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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Part 3: social convergence in the EOC/ICP ... Logistics and Fin/Admin

In this third and final post in this series on social convergence in the EOC/ICP, I'll address the benefits for the logistics and fin/admin people.

I first looked at Command (June 9)  and then for Ops and Planning (June 24).  I also wrote a guest blog post for Geofeedia on the role of social convergence (with a focus on social monitoring) for situational awareness and the efficient allocation of strategic resources. 

For logistics, as well as any other part of the disaster response/management enterprise, social convergence (mobile tech + social networks) offers one key thing: speed. The ability to grasp in almost real-time what the needs of the populations impacted by an emergency might be. 

This might start in the EOC itself with simple geo-fenced monitoring, coupled with hashtag searches for such things as #help, #supplies ... all linked with the incident-specific #. You can quickly match needs and offers of assistance.

Here's examples, I just came across: 

WenatcheeworldJul 18, 7:03pm via InstagramWant to volunteer or donate to the #NCW Fire Victims in #Pateros or other communities? We have an…
#WAwildfire victims need some help in #Brewster and#Pateros near the #CarltonComplex fire. Local businesses are... 

Image result for henryville tornadoOne of the most illustrative examples I saw followed the devastating tornado that hit Henryville in Indiana in 2012. Almost immediately, calls for help, and offers for assistance, emerged on Twitter. Local official made the best use of this. 

Here's what it could have looked like in their EOC's logistics section:

A simple two-column dashboard on Tweetdeck (one of my favourite monitoring tools) showing #henryville and #help on one side, and #henryvilleneed on the other. Are you ready for this kind of direct, almost immediate flood of requests and offers of assistance?

It's exactly this kind of problem (in my opinion, opportunity really ...) that the O'Neill sisters (Caitria and Morgan) solved by making the most of social convergence and creating To quote an article from the Huffington Post

The site works by linking volunteers with where they're needed in specific communities, offering up-to-the-minute social media updates on relief programs, and databasing even the most random donation items so they're easier to disperse exactly where they're needed.
Social convergence is a community resilience booster! It works. It's done so in Boulder and many other communities. My good friend Kim Stephen (@kim26stephens) expanded on that fantastic example in a blog post.

During Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, crowdsourcing supplies such as gas, the availability of medical equipment and facilities, became common. In other words, supply chain professionals don't have to do all the work alone in a crisis ... the crowd can (and does) help. A good article in this PDF on page 26. The trend is being studied and validated across the globe by academics and business schools.

But for many, it begins much closer to home ... with insurance companies being able to grasp the situation in real-time. They use GIS, social media, to target their response as efficiently as possible.

So, enough about logistics .... point made. 

But what about our fine fin/admin folks (I'm always nice to people who ensure I get paid ! ) ? 

Besides, using online tools to process data and store content, they can use a multitude of mobile apps specifically designed for emergency response. Again, it's about bringing the info directly into the hands of those who need it NOW.

So, if you're not there yet ... it's not too late to get "socially convergent" and bring your EOC and your incident command team into the 21st century. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Post #2: social convergence in the EOC/ICP ...plans and ops

In the first post in this new series, I talked about how socially-convergent tools could be used by command staff and incident commanders. Today, I'll explore what the future might hold for the Operations and the Planning sections within an ICS/IMS structure.

But before, I get to this new chapter, I'd like to reiterate the power of mobile technologies in the hands of first responders, SAR/HUSAR teams and the such. It's not just about the use of social media in emergencies. Social convergence is much bigger than that!

From adding to a search dog's natural abilities, to receiving images coming from a bouncing ball full of cameras, creating 3-D maps on the go in destroyed buildings and making the work of rescuers easier, the power of mobile devices has barely been exploited:

It's clear to me that in the Operations Section, social convergence brings new, validated tools and procedures that can be used by a single resource ... up to the Section Chief.
From dynamic, real-time, GIS mapping showing up-to-date situation on the ground, to the use of drones to support efficient decision making, everything points to the integration of mobile technologies (phones, drones, satellites) to make response efforts more efficient. And all that can be held in your hand ... on a smartphone or tablet. 

Now, imagine combining the data from drones, crisis maps and crowdsourced information, in real-time, to give the response leader all he/she needs to deploy resources in the most strategic fashion possible. 

