GeoFeedia’s monitoring tool is unique among all of its competitors: it allows the user to include location searches for content versus only searching by keyword. Timo Luge’s blog post about the service describes why this feature is so important:
If someone uploads and photo a writes “Here is a photo of my house after the #earthquake in #Alphaville” it’ll be easy to find, but if someone simply writes “My house – so sad!“ you won’t find it using standard tools. And while you can use services like Hootsuite to show you all tweets in certain area, doing this is quite tricky and too complicated for most users.
Watch their video for a great one-minute description.
I encourage you to explore their website for details about what the tool can do, but below I briefly describe its 6 main features, including location monitoring:
It enables “advanced location monitoring” which will gather–as well as archive—social communications based on the location determined by the user. For instance, if there was an explosion in an area, law enforcement could hone in on people posting about the incident who are in close proximity. In contrast, if only a keyword search were used, then the collected content would include everyonediscussing the event.
Keyword searches are not eliminated from GeoFeedia. The ability to filter social content and refine searches using keywords as well as timeframe, media type, author “and more” is included.
Data is exportable in a feature they call “data portability.”
Content from GeoFeedia can easily be published to your own social networks.
Analytical tools are embedded that can help the user identify such things as the most active or influential poster, as well as trends, etc.
The content of the geo-feed is shareable to people “inside or outside your organization. You can even share a live Geofeed stream with users that don’t have a Geofeedia account.” In contrast, other software tools, including Radian 6, have very restrictive sharing policies and explicitly do NOT allow sharing of content with non-account holders.
Do Geo-location Tools Invade Privacy?
Following their presentation in New York, the question of privacy was raised, which I thought was interesting. Do people expect some privacy when posting content to social networks? If you are quick to answer “no” then consider this statement by one of the participants: “Ask any teenager if posting to Twitter and Instagram allows everyone to see their content and they will answer ‘yes.’ Then ask them if they would be OK with their parents viewing whatever they are posting and they will emphatically answer ‘NO!'” I know this to be a fact since I happen to live with two teenagers.
Nonetheless, during a crisis situation it would seem that folks would desire government officials to see their posts in order to receive assistance. But in the world of law enforcement, this type of monitoring tool takes on an entirely different connotation. I can image that a law enforcement agency could use GeoFeedia, or something like it, to draw a virtual circle around a park where a festival is happening and look for information about illegal activity. Would people posting images and Tweeting at the event, for instance, realize they were being “watched” virtually?
Based on current law, it seems that these types of searches are legal and possibly even expected by citizens. Law professor Jonathon Turely wrote a couple of years ago about our evolving societal privacy expectations in a Washington Post article about the then upcoming Supreme Court case Jones v. United States. The case involved a conviction of man based on his activities that were tracked with a GPS devise:
“This surveillance continued after a warrant had expired. But the Obama administration insists that no warrant should be required for the government to track the movements of citizens with such devices. The administration says that the new technology merely captures what can be observed, albeit in far greater detail. But the technology could allow the government to follow an almost limitless number of citizens in real time, all the time.”
Professor Turely asks: “As we come to expect less privacy, are we entitled to less of it?” The court did eventually hold that “the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search'” under the Fourth Amendment.” However, the broader privacy issue was left unsettled.
How does that case relate to social media? Stephen E. Henderson’s in his journal article Expectations of Privacy in Social Media, cites the Jones case and many others in his argument that the public really can’t expect privacy when posting publicly on social networks, however, they probably can expect privacy when an effort is made to keep the communication out of the public view, for instance with protected Tweets and Facebook messages. The notion of control of the information is the key. “If the government obtains information that was previously in one’s exclusive control, then it has violated the person’s rights.” However, if the information is publicly available, then there is no interference with a “possessory interest.” This passage sums up his argument:
Whatever the precise definitions of search and seizure, the Court has articulated this general principle:
[T]he Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.
This limitation makes eminent sense, in that police should not have to be the only ones to avert their eyes. If you tape a message on a window visible from the street, or place a pie to cool or a plant to grow there, a police officer driving or walking by is free to give it a look. According to the control theory of information privacy, you have chosen to share that information. Whereas if you carry any of those items on your person in public, but in an opaque container, the item remains private, and police must act accordingly.
