Thursday, March 16, 2017

Leadership in a crisis in Québec? A snowball's chance in hell !

I am from Montréal ... Even though I now live in Ontario ... Je suis Montréalais ! So, it's with a sense of shame that I must draw attention to the complete clusterf**k of their response to the recent snowstorm. 

Québec and snow ... shouldn't be an issue right ? They knew the big storm was coming ... at least 48 hours before ...if not earlier than that. So what in the hell were they doing during all that time? 

I've sat in provincial level EOCs ... I've been part of command discussions as lead PIO ... I know that in Ontario there are discussions with key parties involved about foreseen hazards such as severe weather and plans to coordinate a possible response. Now, I must wonder what kind of system they have in my province of birth.


Hundreds of drivers left stranded in their cars for 12-13 hours during a very bad storm ... not in the boondocks ... deep in the hinterland ... not even in the outer suburbs ... but in Montreal itself ... 

Elsewhere across Ontario and Québec, we saw huge pileups and even a couple of deaths when workers became stuck in deep drifts in whiteout conditions. In other words, it was a bad storm.

Heroic rescue efforts were deployed to no avail in the case of the deadly incident near Québec City. That storm was just that bad.

But attention needs to be brought to the total lack of preparation by all parties around Montréal. From provincial ministries (Ministry of Public Safety, Ministry of Transportation), first responder agencies and municipal government agencies. I hope many heads roll ... there's just no excuse for that level of incompetence and lack of leadership by senior officials. 

No one said: "Hey, we're taking lead on this ....We'll be prepared!" 

Here's what should have been done: 

  • set up teleconference calls in the days/hours ahead to review planning and interoperability issues (the police called transportation officials more than 100 times with no responses while motorists were stranded ...)
  • Plans should have been aligned and contact established between various command centres ...
  • better still ... a unified command system should have been established ... goddamn it !  train for it ... drill for it ... plan for it ... and effing put it in place when it's time ! 
  • A joint information centre with representatives from all agencies involved should have been created 
  • the JIC should have had an operational social media listening operations in place during the storm to improve overall situational awareness and keep info flowing and respond directly to those who might have been at risk 
It's just not normal to have people stranded in their cars in the second largest city in Canada during a snow storm ... 


What are we ? Texans ? (sorry Texas ... could have been Oklahoma or Arkansas ... I picked you ... you're just bigger ! ) 

I hope a full after-action report leads to improvements ... a full move to the ICS/IMS in Québec and adoption of a unified command posture for big events/incidents. 

But hey, that makes too much sense ... I"m angry en maudit ! 



Monday, February 20, 2017

Tips for the PIO in the age of disinformation

It's safe to say we live in "interesting times" as the Chinese cookie proverb goes. The environment for the public information officer (PIO) keeps changing at breakneck speeds. How people consume and share news, how they create their own networks are key elements of that transformation.

Academics and practitioners are offering some hindsight on this change to the role and duties of the PIO. Recent event in the US have exacerbated things. Mistrust, plain lying and active disinformation are present at the highest levels. All this undermines the ability of the Federal government to communicate effectively in any future emergency.

While some things can be adopted from the "Trump" way ... it plays a large role in furthering the credibility and trust gap. And although I've addressed the need for adaptation by PIOs in the recent past, it's time for another look at how we must fulfill our role.

Whether you're a PIO for a public safety agency, a government, an emergency management organization or a hospital (my new role), I modestly offer some tips to help colleagues remain efficient and reach their audiences during a crisis.
Streaming from your EOC might be a good idea
  • Cut through the clutter ... become your own broadcaster  ... when media might be perceived (BTW, not by this former broadcaster) as biased ... you can talk directly to most of your audiences though social networks ... streaming is particularly efficient and gaining in popularity.



