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Monday, November 24, 2014

#SMEM learnings from the Cause3 and DVSROE events of last week

A few days ago, I wrote about lessons learned specifically for Virtual Operational Support Teams (or VOST) during a large-scale bi-national Canada-US emergency management exercise. This was for a good reason since a great part of the event dealt with the role of digital volunteers. But there are lessons to be learned for the broader Social Media in Emergency Management (SMEM) sphere as well.

It's easy for those of us who have been promoting a greater use of socially-convergent tools in emergency management for a few years now, to forget that there are still many obstacles that remain before more widespread acceptance. In no particular order, here are some challenges that remain within the emergency management community, particularly for government.

1- most civil servants still don't have access to social networks (or have limited access), nor do they have access to monitoring platforms ... yep, five years after this issue should have been resolved ... it's still an obstacle. Some governments, like in the UK have a more progressive approach. Others (such as our federal government) while they profess openness ... are slow to adopt their own, less restrictive policies: 
Even with the above policy in place, there are still numerous public servants that don’t have access and numerous gate-keepers that could use an update on effective management of this area. (from Mike Kujawski's blog)
 This makes it hard to convince key senior and other officials that SM can be good if they're still prohibited (for whatever reasons) to access it themselves at work.

2- A correlation of the item above, for many, especially those in government agencies, social networks are still just one more one-way communications tools to TALK AT audiences ... instead of engaging in dialogue ... Far from there minds, is the NEED TO LISTEN. Hey folks ... the era of "message control" is over ... dead ... We're in an era of "message competition" where the need to get your message out there (via social networks and fast) using mobile devices THE ONLY WAY you'll stay relevant.

3- That mistrust of social media carries into how digital volunteers and crowdsourced data are often viewed by EOCs and other official bodies. While many emergency management organizations have good relations with various VOSTs and international agencies often rely on digital volunteers who perform crisis mapping ... there's still some hesitation at the local level. That is strange ... because the same officials work hand-in-hand with ham radio operators and NGOs like the Red Cross ... most often volunteers themselves. 

The only solution more exposure to the benefits of #smem ... more training, more exercises like Cause3 and the DVSROE where the role of digital vols can be highlighted.

4- Another obstacle or excuse often heard: no validation of social data ... Well, that's changing ... Most VOSTs are getting pretty good at validating the results of their social listening activities. More and more tools are now available to do this quickly and efficiently. From TweetCred to Verily (@patrickmeier has been a pioneer in this effort). 

5- Crunching the data ... Big data is great ... just not in the EOC ... incident commanders and EOC managers need actionable info/intel to make better informed decisions about their response and allocation of strategic resources. All the crowdsourced data in the world is of no use if it doesn't fulfill that simple role. 

Whether it's crisis maps, or crowdsourced data gathered from a mobile app, the primary function is to add to the situational awareness of emergency managers and first responders. NO OTHER CRITERIA MATTERS. It's a simple as that. 

The truth is that social data visualization is the most important "social output" in the EOC. Making sense of the chatter is critical. Requirements are fairly common:

  • validating an organization's emergency info
  • detecting rumours that threaten public health or safety
  • isolating and appropriately routing calls for help
  • identifying reputational threat that can impede the response
  • adding to the situational awareness

In the end, a simple report to command or the PIO (or anyone else in the EOC) might suffice. 

When technology surrounds us, when we still have to convince many in the EM community ... the low tech option often offers more bang for the buck.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ebola, crisis communications and social networks ... diverging views

logoI've had the pleasure to work with a fantastic group of people at the Canadian CBRNE Collaborative

 Here's a little bit about what they're about:
This collaborative is for Health Care Providers professionals, learners and volunteers who may be called to assist in the event of a public health emergency due to a CBRNE event.

One of the collaborative’s goals is to transform the meaning of CBRNE. Why?  Those letters represent greater threats when natural and accidental events are included.
The collaborative has recently made available a series of webinars focused on everything from hospital preparedness (in dealing with possible Ebola cases), best practices on PPE, psycho-social casualties in CBRNE events and more. You can find the videos here.

I've worked on the communications aspect of CBRNE readiness focusing on crisis comms planning and the growing role of social networks. I'm extremely fortunate to have been able to bring into the conversation, two reputed crisis management experts: Melissa Agnes from Agnes + Day in Montreal ... and Gerald Baron from Agincourt Strategies in the US.

Those who read this blog know that I consider Melissa and Gerald among the top experts in the application of social convergence in crisis communications and friends/colleagues to boot ... 

My first conversation with Melissa Agnes focused on social networks as crisis management tools in the healthcare/public health sectors: 

The second conversation involved Gerald Baron and looked at ways of using rumours shared/transmitted via social networks to your advantage: 

In addition, a former CBC reporter did a fantastic webinar on crisis comms ... all about the age-old "who's in charge?" question and what makes a good spokesperson ...well worth watching ... 