Want rapid damage assessment? What better than a cheap drone ... keep your staff out of the danger area. Here's what the aftermath of a recent tornado in Angus, Ontario looked like from a drone's eye view:

In the planning section, the obvious benefits of social convergence are in the creation of better maps. Maps that reflect reality as experienced by the people impacted by a disaster or emergency. We are squarely in an era of community-based situational awareness. An understanding of how an incident evolves based on the experiences on the ground and not simply analysis conducted in an EOC far away.

This might appear daunting for the Planning Section Chief or even the EOC manager/director to grasp. The fact is, there is help out there! More and more digital volunteers are stepping up to support emergency management agencies. Virtual Operations Support Teams (or VOSTs) are now active in many countries (including Canada). 

Furthermore, that work is constantly being validated by sound academic studies and projects that keep giving it growing legitimacy. The results are in: VOSTs and other digital volunteerism efforts (mainly crisis mapping) save lives and speed up response/recovery efforts when whole neighbourhoods are burning or when large storms affect an entire country.

As the Plans Section Chief, you can use socially-convergent tools. Your resources unit can combine check-in apps, mobile devices and mapping to lay out a clear picture of what's available at any time. Again, the power of mobile is only beginning to be discovered.

For the Situation Unit ... mapping as previously described is greatly enhanced by social convergence. But sharing sitreps is made so much easier by the prevalence of mobile devices (smartphones, phablets, tablets) often "ruggerized" for field use. With a bigger screen info can be consumed much more easily by responders because it's provided in a much more visual manner.

The Documentation Unit can use a variety of cloud-based apps (google docs, dropbox, others) and services, all accessible by mobile devices to do its job and support operations.

Even your Demob Unit can use mobile devices and services such as check-in apps, cloud-based spreadsheets to keep track and help it plan the post-op draw back. 

I'm only scratching the surface here .... in the next installment in this series, I'll look at socially-convergent tools for the Fin/Admin and Logistics section ...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Social media in the EOC or the incident CP ... a look at what could be.

I've written in the past about the need for organizations to operationalize social network listening during incidents. It's become an absolute imperative. But how do you actually do it? What tools can you use to make it an effective addition at the incident command post and/or the EOC? 

In the first one in a new series of posts, I'll take a look at how command staff can make the most of social convergence in emergency management.

It starts at the scene. Today, there are tools that would allow any response leader to know what's on the social sphere when showing up at an active shooter situation, a large urban fire or some industrial accident. 

Case in point, the San Mateo pipeline explosion in California a few years back. It took a while for firefighters to realize there was no plane crash but that the pipeline blew instead. A look at Twitter might have told them right away. Listen to about 50 seconds into this video.

A tools such as Geofeedia might be a good one to have on a tablet in first responders vehicles. Any incident commander (I/C) could have a quick look to see what's up on social networks around the site.

Lets take a look at what the other command positions could be doing with socially convergent tools as the incident grows bigger. 

The Liaison Officer (LO) could start a group on Twitter and send out info that way. Or the LO could use Yammer or a private Facebook page to ensure inclusive comms where info could flow.

The Safety Officer (SO) could use Foursquare or even Google+ as a way to keep track of personnel and share relevant info via mobile devices. The SO could use Pinterest to post notices and other safety-related items. Again, this shows tablets or smartphones are a must for responders of any kind now.

The Public Information Officer (PIO) can use of combination of social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Youtube,etc) to send out info as he and the I/C decide on what needs to be communicated. They could even harness the power of mobile alerting through tools such as Ping4 Alerts! and similar apps. The role of PIO is evolving fast!

The Intelligence Officer (IO)  (OK ... to me it's a command function ! ) could use a laptop or a powerful tablet to set up an incident-specific mobile social media listening dashboard. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and a few others come to mind. They have the ability to track hashtags, do geo-fenced searches and much more. It's a definite priority in my mind.

All this to say that technology exists to start this almost as soon as any incident emerges. No need to wait for a full EOC set up or a full fledged social media command centre to be set up.

What needs to happen though is procedures to be written, training to be thought of and given ... but more importantly for minds to be opened ! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grappling with social engagement ... some hard learned lessons ...

It's been a hard week for some big organizations on social networks. Many are learning that engaging online is a double-edged sword. But are there ways to mitigate the risks? I propose to show a few.

First, Air Canada went through some difficulties when one of their baggage handlers was caught on camera throwing luggage around .... 

I put together a storify piece on this whole mess. But how did Air Canada do overall in their crisis comms response? The answer ... a fair job at best. 