  • Be present online at all times ... before,during and after a crisis ... a good way to build confidence ... create your own network of message amplifiers ... a "circle of trust" of sorts ...
  • Stick to facts ... become the "beacon of truth" about your incident ... brand it ! No need to add flourish ... to obfuscate ... to exaggerate ... your actions dictate your comms response. It's simple in reality: emergency comms are about three things: A: tell your audiences what's happening and what you're doing about it ... B: tell them why you're doing it ... C: update 1 and 2 constantly
  • Engage meaningfully ... that means true two-way conversations ... if people don't have a sense they're being heard or even contributing ... they'll disconnect ... social listening brings value to any response ... it's the starting point for dialogue and also enhances your situational awareness.
  • Ignore trolls ... don't dispute alternate facts ... stick to your messaging ... sometimes discretion IS the better part of valour. Some fights are not worth getting into ... if you've followed steps 1 to 4 above chances are you're having a good comms response. Unless misinfo puts lives in danger ... let it go ... people will know where to find the truth.
All this is of course predicated on a socially-convergent outlook by the PIO. A thorough use of social and mobile to get the job done. On top of that, the PIO needs to adhere pretty closely to the four imperatives of a comms response to any incident.

How are you prepared to be heard in the age of disinformation? 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

When the boss is the wrong spokesperson in a crisis

One of the most cited principles of crisis communications is to have the "guy in charge" ... your CEO or senior elected official become the face of your response. Most often this approach will work. People who get to the top drive the agenda, know how to seize an opportunity.

NOTE: skip to bottom to see tips on how to help make that happen

And, there's the other guys (or gals !). The leaders who can't handle a crisis in the right way. When that failure by the CEO become another crisis, things get real dicey for crisis comms practitioners. Their arrogance dooms them to failure because they don't realize they are not prepared or trained in crisis comms.

Few would dispute that the current White House is close to a state of apocalyptic chaos. From a communications perspective, it's one bad day after another. The Press Secretary is a bumbling buffoon ... and today, his boss #POTUS proved again he's totally unhinged and unfit for office. Yet, he's the boss and took his show front stage. 

The reaction was immediate and not flattering

Obviously, the Donald has no ability to stay on message or to look prepared. We shouldn't be surprised. His debates against Hillary Clinton were of the same ilk.

So, if the boss can't be relied on to be prepared for planned events, how can his own people have confidence in how he/she will react in a crisis? Truth is they don't. It's likely the whole thing will be a train wreck.

Which brings me to another boss who made things worse for his company: Edward Burkhardt. One of his train devastated a small Québec town, killing dozens. That's bad enough. His mishandling of the communications aftermath made the pain even more unbearable for residents and those who lost family and friends in the tragedy.

So, what's a communicator to do? Here's what I wrote a few months ago:

Here are five things that can help:
  1. influencing ... know your principal ... understand his/her motivations, demonstrate how your advice can make THEM look better 
  2. coaching ... if you have the experience, you can coach your boss in how to handle the media and other stakeholders in a crisis, how to stick to the message and avoid improvisation
  3. preparing ... if you do your boss justice, you'll have a solid crisis comms plan ready based on various scenarios, snappy key messages for every audience ...
  4. repairing ... if your boss comes across as unprepared (or worse, uncaring) you'll do your best to show empathy, knowledge and optimism ... and not make things worse (see above re: Trump and Pierson)
  5. learning ... you'll use every opportunity to learn from a crisis or even a well handled issue that didn't make it to the crisis stage ... and show your boss how he/she came out a winner ...
And , here are five more tricks you can try:
T: as in Train ... practice, involve senior leadership in drills or mock scenarios
R: as in Rehearse ... improvising at the podium is not a good thing
U: as in Unite ... bringing people together in a crisis is key ... dividing is unproductive
M: as in Moderate ... your CEO's ego by controlling the setting, providing messaging
P: as in Pace ... a marathon press conference = disaster. Parcel out interventions

You still have the choice to bail if the captain keeps steering the ship towards that iceberg ...

Monday, January 30, 2017

A painful goodbye to a friend ...

This blog most often deals with issues related to social media, emergency management and crisis communications. Every so often, I also look at geo-strategic/geo-political issues to give perspective. But most often, I stay the course and relate everything to what i focus on.

But recent events have made even that difficult. 
The news are just astounding. Viewed from Canada, the situation in the US is a bit like seeing your best friend's personality change ... and not for the better. A close buddy who's become withdrawn, moody and lashes out at any perceived slight or injustice. 

