Tag Archives: Washington DC

Maryland Emergency Management Agency Plans for #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

Maryland Emergency Management Agency

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

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.

Managing Public Expectations….or not.

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: Washington, DC Metro logo

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.

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:


I’m not sure why WMATA said to report emergencies to that long number versus 911. Whatever the case, the idea that the account was not being monitored 24/7 was astounding to some:

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!

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.”

American Red Cross Digital Ops Center: Your Questions, Their Answers

Reposted with Permission by Wendy Harman, ARC Social Engagement Team

(I think this list of FAQs is helpful to any organization interested in building a virtual volunteer “corps”.)

What is the name of this new command center powered by Dell?

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered ...

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered by Dell (Photo credit: Dell's Official Flickr Page)

Its official name is the Digital Operations Center. It is physically located in the Disaster Operations Center in Washington, DC. Internally, we call it the DigiDOC.

What does the Digital Operations Center do? The Digital Operations Center gives the public a seat at the table of disaster operations. The public is a vital participant in emergency response and recovery. They often are the first responders to their own neighbors, and they can provide valuable information to the Red Cross and other response agencies. Our goal is to be informed by and to become a social liaison for people, families, and communities to support one another before, during, and after disasters. The Digital Operations Center will enhance our information about disaster situations, enable us to better anticipate disaster needs, and help the Red Cross connect people with the resources they need during emergencies. The Digital Operations Center is modeled after Dell’s Social Media Command Center. Dell provided resources and consulting services on this project.

How will you know if the Digital Operations Center is effective?
We’ll be evaluating the success of the room by answering the following questions:
•  Are we pulling in relevant, actionable data?
•  Are our efforts increasing the strength and resilience of communities before, during, and after emergencies?
•  Are we providing relevant services via social tools we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to provide?
•  Are we facilitating a satisfying and valuable digital volunteer experience?
Who works in the Digital Operations Center?
 The social engagement team — currently Wendy Harman, Gloria Huang, and Kristiana Almeida. At least one of us will always be here or very close to here during regular business hours. Except for next week when we’ll be at a conference to train more volunteers. We do our best. During major disasters,we will bring in trained volunteers to help.
Who is monitoring, aggregating, and translating to action all this data outside of business hours? Shouldn’t you be staffed 24 hours/day? 
While there won’t be someone physically in the Digital Operations Center 24 hours/day, we can access the data that creates the visualizations from any where. We’re lucky to have a pretty big network of supporters who will alert us when an issue needs immediate attention. At least one person will be in the Digital Operations Center whenever the Disaster Operations Center (DOC) is activated. If the DOC is activated 24 hours/day, we will be, too.
How does the information coming into the Digital Operations Center get to operational decision makers? 
In at least 4 ways:
1. Decision makers for major disasters work within eyesight of the Digital Operations Center. They can come by at any time to get situational awareness at a glance. For this, the data is in the form of the visualizations on the 6 screens in the Digital Operations Center. We can adjust what data we’re pulling in at any time. We’re always tweaking and adapting to be relevant to what’s happening on a given day.
2. The social engagement team will report out to decision makers at national headquarters as well as to the local field operations multiple times per day when there is a major disaster. For this, the data is in the form of a summary report that includes our engagement activities as well as any trends.
3. Decision makers can directly engage with individuals. For this, the data is presented in the Radian 6 engagement console. We are able to create tailored engagement consoles so that subject matter experts are informed by people talking about their area of expertise right from their own computers. We are training a handful of them to use this software.
4. We will share this data with our partners and local operations. For this, the data will be in the form of summary reports very similar or identical to those discussed in #2. We will work with each operation to determine what data is actionable.
Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered ...