What worked: 

  • They engaged with media outlets fairly rapidly 
  • They engaged one-on-one on Twitter and Facebook with people who complained 
What didn't work: 

  • They took a full day to post at-large on their Twitter and Facebook page
  • They left the public space unoccupied for a long time letting criticism and negative impressions go unchallenged in the largest social forums.
What they should have done: 

  • Engage broadly on social networks right from the get go ... don't let the social team work in the dark ... they need to be integrated in the crisis comms team ! 
  • Use soundcloud to get a senior exec express his/her regret to customers ... a couple of hours after engaging online and distribute on Twitter/FB
  • Use Youtube to broadcast another, more fulsome apology and promise to improve/correct ... just like what Fedex did just a couple years ago: 

Second is a story of a campaign gone wrong. In Ontario, we have a cartel of foreign beer companies controlling beer sales ... The Beer Store. Pressure is now on to allow the sale of beer and wine in corner/convenience store (a shocker really .... this would cause the end of Ontario who'd become like Québec where such sales happen: cool, hip and fun !  ... but I digress. )

The problem is that whoever is advising the Beer Store made them overplay their hands with really obnoxious TV ads. Ads that border on equating store owners with predators ... Not reflective of the reality at all:

They also had a twitter hashtag #ONbeerfacts .... Well, let's just say that things backfired there as well: 

@ONBeerFacts aren't fooling anyone with their ridiculous ads. Scaremongering at it's finest. #ONBEERFACTS

#ONbeerfacts. Thank you for promoting your extortion of Ontarians

Here's an interesting Storify on the whole deal. And the reaction is not any better on the Beer Store's Facebook page.

What could they have done instead?
  • If you're going to engage online and intend to create a real debate ... don't engage in silly propaganda elsewhere ...undermines any credibility you might have.
  • They should have better gauged the risks associated with promoting their position on Twitter
  • bring insightful and believable spokespersons to the fore ... talk about communities ... don't talk down to them ....
Finally, the week was topped up by the #myNYPD fiasco.

What were they thinking? They must surely know that the NYPD's reputation has been tarnished since the whole Occupy movement took to the streets?

While wanting to engage online is a noble idea (and some think it wasn't all bad ....) ... you've got to know how to pick your battles. This is not about judging how police behave in general ... or a discussion on the validity of accusations of widespread police brutality ... rather it's a question of evaluating the public perception before launching such an online campaign.

To say the results are not what the NYPD expected is a gigantic understatement. The twitter stream was inundated with images like this one:
Media preview

What they were after was more like this: 

What could have done better:? 
What they have done right? Promise to stay the course and keep engaging on social networks. That's great and i'm sure they'll learn from that particular lesson

In the meantime, it's been a huge train wreck that has caused other police services from around the US and oversees as well, to become embroiled in the social crisis ...

What a week ! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Social media listening: shared imperative for emergency management and national security

I had the pleasure to be a panelist at a very interesting conference/workshop last week organized by the Canadian Forces College. The focus was on social media and national security.

I provided a short presentation on social convergence it deals with national security in its broadest definition: emergency and crisis management. This is in recognition that the highest duty for any government is to ensure the well being of its citizens. 

Here are some observations I made during the two day meeting: 

  • Agencies (law enforcement, counter-terrorism bodies, military) are paying great attention to open source intel coming from social networks.
  • Most agencies recognize that relationships between individuals are no longer linear and in person ... social convergence (mobile + social) is both a source of empowerment for the people and an enabler (for good or bad).
  • The same basic activities in terms of social media monitoring apply to both open source intel work and for emergency management and public health purposes: real time listening and analysis, collection and validation.
  • After listening to the opinions of experts, I'm convinced that the most basic social listening tools we currently use (Hootsuite, Tweedeck, Geofeedia and others) are more than sufficient for EM purposes although they do not fill all needs for counter-terrorism or national security issues.
  • There are some less known tools that can help validate social data.
  • Despite the fact that the number of people who activate the GPS on their smartphone is quite small .... geo-location tools are supplemented by other algorithms/tools and can provide a large enough sample to get solid intel for situational awareness in emergencies.
  • The work done by the likes of Patrick Meier (@patrickmeier), Project EPIC and others ... gives the #smem community more than solid "academic" backing to validate this whole new field of emergency management.
  • Despite some negative examples (Reddit in the Boston Bombings for example) most military and intel organizations recognize the value of crowdsourced info ... despite the risks of the crowd getting it wrong .... the potential benefits cannot be ignored. It's something emergency management has already put in practice.
  • And, surprisingly, more than a few people at the workshop think Edward Snowden did democracy a whole lot of good by forcing a public debate about the power of the state in the era of social convergence ... 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Training the modern-day PIO ... what should he/she know?