I hope I'm wrong but I think our American friends are in for a bitter four years ... a period of chaos from which they may not emerge from ... in the end, that may be EXACTLY what Trump and his neo-nazi gang may be hoping for. This post was scary in its relevance. 

By sowing chaos, spurring protests and causing a general upheaval in the civil process that has marked the US as a beacon of hope for the world, Trump is following a game plan laid out decades ago by fascists of all stripes.

His actions are creating a void ... he's benefiting from recent developments and exploiting trends ... all that in his favour. Let's examine 10 of them : 


  1. the strongman identity ...Only I can fix the mess ... heard throughout the campaign ...and now the environment is being altered to help make any other potential leading figure appear weak. He's the outside fixer whose base would follow just to shake things up ...He's doing it.
  2. Lack of trust ... in government, in the media ... in institutions in general ... This marks a decay in civil responsibility such as voting ... when nothing is trustworthy ... lies become common and all the more believable by many.
  3. Fake news ... or rather interpreted "alternate facts" ... when you minimize the legitimacy of the media ... when you repeat and validate lies ... everything is open to interpretation ... the moral ground becomes a bit muddy ... drain the swamp ? How about making it even more of a morass. 
  4. Propaganda press briefings ... attacking the media is generally a stupid idea ... unless part of a broader de-legitimizing plot to tear down any institution that might rally future opposition or try to see through obfuscation and blatant lies.
  5. Weakening the nation's judiciary ... ignoring court orders suspending an unlawful ban ... for Trump supporters that's just more noise coming out of "activist jurists/courts" that have "undermined" societal values ... read: given people the proper protection they deserve under the Constitution and Bill of Rights ... 
  6. Playing the legislative branch against one another ...GOPs members of Congress have the most part embraced the Trump agenda whole ... most of them save a few decent, statesmen (McCain and others) ... little do they know that they must now tow the Trump line or become irrelevant ...as for Democrats, they now are in a position to be no more than observers bemoaning the lack of civility in the political process ... 
  7. The all-powerful inner circle ... the White House (if not the entire country) is now run by a bunch of sycophantic neo-nazis, profiteers and unscrupulous operatives working at the behest of a literal mad man ... a dangerously paranoid narcissist ...who may very well be a Russian puppet and who can only hear the reality created by those around him ... the civil service is ignored ... so are his own senior cabinet members who might be a bit more sane.
  8. Bannon is really in charge ...think about it ... a washed out former military officer ... an avowed supporter of dictators ... with a history of condoning/promoting hateful points of views ... the éminence grise has in fact a VERY black heart. Enough said about him ... journalists beware ! 
  9. Of the first actions of the new administration was to institute a cull in the senior public service ... way beyond the normal changeover of political appointees ...those with moral spines have been evicted ...to be replaced with more malleable officials. The independence of an effective public service is a building block for trust in government ... now you know why it had to be torn down ... part of the whole plan.
  10. A final observation ... and that's very scary ... the last few years have seen a militarization of police forces across the US ...at the local, state and federal levels, law enforcement agencies now boast full arsenals ... equipment that's often comparable to that of military units ... Trump is now counting on that to help him put down protests ... and perhaps even legitimate rebellions if he pursues an unlawful agenda.

I'm probably overly worried ... and things won't deteriorate ... All I can say is that I hope I'm wrong.
If I'm not, the world will have lost a historical symbol of hope, freedom and opportunity ...and I think that Canada will have to take up even more of that mantle ...






Monday, January 23, 2017

When the spokesperson becomes the story: you have failed!

I have a new favorite hashtag on Twitter : #SpicerFacts ... it's full of witty comments and memes on the astoundingly stupid media relations strategy adopted by the new White House and its Press Secretary, Sean Spicer. 

No matter where you stand on the Trump presidency ... their approach to communications is worrisome and troubling. It's also just plain stupid : 

Here's a few reasons why it's stupid. The new spokesperson: 
  • adopted a combative tone right off the bat 
  • focused on relatively trivial issues (crowd size ? ) instead of laying out a bold vision for a new administration 
  • blatantly lied on facts that are easily verifiable.