Some social media is exposed to the public, such as an open-to-the world blog. It is not reasonable to expect privacy when one publishes something to all comers. So there would be no Fourth Amendment restraint on police obtaining the content of such a blog, either by bringing up the site themselves or via the third party hosting that content. The same holds true for a Facebook wall which the user leaves open to the public, YouTube videos left open to the public, and flickr pictures left open to the public. And the same holds true for tweets from a public account, meaning one for which the user does not restrict followers. Since any private person can obtain these things without restraint, the police can as well. (page 238)
Do you have an expectation of privacy? Does your law enforcement agency worry about this topic? My treatment of this issue is admittedly very superficial–there are many different facets to explore. For a much lengthier treatment of the topic, I encourage you to read Mr. Henderson’s entire article, you can also see sites such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
For another review and more information about GeoFeedia find a comprehensive post by Patrick Meier on iRevolution here. Despite the debate over privacy, I think GeoFeedia is a great tool and probably represents the future of how emergency response organizations will monitor social content in order to gain the best situational awareness. Let me know what you think.
Maryland Emergency Management Agency (Photo credit: Maryland National Guard)
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (@MDMEMA on Twitter) has recently taken their social media communication’s strategy to new heights–even incorporating a module about the tools into their Public Information Officer training.
I had the opportunity to meet the MEMA Social Media Coordinator, Kasey Parr, when we both served on a panel at the Social Media Week in Washington DC (a big thank you to Michael Clarke of International Media Solutions for organizing our session). I asked Kasey in a written follow up for a little more detail about their social media plans and current processes. Below is the result of the Q&A with both Kasey and Ed McDonough, the MEMA PIO.
Q1. What type of Social Media content is included in the PIO training?
A1: Kasey: The first training we conducted on “Social Media in the JIC” was right before Hurricane Sandy, forcing me to cut down on my slides because of time constraints on Ed and myself. The presentation given before Hurricane Sandy included:
Why do we use social media during emergencies?
What are the benefits?- This will now include a case study of the Derecho/Hurricane Sandy
Our level of engagement/How we use SM
VOST concept and how we can create a model with MD social media managers
Procedures during an event- 12 hour shift roles and responsibilities
Monitoring/responding (what it is, how we do it, etc)-
A1: Ed — I would add that we have been teaching about the use of social media as part of our instruction of FEMA‘s Basic PIO (G290) and JIC/JIS (G291) training for several years. We discuss the various platforms for SM, how to get buy in from supervisors and/or elected officials, stress the differences and similarities between SM and the traditional media, and emphasize that it is a two-way information flow that also can help operations folks with tactical decisions. (You may be familiar with some of the ways Bill Humphries of LAFD has used Twitter to gain operational information.)
Maryland Emergency Management Agency (Photo credit: Maryland National Guard)
Q2. How is SM incorporated into “normal” communications and messaging processes?
A2: Ed — During our “sunny day” periods, we regularly use social media to engage the public about preparedness information, regularly monitor Facebook and twitter for information about weather, traffic and other information in and around Maryland and from emergency management agencies around the country. Unlike traditional media, where we are usually just pushing out information, we use social media to actually engage the public with contests and such to get immediate feedback. We also are in the process of making sure that our social media policies are incorporated into our public information SOPs, so any state public information officer working in our Joint Information Center will understand the role of social media in emergency management.
Q3. Do you talk (in your training) specifically about the transfer of the intelligence gathered from monitoring social networks to decision-makers?
A3: Kasey–We do address social media monitoring in our training. As a part of the procedures in the JIC the roles and responsibilities of the monitor are outlined. These responsibilities include alerting the team of any relevant trends that may need to be addressed and by whom these issues need to be addressed according to the urgency of the matter. Some issues can be easily solved with the PIO, relevant state agency reps, or they [may] require the attention of the Senior Policy Group.
Depending on the nature of the information that has come through, we may need to get the Governor to address it in his next press briefing, have the PIO construct a press release, or create a social media messaging strategy centered on the intelligence or trend to eliminate confusion. After Hurricane Sandy, we walked away with a lot of lessons learned as far as media monitoring is concerned. In my opinion, the social media monitor has the most important role during a disaster. This is one part of our social media program that I would like to build out for a disaster or emergency situation.
A3: Ed — I would add that we are exploring the use of crowdsourcing programs that could work in conjunction with our GIS staff to give operational staff in the state EOC better situational awareness during an activation. This will become even more important for counties and cities, as they are on the front lines of response.
Thank you so much Ed and Kasey! Let me know what types of questions you might have for them or other agencies.
Mary 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.
Conduct a CERT exercise using QR codes posted around a facility. Dubbed a "choose your own adventur http://t.co/9C0ztRCd
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).