There is no doubt that social convergence is putting extraordinary pressure on today's Public Information Officers (PIO) ... also called Emergency Information Officers (EIO)...btw: i prefer that term since no one should mistake the job for a PR gig ...). So what should an aspiring PIO be taught? 

I believe the curriculum (and this applies for one-day crash seminars to full term courses) should be divided into three main tracks: 

  1. learning the basics of emergency management ...IMS/ICS ... where the PIO fits in the big picture and his/her role 
  2. Crisis/Risk Communications: basic techniques to ensure effective messaging in various situations 
  3. social networks and related technologies: how to use social media ... on what platform ... and, very importantly, how to monitor it during emergencies.

Lets first look at the EM requirements. You'd be surprised to find out how many people assigned to the role of PIO or EIO ... or to speak/coordinate emergency info for their agencies during crises/disasters ... have NO emergency management knowledge whatsoever.  So, what to learn?  

Secondly, the PIO cannot effectively coordinate the planning/delivery of emergency information to the public if he/she doesn't have a solid understanding of how people access and process info during a crisis and how to communicate effectively. Hence the need to learn to use a crisis communications approach

This includes matching crisis comms planning with an organization's hazard identification and risk analysis effort to ensure that what concerns the public (and therefore communicators) is not forgotten by the EM or BCP/COOP specialists. What does that mean? It means focusing on the five Ps
  • procedures
  • people
  • preparation 
  • practice 
  • platform
Finally, social networks and related technology is the big force behind the changes in the PIO world and in crisis communications. From the evolving tech in the EOC, and in the field (as used by first responders) to innovative tech in the media ...It should all matter to the PIO especially how mobile devices keep evolving.

At the most basic level, it means getting familiar with the most popular social networking platforms.

It also means keeping up with alerting and notification tools (most of which now include social networks and mobile platforms) and crowdsourced platforms that allow for a better comprehension of how an incident evolves (crisis mapping, validation tools, etc). That's where the social monitoring (or listening) component comes in.

Social media monitoring is now at the heart of the considerations that PIO face during incidents. From deciding who should do it ... to how to operationalize social data ... that element alone is enough to keep most PIOs busy for a long time.

So, what do you think that new PIOs/EIOs should be learning? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Are you faster (and smarter) than a robot? The need for speed drives crisis communications more than ever.

I recently wrote about the impact of technological changes on crisis communications and the pressures that accompany this evolution. This is only picking up speed. In mere days, "drone journalism" has hit the mainstream. 

This Amazing Footage Shows Why Drone Journalism Is About To Go Mainstream

So, you can stop trying to hide when things go bad at your plant, factory ... at any location. 

Now, how about trying to keep up with a robot ... an algorithm that creates a news story almost in real-time as it's happening? Think you still have hours to react? No, it's not fiction ... It's reality.

And that's just traditional media trying to move at the speed of social networks where more and more breaking news happen. News consumption is evolving rapidly with Americans (and Canadians) getting news from many sources on a multitude of platforms. And, yes, mobile is key again.

Twitter is a big player in breaking news and Reddit proved to be a central focus of crowdsourced "journalism" during events such as the Boston Bombing. Although not always accurate, it's a trend that can't be ignored. And now, Reddit is making the nexus between "old" and "new" media even more dense, according to Mashable.
Reddit is planning to offer embeds for breaking news threads, a move that could help news organizations tap into instant live blogs of newsworthy events.

This all means the pressure continues to mount for crisis communicators. Silence is not an option ... while haste can lead to some missteps à la Malaysian Airlines indelicately announcing tragic news to relatives of missing passengers via TEXT MESSAGE.

The four imperatives of crisis or incident comms add up to massive headaches for professionals under stressful situations. Now add to this the added reality of having to identify and debunk rumours that could impede your response or mortally wound your reputation and all of a sudden, there's no breathing room left.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Technology is driving the evolution of crisis communications

Well, first off, I just noticed that I've surpassed the 100K mark in terms of page views for this blog. Thanks to all of you for caring enough to read my ramblings.

I've spoken on many occasions here on how social convergence (mobile + social = empowerment + mobilization) is impacting emergency management and crisis communications. 