 So, Spicer became THE story ... a spokesperson is supposed to be just that ... a mouthpiece relaying key messaging ... the focus should be on the message and not the messenger.

For Spicer, that notion seems lost as he was intent on attacking journalists and news organizations. That approach is still not effective even if they're just using the media as a foil to placate their base. In fact, it was a huge misjudgment.

In an era of low trust (actually almost non-existent for government) ... it's self-defeating because government and media are equally distrusted in the US according to the recent findings published in Edelman's Trust Barometer.

It's also troubling ... worrisome ... perhaps even dangerous ... to adopt such a posture towards the media and a vast segment of the public.

If you have no trust capital ...how will you be able to influence the public and the media when it matters most ... when a crisis or nation-wide disaster hits? 

By degrading any aura of authority the public might perceive, you minimize your ability to influence behaviours, convince the public to take appropriate actions to protect themselves during events/incidents such as a flu pandemic, a dirty bomb explosion or some other terror attack.

It also reflects poorly as President Trump tries to establish his image/public persona as Commander-in-Chief ... (attacking the intel community is not a good way to do that ...) One has to hope that the current or former Marines in his national security team can set him straight ... at least we know THEY are not traitors ... 

No trust in the CinC, no trust in his spokesperson, no trust in his legion of proxies ... no trust anywhere ... but hey, let's keep attacking the media when they question the lies we feed them daily.

Ultimately, this kind of public posture, based on "alternative facts" is doomed to failure or even worse, might cost lives.

One thing though ... you have to be somewhat impressed by the bravado displayed by the Trump gang ...comes from the Fibber-in-Chief himself ... and trickles down ( sorry for the bad mental image that evokes ... ) to his key aides. 


I'm not in the US ...but I wish all my American friends good luck over the next four years ...In fact, we might ALL need it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump's Big Win : 10 lessons for the crisis communicator

A lot has already been said in a political sense about the new President-elect's electoral victory. A lot of humble pie and crow on the menu ... accompanied by many a face-palm.

But I thought there were many lessons that could be learned by those dealing with emergencies .. particularly from the communications point of view: 


  1. Trust data .... but also trust your gut ... in a crisis, use the experience/expertise that has brought you this far ... do not rely entirely on data ... engage with people on the ground to help refine your understanding of a situation
  2. social media might be a very good barometer during a crisis ... monitor social platforms to gauge the mood of your audiences and how your actions are perceived
  3. don't use the legacy media as an intermediary ... Trump is a masterful media manipulator ... yet, they were largely against him and he bypassed the media effectively ... http://www.newstatesman.com/world/north-america/2016/11/control-alt-right-retweet-how-social-media-paved-way-president-trumpmake the most of social networks
  4. in the CCO formula ... which stands Compassion, Competence and Optimism ... focus on optimism part ... offer up the idea of change ... especially if the crisis was brought about by some action you may be responsible for ... although overplaying that card can lead to authoritarianism 
  5. Brand your response ... a catchphrase ... a slogan that will convey meaning and a sense of your objective ... most importantly. one that resonates well with big segments of your audiences ... in this case, he tapped into hate, anger and bigotry ... unpleasant but effective nonetheless 
  6. Don't be afraid to be yourself ... speak your mind ... be genuine ... now, perhaps not to the extent to which Donald Trump showed his true self ... but audiences crave personality not a robot or drone during a crisis ...
  7. Keep pounding away with your key messages ... "Crooked Hillary" .... was .... effective ... brought his opponent's key weakness (lack of transparency and honesty) to the fore EVERY TIME he said her name, Effortless ... 
  8. Be convincing ... have an absolute belief in what you're doing ... don't go as far as Trump down the narcissistic path ... but display strength and, when necessary, some humility 
  9. Motivate your staff ... show up in your EOC, crisis cell or boardroom ... Trump rallies were an omen of what was to come ... sustaining the enthusiasm of your staff is key in dealing with any crisis and creating a sense of purpose and unity
    Long lines for a Trump rally
  10. Question yourself all the time ... do any of the normal rule matter in an era of such rapid social and technological changes?  Trump ignored most of the rules associated with traditional campaigns. Have a plan sure ... but be ready to adapt it to new circumstances ... a new environment 
I'm not sure how much America will change ... but i know that only one thing is certain in emergency/crisis management :  change is a constant and will only come at an accelerated pace in the near future. Are you ready ? 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Between the apocalypse and crying wolf: finding the right tone

It now seems every major storm comes with dire warnings ... sometimes even mentioning impending death. That plays well in the media ... grabs attention .,.. but just how effective is it really? 