The blizzard of 2013 is still causing problems from New Jersey to Maine at the time of writing. Although recovery from the storm is far from over, I’d like to look at Massachusetts specifically and make some observations about the role social media and web-based communications played (and continues to play) during this event.
1. Public organizations, as well as elected officials, provided great service announcements to encourage people to help one another. My favorite was a Tweet from the Mayor of Boston asking people to be a snow angel, not just make one.
They even took it a step further by asking “How are you being a Snow Angel today? Use#BOSnowAngel to share a photo of your good deed.”
2. Sometimes the message was simple: “I don’t know.” This post on Facebook was from Mass 2-1-1 who defines themselves as “an easy to remember, toll-free telephone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
One thing Mass 2-1-1 might have done is linked to the private utility company’s Facebook page, which brings me to #3.
3. Utility companies definitely bear the brunt of much of the public’s ire in the aftermath of disaster events, and this one is proving to be no exception. This storm also provides an age-old lesson in how to handle some of that anger: no comment. One look at the Nstar’s page will give you an idea of some of the vitriol that can be spewed when the power is out, even for a day or two. This simple statement on their page elicited over 200 responses, quite a lot of them angry.
“We expect to have all customers restored by Thursday night and will have community by community restoration times available tomorrow. Our crews will continue to work around the clock until all affected customers are restored. Please stay away from downed power lines and assume all lines are live. Thanks for your patience as we repair the damage from this devastating blizzard“
Although this post seems innocuous, people felt that the restoration rate was way too slow. One person started a fire storm by stating the following:
“I just observed TWENTY SEVEN trucks parked at Dunkin donuts in Falmouth. I have an infant and no power for 48 hours with no end in sight. Some sort of estimate would be extremely appreciated. I am a healthcare worker that’s been working for 30 of the past 48 hours I’m cold, hungry and cranky. My patience is wearing very thin…”
I think they handled it well, however, by letting the public defend them versus jumping into the argument. Often it is a worker’s family member that is the most animated with statements along the lines of “Hey–they are working hard, I haven’t seen my husband in three days!” An example of someone coming to their defense is provided below. This somewhat inelegant statement both defends the company but also points out what everyone would like…more information.
4. If you build it, they will come…and maybe crash your site. The International Business Times reported before the storm that Boston was promoting their snowplow tracking website called SnowOps Viewer that would allow citizens to track snow removal by location by zooming in on the map as well as by inputting an address. This is possible because all city plows are equipped with GPS devices. Other major cities including New York (PlowNYC) and Washington DC have similar systems. The problem, however, was that so many people went to the site it crashed under the weight. This is the message even today, Feb. 11: We are experiencing significant traffic and the site is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve these issues. Please check back later. Thank you for your patience.
Every disaster seems to teach us that sending large amounts of people to your website is not a great idea, unless you have done significant load testing beforehand. I hope they sort out what went wrong soon!
5. Boston has operationalized Twitter. Twitter, unlike their snowplow website, remains up with no problem and Bostonians have been encouraged to send a Tweet to @NotifyBoston to report problems such as unshoveled sidewalks or disabled vehicles. One look at the exchanges taking place there shows that it is obvious the city is taking the citizen-reported information very seriously and wants to hear about problems (see an example below). The @NotifyBoston feed also includes information for citizens as well, including advisories, closures, and storm updates. (I wonder if or how Mass 2-1-1 and @NotifyBoston are coordinating their efforts and sharing information? That will be a question for future posts.)
Please send us your plow requests, or report here. We'll get there. http://t.co/4Oz4PjDU RT Is your st still unplowed in #Boston @PeterWBZ
A Twitter chat occurred yesterday (1/25/2013) about the role of social media during the ongoing bushfires in Australia. The chat was organized and facilitated by Robert Dunne @Academy911, Joanna Lane @joannalane and Joanne White @joannewhite. Although I haven’t had time to read through the complete archive of hundreds of Tweets, some resources stood out to me that I’d like to share.
One of the items mentioned was this great presentation available on YouTube by CFA (Country Fire Authority) Digital Media Manager, Martin Anderson who discusses the integration of social media into emergency service procedures in Victoria, Australia. Mr. Anderson points out that the full adoption of social media had to come with three main changes in mindset:
From: “We hold the info the community needs and we expect them to come to us.” To: “We realize we need to go to the community.”
From: “We will decide what the community needs.” To: “The community will tell us what they need.”