What it boils down to is that time is now crunched. Speedy reaction is a matter of life or death. That also means recognizing your organization is facing a crisis and that you need to flip the switch and forego routine.

So tech moves fast. How fast can you react? Now, imagine you're a chemical plant operator, a waste disposal facility, a nuclear site ... an incident happens. You deal with it ... have the message under control ... and then a drone shows up ! Yes a drone ... not a child's toy but a news gathering tool flown by an enterprising news outlet

Octocopter unmanned aerial vehicleFar from me to imply that you could ever "hide" things but the evolution of tech is making that even more illusory these days. So, openness and transparency become even more important in the crisis comms response when your words can be checked against your actions or the actual situation on the ground. 

But it's not all bad ... drones are now used in search and rescue, by fire services and even to deliver books (the beer delivery project via drone has been killed though ! ) ... Drones offer on site incident commanders fantastic new vantage points and info to support effective decision making.

So, back to our facility manager (chemical spill, hazmat fire, some other nasty scenario) ... I can hear you say: I'll spot a drone .... OK, maybe. But will you spot a pair of glasses? As in Google Glass? There are inventive people out there who have already modified the product to fit their needs .... Again, nothing is safe from the prying eyes of the tech savvy crowd.

Google Glass could be the greatest gift to emergency response since the walkee-talkeeBut there again, the positive side of tech outweighs the negative impacts. First responders have all the knowledge and info they need with the bat of an eye ... That technology will totally revolutionize the work of police, fire and EMS.

The point here is that adaptability and embracing new technology is an absolute necessity. Yes, you can keep the media a mile away from an incident site ... it's easy now but what happens when they all have drones? 

Your crisis comms plan or incident comms procedures have to recognize this evolution ... 

And if you're a first responder or emergency management agency, you must realize the advantages of this new tech revolution that gives quasi-military capabilities to almost anyone ... 

But I don't want to "drone" on ....'nuff said! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Four years after Haiti ... a look at the state of #smem


For many, the Haiti earthquake of early 2010 marked the first global expression of social convergence. The use of social networks, crisis mapping, all operationalized with real impact on the ground reached a scale and effectiveness not seen before. Even in the days that immediately followed the tragedy, social media became a focus of the world's response.

Now, four years later, the use of technology in disaster response is a growing trend, in the Caribbean and across the globe. 

There are few more convincing apostles of this revolution in disaster response/management than Patrick Meier (@patrickmeier on Twitter). He's writing a new book that will come out next year. That will be a must read. 

Patrick has written many times about the relevance of social networks monitoring and information gathering in disasters: the value of big data. He's elaborated on his assessment of the evolution of SMEM and big data in emergency management ... and where it's going. 

The determination of the relevance of crowdsourcing in large-scale disaster, of the usefulness of crisis mapping and the role of volunteer technical communities, is no longer based on anecdotal evidence. In the four years since Haiti, many academic studies have showed their strengths (and weaknesses). From the use of the Ushahidi platform to the creation of donation apps within hours of the earthquake, Haiti truly launched the era of digital volunteerism

Since then, we've been able to see the exponential use of social convergence tools in disasters: Christchurch, Japan, Queensland floods, Typhoon Hayian. The examples on the global stage are numerous. But what about on a more tactical level? 

How is the integration of social convergence in emergency management programs across Canada and the US being measured? We've seen highly influential examples of the power of these new tech tools: in Boulder, in Boston, in Calgary ....  so progress is being made.

Obstacles remain though that keep the proponents of SMEM from declaring victory: the question of trusted agents and digital volunteers, integration of efforts such as VOSTs (Virtual Operation Support Teams), the operationalization of social data as info to support efficient decision making in crises. All these questions are still being debated daily in agencies and governments across North America. 

Too often, the perception of social convergence is limited to the use of social networks as communications tools ... with total disregard for their fantastic ability to help organizations mobilize data and people. 

In a series of blog posts on PTSC-Online, i expanded on my social convergence integration model. That's a six step process in adoption of new tools that will lead agencies/EMOs toward an optimal use of socially convergent tools and practices: 

  1. No use of SM
  2. Limited use of SM
  3. Interactive use of SM
  4. Conversational use of SM
  5. Operational use of SM
  6. Integrated use of SM

I even formulated a measurement matrix with input from trusted colleagues from around the world. A simple tool to help organizations gauge their progress.

That's because, despite the immense steps forward on the global scene, the real benefits of social convergence become most evident (in terms of resilience and faster recovery) when its tools are applied locally. 

So where do you stand?