Finally, I read a blog post which drew conclusions about the impact of social convergence (mobile tech + social networks) in the Ebola crisis that I completely disagree with. Here's an excerpt:
Most of these tweets are retweets of inaccurate information or intend on spreading fear. It has proved effective in doing so. So fearful, it has impacted the foreign policy of three nations that historically never cut off humanitarian aid; AustraliaIsrael, and Canada by halting all humanitarian operations and travel visas to and from the region.  

Really, those rumours on Twitter changed the foreign policy of three first-World countries? 

Here is another paragraph from the blog post ... I'm not quite sure where these conclusions come from ... when many indications are that tech tools such as What's App, SMS and social networks are being used effectively to combat rumours on Ebola ...
Social media is not read in West Africa. Little do they know, it is hurting the regions ability to recover with resources that traditionally send aid in times of need. Social Media is destroying humanitarian aid to all three nations affected.
While I certainly don't believe social convergence is a panacea for humanity's troubles during uncertain times and in disasters ... I do know that mobile devices and social networks offer tools to help improve response capabilities, speed up recovery, boost community resilience and help fight dangerous rumours. 

Frankly, I wait for stronger arguments to change my mind ! 


Friday, October 24, 2014

7 questions following the Ottawa shooting ... an incident comms debrief

The events in Ottawa were certainly troubling. I mean, this is Canada for pete's sake! If you add the incident in Québec a couple of days before ... the beginning of a pattern can be seen. I hope I'm wrong but radicalization might be a bigger issue than we first thought. 

As many other poeple, I was thoroughly fascinating by the ongoing incident. As a professional communicator, I paid particular attention to how emergency information was being handled by the key parties involved: the RCMP, the Ottawa Police, the Prime Minister's Office and others.

Seven observations or questions popped up in my mind.

  • When (or even why) should you do on-site media briefing(s) ... to bridge the gap between the almost immediate response online (@ottawapolice was phenomenal) and the more formal news conference (which in this case followed about 4 hours after the event started ... might be considered a tad long) (although it must be said the Ottawa Police PIOs did a very good job talking to individual TV/radio outlets via phone) ... I'm just thinking that a PIO presence onsite ... where reporters were gathered (and often speculating) might have been useful.
  • If you're going to wait a few hours and then decide to have a media conference ... how do you make the decision to just go with statements and not to take questions .. or start a Q and A session when you know you won't be able to answer any of the relevant questions (more than 1 shooter? was it the same person? do you have a name?) All the questions reporters desperately need to beef up their story after four hours or so ... I personally would have gone with short statements ... and told the gathered media ...more briefings would be coming ... establish a schedule and then take questions as more facts become known ...
  • Is four hours too long for a formal statement or media briefing in the age of social convergence when new imperatives guide incident communications? A recent post of mine was made even more relevant by yesterday's events. Fortunately, things went a bit faster when time came to warn employees/staff on the Hill and around Parliament:
At 11 a.m. the Government Operations Centre emailed government employees that "a situation is unfolding that compels all employees to shelter-in-place. For employees' and your own safety, PCO (Privy Council Office) is requesting that employees DO NOT exit their building until further notice and are to wait until they receive further instructions.
  • Another question that came to my mind (and I don't have an answer ...) is how to coordinate info provided by multiple sources (often at the same time) through social networks (mostly Twitter) ? Could lead to confusion ... but that's why joint exercises including validation of your social media protocols ... 
  • Another key question ... social networks (and the fact that everyone with a smartphone and a twitter account is now a reporter) make next-of-kin notification a nightmare for police services. Especially when senior officials break the news of a death ... before any official law enforcement forces do ...It's a bad thing when politicians get involved ... or jump the gun
Condolences to family of the soldier killed, & prayers for the Parliamentary guard wounded. Canada will not be terrorized or intimidated.
  • Another question: how to curb the enthusiasm of witnesses who share info on police operations, dispositions, show pictures or videos ... perhaps compromising the response of law enforcement and operational security?

 Ottawa Police retweeted · Oct 22Members of the public are asked not to post videos or photos of the on-going incident to ensure safety of first responders and the public
          While at the same time ... encouraging witnesses to come forward ... with pictures and videos ... 

Anyone who has pics or videos of the sequence of events, surrounding today's shootings send to police at this link
  • Finally, there was a veritable deluge of tweets and posts while all this was going on. Tweetdeck, Geofeedia and Hootsuite proved useful. 

Every time something like this happens, I learn more about how to properly conduct a real-time social listening operation: running a geo-fenced searched updated constantly, finding the right hashtag/keywords to monitor, determining who the credible and prolific sources are, dealing with retweets, etc... it may be difficult but IT MUST BE DONE!

In addition, there is only one real lesson in the events on Wednesday: it'll take more than one crackpot with a gun to shake the confidence of a nation.

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