My good friends Gerald Baron (@gbaron) and retired fire chief Bill Boyd (@chiefb2) brought this issue to my attention. Gerald in a tweet ...
@patricecloutier @chiefb2 turned out to be quite a bust. Very little wind. Concerned about the "cry wolf" effect.
And Bill Boyd through a series of funny Instagam posts ... including this one.
So, where to draw the line between crying wolf and calling for the end of times?

OK, you'll tell me this is on FOX News ... The same people who made a Trump candidacy viable ..
But, they weren't the only ones predicting the coming apocalypse that was supposed to be Hurricane Matthew in Florida:
The Weather Channel people also relied on very strongly worded public warnings.
Now, add the voices of senior elected and emergency management officials and you had a chorus of voices calling for caution and mandatory evacuations and using very strong language. Yet, many chose to stay ... There are many good reasons why people make that choice. A great article recently looked at that issue.
Predicting weather events has its challenges, leading to alarm fatigue ... as does predicting earthquakes ... technology is improving and making warnings about seismic event a real thing ... such as what happened in California a couple of weeks ago. ... causing some fear and uneasiness.

This is not without consequences:
Does this potentially translate to more injuries and deaths? According to a study published in Weather, Climate and Society, “tornadoes that occur in an area with a higher false-alarm ratio kill and injure more people, everything else being constant.” Why? Because when people live through enough warnings in situations where tornadoes never actually materialize, they start to ignore them.
So, false alarms come at a cost ...they create apathy and complacency that can kill. But it's kind of a lose-lose situation ... don't warn ... people may die ... warn too often ... people may not care ...those who do and evacuated can face other difficulties that can add to the alerting conundrum later.
Some people are actually disappointed when carnage and destruction don't follow dire warnings ... adding to the cacophony of conflicting messages. So what are possible solutions to this dilemma?
  • stricter criteria for sending out warnings ... especially those that include words such as death, catastrophic, or other dire messages
  • more effective use of a variety of channels (social media + mobile technologies) to reach a very specific set of audiences ... (although WEA/IPAWS come with their own issues too .... ) ... people trust their friends/family more on social networks than they do official agencies ... influencing that info flow on social networks is critical.
  • Monitoring social media during crises gauge the effectiveness of emergency information and adjust according to needs and the behavior observed on the ground. A vital crisis comms imperative.
  • focusing on risk communications and public education prior to events ... so that warnings convey the right meaning to populations at risk ...

Combating human nature is never easy ... finding the right tone will be hard ... reaching the right audience even harder if you only rely on traditional media.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Art of the Apology ... the meaning behind SORRY



There's real craft in being able to deliver an effective apology. It's got to hit all the right targets, have the right tone and be seen seen as believable. I've written about this in the past and did a podcast on it as well.

However, following the latest Trump debacle ...it's a subject worth revisiting ... Most crisis comms practitioners should be glad that they'll never have to defend someone as repugnant, blatantly misogynistic, overtly racist and as much of an egomaniac as the Republican presidential nominee.