Red Cross Digital Operations Center - Powered by Dell (Photo credit: Dell's Official Flickr Page)

How do you engage with individuals from the Digital Operations Center?
In at least 2 ways:
  1. We can holistically see all public social conversation about any given emergency. We look at what questions people have and what issues they are facing and that information informs what content we push out through our national communications channels, including Facebook, Twitter, redcross.org, emails, etc.
  2. Our digital volunteers and subject matter experts can engage with individuals via the engagement consoles they use on their own computers outside of the Digital Operations Center. For example,whenever a digital volunteer responds via the engagement console to someone asking where the nearest shelter is, all the other digital volunteers and the social engagement team will know this activity has happened. This way we don’t duplicate efforts and we can keep track of how many people we provide services to and how well we’re able to help.
American Red Cross Digital Operation Center Un...

American Red Cross Digital Operation Center Unveiling (Photo credit: Geoff Livingston)

How does one become a Digital Volunteer?

 There are several steps and several qualifications we look for in a digital disaster volunteer.
1. Send an email to socialmedia@redcross.org. Indicate your interest in becoming a digital disaster volunteer and provide us with some information about your social networking activity. Please include your twitter handle and where you’re from.
 2. We will have you begin the process of becoming an official American Red Cross volunteer. This process includes a background check.
3. Next, we will invite you to take a social engagement training so you’ll be prepared to serve and you’ll know exactly how to use the tools and what is expected of you.
4. Then, you’re in. You may be called upon for any domestic or international disaster to serve.

English: The American Red Cross Administrative...

Where is it? The Digital Operations Center is a room physically located within the Disaster Operations Center at the American Red Cross in Washington, DC.

How many screens does it have? It contains 6 large screens which show a variety of data visualizations of relevant public social conversations.

How many computers does it have? It contains 3 desktop computers that power the 6 screens (2 a piece!). There’s additional room for several more laptops at the table.
What software is running the visualizations?
 The visualizations are an application from Radian6.
How many visualizations can you display?
We can display 4 types of visualizations:
  1. Heat Map: illustrates the volume of conversation by geography. The heatmap also displays a recent Tweet about the topic about once per minute.
  2. Community: illustrates the social profiles of individuals talking about the topic. The larger the profile photo, the more followers that person has.
  3. Universe: illustrates the volume and sentiment of conversations by keyword. We can display and compare up to three topics and their corresponding keywords at a time.
  4. Conversation Dashboard: illustrates the volume of conversation overtime, a breakdown of the share of voice within a topic, and the sentiment over time. We can display any combination of these 4 visualizations around any of our active topic profiles, explained below.
What is a topic profile?
A topic profile is a collection of keywords and phrases we use to search an area of interest. For example, we have a topic profile called Red Cross, which allows us to see and break down all public social mentions of the Red Cross and our mission area. We also have a topic profile called Disaster Services, which helps us keep an eye on emergency situations like fires, earthquakes, floods,tornadoes, and hurricanes, even if they don’t mention the Red Cross. When the tornadoes hit the midwest on February 28 we quickly created a topic profile to monitor and engage with people affected.
How do the visualizations work?
We can decide which topic profiles to display and we can decide which visualizations (heat map, community, universe, and/or conversation dashboard) to view at any time.
What is an engagement console?
 The engagement console is a Radian6 product that helps us monitor, engage,and internally collaborate about all social conversations during a disaster. The engagement console pulls in public Facebook posts, blogs, news sites,discussion boards, video and image sharing sites, and twitter. It also serves as a workflow manager and is the tool that allows us to scale up to using many digital volunteers.More about the engagement console.
What kind of social data can you pull in?
We can see Twitter, public Facebook posts, forums, blogs, news sites, discussion boards, video and image sharing sites.
What is your privacy policy?
We only pull in publicly accessible social conversations. We do directly engage with individual public social posts to answer questions, provide resources, have a conversation, and/or provide support.

American Red Cross Digital Ops Center: They are Listening

Post by: Kim Stephens

Some emergency managers are still struggling with understanding the value of social media. Even when talking with organizations that do have a presence, there is still some discomfort with  moving from purely pushing information to monitoring for information.  The idea that social media content coming from the public is not trust worthy, only full of rumors, and not valuable, seems to be an entrenched misconception.