From: “The public is a liability.” To: “The public is a resource.” See the full video below:
Some great examples of the many ways the Australian public can stay informed during this crisis were also shared during the discussion on Twitter. One emerging theme is the move toward providing aggregated information from many different agencies and organizations along with a visualization of that content.
1. A great resource page by HardenUp.org has been established for the bushfires that provides an aggregation of official social media channels as well as images posted by the public. HardenUp is a project by Green Cross Australia who’s mission is to prepare the public for a changing climate “in ways that embrace sustainability and community resilience.” The resource page was inspired by the Queensland Public Alerts page, sponsored by the Queensland government.
2. The Country Fire Authority has a similar aggregated social media site aptly called “Social Media Updates.” The page lists official social posts from the CFA Facebook and Twitter account, as well as from other relevant official accounts including for instance, the Melbourne Fire Bureau or MFB and traffic information from VicRoads, just to name a few.
CFA: Fire Ready Smartphone Application
3. The CFA also has a FireReady mobile app. This app was mentioned during the chat, and I blogged about its features here.
4. The ABC Emergency website is a great resource that provides an aggregated list of all current alerts and warnings. The site was set up in the wake of the Black Saturday Fires and Brisbane Floods by the Australian Broadcasting Company. I like that they don’t just provide information about the hazard, but also what the public can do to prepare themselves. The preparedness pages also include links to official agencies. For instance, the “Plan for a Bushfire” page has hyperlinks to each of the Fire Emergency Services. The ABC’s stated purpose for the site:
The caption states: ABC Emergency only publishes warnings from official sources. This is a list of official warnings currently available to the ABC. You should check with other sources for more warnings relevant to your area.
Google Crisis Response Map: Current Fires and Incidents
5. The Google Crisis Response team is also active in this disaster. Their NSW Crisis Map has current bushfire information. They call this “…a mirror of the NSW Rural Fire Service Current Fires and Incidents map.”
This list represents just a few of the interesting resources made available to the public during this event. I hope these agencies will share their lessons learned: I look forward to hearing more about the role social media continues to play in the land “down-under.” What are you learning?
Thanks to Nathan Hunderwald or @smem911 for ReTweeting some of the best links.
I live in the DC corridor and therefore I follow the WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) social media accounts. The authority has great social presence and I find their Twitter feed especially useful. I look to them to see, for example, why I’m standing on a platform with no train for 20 minutes. More often than not, they will have posted the problem(s) that caused the delay.
Shady Grove-bound Red Line train offloading at Gallery Place, door problem. Next RL train directly behind, and at Judiciary Sq. 8:23a #wmata
Watching a conversation that took place with WMATA the other day, however, made me re-evaluate some of my own advice. I have often stated that it is important to communicate with the public how you will be using social networks in order to manage their expectations. For example, “This account is not monitored 24/7.” The public, however, pushed back to WMATA for saying almost this exact statement. I captured the conversation below. They simply stated:
The last exchange reminds me that exclamation points can demonstrate that someone is excited, enthusiast or sarcastic…I’m going with the last choice. Nonetheless, this exchange makes me a bit nervous. Is a 24/7 monitored social media presence now something the public will demand, especially for public safety organizations? If not today, will this be a demand in the near future? What are your thoughts?
Update: @WMATA responded to this post via Twitter. I really appreciate their replies!
@kim26stephens use of "!" is for pleasure & enthusiasm. You may dial 911, however you won't directly get MTPD as if you used 202.962.2121.
For those readers that do not live in the DC area, the MTPD is the Metro Transit Police and they “have tri-state jurisdiction with responsibility for a variety of law enforcement and public safety functions in transit facilities throughout the Washington, DC Metropolitan area… MTPD police officers have jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout the 1,500 square mile Transit Zone that includes Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for crimes that occur in or against Transit Authority facilities. It is the only tri-jurisdictional police agency in the country and serves a population of 3.2 million.”
Indeed yesterday, as bushfires swept across large tracts of land in New South Wales and destroyed properties in Victoria, social media helped save lives. Just as it is hard to predict what the winds of change will do during these infernos, it may be dangerous to hazard a guess at how many lives. A few? Dozens? Perhaps many more. However, I have no doubt that the ability of social media in conjunction with established media outlets to spread emergency information to scattered communities meant residents were, in many circumstances, kept as well informed as the fire crews battling the constantly changing circumstances. And they got out of the path of annihilation.
But believe it or not, I don’t think the lesson to be learned from this event will be that social media can help spread information. Numerous disasters, including SuperStorm Sandy, have made this use of social networking almost self-evident. One thing we might learn, however, is the increasing power and usefulness of mobile applications, provided they are done well. The private sector is also learning this lesson, see the article “Forget social media, smartphone apps are the new customer service tool.”