I won't even talk about the latest tape that proves how big of a threat to women he really is. (Now imagine if he gets into the White House and has to deal with women heads of governments.) Instead, I'll concentrate on his apologies to his latest outrage. The first was a tweet ... a non-apology if there ever was one ... a misconstrued attempt to deflect and obfuscate:

Here's what this "apology" says to me:

  1. it wasn't a big deal ... so many years ago ... locker room stuff ... boys will be boys right ? 
  2. I only talk like this in private ... with my other pro-sexual assault buddies ...
  3. besides ...I'm not the only one ... even my old buddy Bill tells good stories ... 
  4. you shouldn't take it badly ... i mean ... i'm a little sorry ... but not really .... 
And then the Trump "brain trust" (if you can call them that ...) (BTW ... what's KellyAnne Conway think now?) seclude themselves high up in Trump Tower in NYC ... hours later they come up with such a bad video apology ... it looked like it was made purposefully to be a training aid for crisis comms professionals on what NOT do do: 


Here's what's wrong with the video:
  • the background is totally impersonal ... adds to make it look like a fabricated piece
  • "I've never said I'm perfect" ...this from the guy who styles himself as the only one who can save America
  • video should have been 21 seconds long and stopped at : " ... and I apologize." .... PERIOD ...adding anything else in this case took away from any hint of sincerity
  • Trump talks about all the people he's met ... and vows to never let them down ... be a better man TOMORROW ... now, all this a month away from the elections and against a background of Trump having been Trump throughout the campaign ...
  • Trump then launches into his stump speech about jobs and how DC is "broken" ... worst of all ... he brings up Bill and Hillary Clinton again ...
The only message to be taken from this video is that Trump is only sorry for getting caught ... this "distraction" as he calls it only diverts attention from his inevitable (in his own mind) ascension to the highest office in the free world. 

Here's what a real apology needs ... How saying I'm SORRY resonates with various audiences: 

  • S ... for being SINCERE ... however good you might think yourself in front of the camera ... audiences will quickly make their mind if you're being honest with them
  • O ... for OPENNESS ... being open and transparent about what has gone wrong ... laying it out ... avoiding obfuscation 
  • R ... for REGRET ... showing remorse is key ... heartfelt message about wanting to be a better person or organization 
  • R ... for RESILIENT ... demonstrating that a person or organization will learn from this "mistake" or incident ... move on and improve 
  • Y ... for YEARNING ... to be better ... laying out the steps you and your organization will take to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen again.
In this regard, Trump fails on all counts ... Now, contrasts this with this apology (from a real billionaire ...) head of a very large food processing company in Canada ... shortly after a listeria outbreak that killed 22 people across the country: 


That's how the top guy is supposed to handle an apology and explain the actions of his organization in a crisis ... in other words ... to be a leader ...everything Trump isn't ...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Being prepared helps ... for a debate and during a crisis


By all (the sane) accounts, Hillary Clinton walked all over Donald Trump during Monday's first presidential debate in the US. The consensus seems to be that the "Donald" was not as prepared as he should have been. 

Now his campaign is spinning all sorts of fantasies ... from mediator bias, to faulty microphone and big bad Google censoring anti-Clinton stories. Off-the-record though, the fact is that most of his advisors are appalled by his lack of effort to be ready. Bluster will only carry you so far.

Even if politics has morphed into entertainment ... where the prize of the reality TV show that is the 2016 campaign is the White House ... Where late night talk show hosts and TV doctors are part of the process ... Playing for the camera is key. But even the most solid "command of the stage" can't hide being unprepared ... At first, I thought expectations were so low for Donald Trump that he only had to show up not being drunk ... and not in his underwear ... to win .... I didnt' expect he's show up TRUMP! 

Only one person was ready ... prepared ... poised. Clinton nailed it with knowledge of the issues, a stateswoman-like demeanor and an understanding of how the debate worked."Sniffles" Trump ? Not so much ...

Now, imagine that your company/agency/organization is facing a crisis ... and despite all your efforts to have a solid crisis comms plan in place ... the Boss decides to wing it ... Do you run for the hills? Or do you stay to try to have any semblance of influence over what the approach and messaging would be? 

Tough question ... the reality is that the Boss is not always the best suited spokesperson during a crisis ... But convincing hard-charging, agenda-driving executives that they lack the training and poise to do it ... might well be impossible and even career ending.

But you still need to do your job. The debate was a good illustration of what needs to be done: Anticipate, Prepare, Practice. Those are the guiding directives behind the crisis communications technique of message mapping.