The American Red Cross, on the other hand, has not only been a leader and innovator when it comes to using these tools to provide information to the public, but has also fully embraced the concept of listening via these platforms. This was on full display this week (March 7, 2012) when they unveiled their new Digital Operations Center at their Headquarters in Washington D.C. This “listening” center was donated by Dell Computers and Michael Dell proclaimed this as the “first ever instance of a [digital] monitoring center in the realm of humanitarian response.”

The equipment received a workout the week prior to the unveiling when tornadoes struck a wide swath of the mid-west.  Gail McGovern, the ARC President and CEO, stated that monitoring the social stream gave them actionable data. They were able to gain situational awareness regarding such things as announcements of volunteer opportunities as well as people’s immediate needs, including the need to find family members.  In other words, the new tools enabled ARC to quickly gather big picture data to understand what is happening on the ground. She discussed how quite a lot of the content on social platforms after a disaster is, what she termed, “Emotional data.” This, she stated, is quite actionable because ARC is then able to provide tips, comfort and information about where those individuals can find help, for example, directions to the nearest shelter.  “Providing emotional support is a big key.”

See this video below about the new digital ops center and tell me if this makes you reconsider whether or not your organization should be listening.

In a Crisis? There’s an App for that.

GPS navigation solution running on a smartphon...

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

The recent article: Portland CivicApps Initiative: Crowd Sourcing for Crisis Management by Jeremy Waen describes how the Portland government is engaging the “technologically savvy creative class” in order to develop new tools for emergency management through an App-contest. For purposes of background info, these contest, such as Code for America and one of the original crowdsourcing projects, Apps for Democracy, are designed to “put the data in the hands of our citizens” and  tap into the wealth of knowledge, innovation and creativity that exists within the community in order to create products that make that data more useful for citizens, visitors as well as public employees.

The reward structure is based on small cash prizes and people’s sense of contributing to their community. But as Jeremy explains, another motivation is simply ability to parlay the experience into private sector jobs. These contests are quite inexpensive for the government involved, especially when compared to what it would cost to develop the apps through traditional grant or contractor processes: $20,000.00 versus $100,000+.

One of the winning Apps that came out of the Portand project was Loqi.me pictured above. From their website:

“Loqi.me allows mobile users to send an emergency GPS beacon to a real-time map. Crisis responders can view all of the help requests on the webpage, along with hospitals and fire stations, real-time 911 calls related to natural disasters.”

According to Jeremy Waen’s article: “Features of this platform include: emergency GPS beaconing, multi-platform access and user subscriptions (SMS, AIM, Jabber, or Twitter), and Smartphone accessible maps for citizens and emergency response ground teams.”

But I have a few questions about these app contest. I think it is a wonderful way to gain contributions, but what happens to the app longterm? One highly touted crime-data app that grew out of contest in Washington DC just 2 years ago is no-longer available in iTunes app store. With shrinking budgets, it might seem wise to invest in an App challenge, but continued investments are need in order to keep those Apps current. Another challenge, I think for this application in particular, is that it has some similar features to Ushahidi. This could also present challenges for first responders: too many maps. This application will allow responders to “view all of the help requests on the webpage” but what about those requests or reports not made through the app?

I asked the broad question to the #SMEM community on twitter about the value of these contests and one response was that they “stimulate the tech pool”. Another benefit, of course, is civic engagement. People feel empowered when they create an application that accesses government data and changes it from an excel spreadsheet to an interactive-visualization application that allows users to gain information about their current location in real-time.  Eric Kant or @TIJTechOps, added: “Emergency Management is a big word , many disciplines many unmet tech needs + big gap of techops staff to use/implement solutions.” Therefore, I’m gleaning from his statement that app contest have a lot of value, even if the value might not be immediately realized.