The Need to Provide Mobile-Ready Information
During a crisis, organizations are increasingly comfortable with providing critical information and emergency updates via social media. However, one of the lessons we have learned as an SMEM community, is that the people who most need the information are also the least likely to be viewing it on a computer screen. Therefore, when a hyperlink is included in a Tweet or a Facebook post it should link to information that is mobile ready. Some would even argue that in low bandwidth situations, a link shouldn’t be included at all.
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) of Victoria, Australia or @CFA_Updates on Twitter, seems to have learned the mobile-ready lesson. According to their Facebook page, the CFA is one of the largest volunteer-based emergency management organizations in the world and are one of the main agencies involved in bushfire fighting. Via their social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, during this recent disaster, they have been providing a constant stream of official emergency warnings, incident updates and media releases.
Why? I clicked on the link in the Tweet on my smartphone, because the Tweet itself made no sense to me, and I expected a long delay for a website to download. Instead, I was directed to their mobile-ready content. Furthermore, once there I had the choice of downloading their mobile app, which I did.
The content of the App is very impressive, even though, as they state on their website, some people have experienced problems with the latest version–which is really unfortunate timing. An article titled “CFA website can’t handle the heat” noted how the CFA website and phone app had to be placed on separate servers after both had problems during the worst of the heatwave due to extremely high user demand. There’s a lesson learned–or re-learned–there are well! Nonetheless, I was able to navigate through the most of the app without too many issues.
There are many things I found useful, but I’d like to highlight 5 items.
The application has a very handy map interface that allows users to quickly see where fires are located as well as the fire’s current status. People can even sign up to get alerts of warnings when fires are within a specified radius of the user-defined “Watch Zone.”
Each fire symbol is clickable which takes the user to a screen that provides detailed information about that event, including how many trucks are on scene and the percent contained.
One thing I LOVE about the “Incident Detail” screen is that users can share the details of an incident to their social networks straight from the app. Providing an easy way for citizens to share your content should be a goal of every organization: the more information is shared the more it is seen.
The app does not squelch the sharing of user-generated content, in fact it encourages it. A tab for “photos” reveals contributions from citizens who have uploaded images to the app. The purpose is to provide situational awareness content from the perspective of the community, but the unstated purpose is more psychological. People like to feel that they are contributing in emergency situations, even if it is a small act such as uploading a picture. This feature sends a huge signal to the community that says: “We are all in this together.”
Their social media streams are embedded in the app. This means that the user does not have to leave the environment of the app in order to view this content. This makes for a handy one-stop shop for all of their streams of communication. I noticed, however, that this feature seems to be where some of their current bugs are occurring.
Despite the little hiccups with the app during this current disaster, I see it as the future. What I also see, however, are other issues that will need to be resolved. For example, during a crisis whose app will the community be encouraged to use?The one from the American Red Cross, FEMA, the local Fire Service, Emergency Management Office, or the local City or County Government? Or will citizens be forced to download all of them and then go from app to app to gain all of the particulars they need, from protective action measures to recovery information. Open data is probably they answer, but that’s another post!
Let me know what you think? Is your organization developing a mobile app?
The report was done by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism: A Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, based at the University of Maryland with support from the Science and Technology Directorate of DHS. The authors are Julia Daisy Fraustino, Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland; Brooke Liu, Associate Professor and START Affiliated Faculty Member at the University of Maryland; and Yan Jin, Associate Professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University.
In an interview with the authors, published on START’S website, they explain their overarching goal for writing the report:
“We hope this report can serve as a map for policy makers and emergency managers as they navigate disaster communication decisions,” said Brooke Fisher Liu, START researcher and Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland. “We sought to provide a summary of what is currently known so decision makers don’t have to risk relying on intuition alone or inaccurate information.”
For those of you who are developing training materials, the content could provide very good sourced and referenced background information. Let me know what you found the most interesting.
It is easy for emergency managers to learn social media in terms of the purely technical aspects–these platforms are pretty straightforward to use. However, one of the complaints I often hear, is “Now what?” Never before has the EM community been expected to communicate with the public on an almost daily basis. Once an emergency manager has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page they understand that they have to post something so that it doesn’t look like a ghost town, but what?
Deciding what to post is not usually a problem during an emergency or a disaster situation, but social communication during the preparedness phase can be challenging (even after an organization has determined they will invest time and resources to the effort). There are several inter-related issues to consider:
Coordination with response partners.