There are about a million political operatives who have been working on anticipating issues and concerns ... from the public ... about the candidates ... and their vision. They know what's likely to be asked or brought up at a debate. They have answers prepared ... they drill the candidates in mock debates ... subject them to incessant questioning, interruptions and even downright hostility. All in the name of being ready.

For BCP/COOP professionals, emergency managers and crisis communications practitioners, the same rule applies.

  • You know the risks/hazards your organization faces ... add the concerns that your stakeholders/public may have if they materialize ... you end up with a matrix of concerns/risks ...
  • Take that matrix ... rank risks/concerns by likelihood of occurrence and severity of impact ... then start drafting messaging ,,, for specific audiences ... identifying specific channels to reach each and everyone of them ... make sure it can all be adapted quickly during an incident ... that's your playbook
  • Now, take your playbook ... run drills ... practice ... as often as you can ... identify the right people for the right job in your comms response team ... repeat .... repeat ... repeat ....
A huge component of trust is competence ... As well as clarity of messaging and transparency ... these principles all go together in various degrees. Here's a document that might help your crisis comms planning.

Finding the right mix in a crisis is key ... Anticipating, Preparing and Practicing will help you find that right composition ... often by trial and error.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The future of emergency management collaboration is virtual


Image result for virtual collaboration

For old geezers like me (I'll be 55 soon !) learning new tricks as someone involved in emergency management and VOST work takes more and more of the little flexibility left in my brain. I can still manage the jump from Skype to Slack or WhatsApp or learning how to do new search strings on Hootsuite or Tweedeck ... but just.

A key component of the effectiveness of the Virtual Operations Support Team concept is virtual collaboration .... the assignment of tasks remotely ... working together with a team whose members I've never met. For some new VOSTies, that takes a bit of getting used to.

But I have no fear that the next generation of emergency managers won't be able to manage. Fact is, young people already collaborate in a virtual fashion every day to accomplish various tasks. How? They play online multiplayer games.

For example, I watch my son play a game online and collaborate with many other players to get things done on a map ... mostly they don't know each other ... yet they are able to work together ... organically some order appears and results are achieved.

That points to the fantastic pool of resources available to EM agencies across the world. Something that's already been tapped into and exploited for good during large-scale disasters. The Internet Response League is one such organizations using the enthusiasm and digital expertise of gamers.
 
This supports two key trends for EM officials and first responders. First, there's the growing reliance on digital volunteers who bring expertise not always on hand in EOCs  ... And second, IMHO, the EM world is slowly moving to its own version of the C5I command and control concept ...Some thoughts: 

Command: incidents are getting more and more complex ... unified and even a more diffused command structure is becoming more adapted to deal with all the various facets of an emergency ...
Control: technology and virtual tools have made some aspect of the span of control precept a bit outdated ... with crowdsourcing, span of control is irrelevant ... especially if dozens, hundreds of people are working on a solution collaboratively ...
Communications: closed-in agency-limited comms nets/methods hinder collaboration ... interoperability now involves the public and digital volunteers ... EOCs need access to all available nets.
Computers: while OpSec and cyberthreat issues remain vital concerns ... EM agencies must have in place a process to share and access data from a multitude of platforms ... some using open source software ... not many agencies are there yet ... again digital volunteers lead the way in that regard.
Collaboration: there must be procedures in place in EOCs to facilitate inter-agency cooperation and now, most importantly, working with digital volunteers ... Official acceptance of the value brought by digivols is growing as the realization of the effectiveness and surge capability they can bring to an official response dawns on senior officials.
Intelligence: when all five Cs work as they should ... when EOC plug into the world of social data available to them ... with the aggregation and analysis performed by crisis mappers and VOST teams .. EOC managers get the most important thing they need to make better decisions in the allocation of strategic resources: actionable intel ... that's priceless ...

Coming back to my son ... when he and his online team tackle hordes of zombies ... they do so in teams that coalesce ... self-direct ...self-correct and yet, organically move to a kind of diffused command system that works ...

That's why asymetric warfare can be so effective (think Crimea or Eastern Ukraine) ... In a way. all of that. makes command and efforts to vanquish the enemy ... a lot more resilient ...

Food for thoughts for my EM friends !