Managing Public Expectations.
Being creative enough to get the public’s attention.
Coordination with response partners
In bigger communities it is increasingly common for almost every department or agency to have their own social media account. The Department of Transportation is likely to be posting information road closures, traffic problems, and real-time road conditions during storms:
@MayorSRB Primary roads have been treated using 619 tons of salt. All 311 requests have been abated. The weather is expected to end at 3PM.
So, where does that leave the Office of Emergency Management? If all of the “sexy” up-to-the minute content is being reported by other agencies, what’s left to be said? Even once your agency decides what “lane” you should be posting in, it’s still possible that other city or county agencies will infringe on your territory. I have heard statements from some annoyed EMs such as: Why did the Fire Department post emergency preparedness content? That’s my job!
Solution: In order to prevent “social-media envy” coordination and collaboration are key. The results of coordination could manifest in a city or county-wide written content strategy or simply in a verbal agreement regarding expectations. However, it is important to keep in mind that in the social media world, repetition of a message is NOT a bad thing. Your Tweets and Facebook updates are never seen by everyone that follows you (see Jim Garrow’s article “The Demise of Facebook” in which he points out how few people actually do see what you are posting in their feed). Therefore, amplifying each other’s messages should be an overarching goal. Here are two great examples of how this is done and communicated to the public in Baltimore.
I like the Tweet immediate above this paragraph because it also denotes the type of content OEM will provide and when. I have heard concerns from emergency managers that once they start posting something, such as road closures or the weather, the public complains when they stop. One social media admin told me “The public now thinks I’m the weather man.” However, continuing to post the same information daily can turn your feed into a very boring presence, ultimately reducing the amount of community engagement and interactions.
Solution: There are two ideas to consider:
Pre-determine your thresholds for when your office will post emergency content (e.g. not every road closure, but only major incidents; not every fire warning, but only “red-flag” events; not every day it rains, but only severe weather ). You can publicize your intentions, however, by simply staying consist, the public will learn what to expect.
Make it very well known, either via your website and/or Facebook page, the types of content your response partners are posting on social networks and where people can find that information. See the National Capital Region “News Feeds” as an example of this.
Whether or not we want to admit it, the “Be Ready” message gets very little traction when there isn’t an emergency. Posting “Are you Prepared?” along with a few tips to your Facebook page does not mean your community is now more resilient. In fact, they are probably ignoring this message altogether. Why? Frankly, it is boring.
What works? Storytelling. Stories do many things: reshape knowledge into something meaningful; make people care, transcend one’s current environment; motivate; and give meaning, among other things. In a blog post titled “The Importance of Storytelling in a Digital World” the author discusses why TED Talks (the ultimate in digital storytelling) work. His logic applies to all digital communication:
I believe that storytelling is critical for public engagement on the web. Storytelling is a fundamentally human and social practice that allows individuals to connect through mutual cooperation and shared empathy. Storytelling inspires. Storytelling moves. It is a timeless practice that is the future for public engagement on the web.
A great example of storytelling in emergency management this year was from “Ready Houston” with the video: “Run. Hide. Fight,” embedded below. This 5 minute video holds viewers attention and has received over 1.8 million hits. The protective action measures the public should take during a shooting incident are demonstrated via the story of an attack in an office building. It was also successful because, unfortunately, it is all too relevant for the times we live in.
In contrast, the Ready Houston Facebook page has only 208 “likes” and features typical “Be Ready” content.
Solution: What are we trying to do here? We are trying to change behavior, which is not an easy task. Posting “Get Prepared–here’s your list” is probably not going to get anyone off the couch. A little more work might have to be involved. (For some reason I’m reminded of kid in the movie The Incredibles who’s asked “What are you waiting for?” and he says, “I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.”) See the video clip below, just for grins.
What can you do? You don’t have to invest thousands in producing slick videos, but you can find a family in Home Depot shopping for winter supplies and take a pic. Ask them why they are getting prepared and post that. Or repeat news stories (even older ones) about someone that almost died in their car during a snowstorm because they didn’t have food or blankets in their car.
Storytelling can also be short and sweet. The Brimfield Police Department, whom I’ve written about previously, tells little stories that amuse, and get people to act and engage. Below are two posts from their Facebook page. The second one had almost 1500 “Likes” and many comments.
Let me know, are you ready to provide good content for 2013? What’s your plan to be amazing?
Bonus Video #1:
See this video which demonstrates how boring “data” can be enthralling when given meaning and context.