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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?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

14 issues that could shape 2014 for #smem and crisis comms

In the last couple of years, I've posted blogs early in January to set out what I believe will mark the coming 12 months for emergency management and crisis communications professionals. Before we get into 2014, let's look back! 

In 2013, common themes were the effects of climate change and the changes in governments' approaches to mitigation and preparedness. While I was right on the money for some key aspects, I did miss the boat on others: large-scale cyber-terrorism still has to materialize. 

For crisis communicators though ... my thoughts on how 2013 would be marked by the prevalent use of social networks were on target for the most part.

My outlook for 2012 was also heavily skewed towards cyber threats and our critical infrastructure. But I also took a broader look at some key geo-strategic/geo-political issues that are still relevant in many cases.

Okay, then. What's in store in 2014? Well, in no particular order are 14 trends/topics/issues that will pop up:
  • Social listening (social media monitoring) will become an integral part of crisis/emergency response ... the issue of how to operationalize this in your planning will be a critical challenge.
  • Social media command centres will become more common ... a direct result of the point above ...        
    They'll vary in size and sophistication (starts from my basement set up with a laptop and two monitors .... all the way up to expansive rooms with large-screen displays) but they'll have a common element: info will flow, be crunched and analyzed to support command/decision-making or to support online engagement.
  • Organizations will become broadcasters during a crisis as a  means to ensure THEIR story is heard. And they'll use social channels (Twitter in particular ... but also actual audio/video too) to reach their audiences and get into conversations.
    In other words: the news release is DEAD.
  • Social media will become more widely recognized as a community resilience
    enhancer. From Australia to South East Asia (and across the world), the power of social networks before, during and after a disaster will empower whole communities. A sure fire sign of the power of social convergence.
  • Alerting will become even more social and more mobile. From the WEA system expansion in the US to apps sprouting up across the world, mobile and social notification harness the power of social convergence to reach people wherever they are and on the tools they use. That's staying relevant!
  • More emergency management organizations will realize that to deal with the flood of social data, they'll need the help of digital volunteers ...
    VOSTs (Virtual Operations Support Teams) will multiply and be more frequently involved in emergencies.
  • Securing funding for emergency preparedness and mitigation activities is going to remain a challenge for emergency managers in Canada, the USA and across the world where government are facing fiscal crises. This poses particular problems in public health preparedness where the pandemic threat (H7N9, MERS) is lurking on the horizon.
  • Cyber threats are going to become an almost daily fact of life for critical infrastructure owners/operators. The risk of a near-fatal, civilization-destroying cyber assault is not to be discounted as pure science fiction ... our systems are vulnerable and one day, some hacker or a rogue nation might come close to bringing us to our knees. From bringing down an airliner to undermining our financial system ... the risks are high ... the likelihood ? Nobody knows ...
  • Attacks on soft targets will be the order of the day for terrorists groups everywhere. Why lose men attacking a heavily defended airport or high-security area when you can paralyze a whole city by storming a shopping mall? In the US and elsewhere, there's a new threat assessment matrix being worked on. Where to put anti/counter-terrorism assets/efforts? Oh, and these groups use social media too. To recruit, to coordinate and then boost about their "exploits" ....

  • Drones will become a more familiar tool. Helping to fight fires, assessing damages and for law enforcement, the age of civilian use of drones is upon us. And according to Amazon, drones could power the next UPS ...
  • The adoption of mobile technology is going to continue unabated. The power of mobile will increase and organizations won't have a choice but to ensure their info can be accessed from a mobile device in a crisis if they want to stay relevant.
  • News will be crowdsourced more than ever before. We've already seen some examples of this phenomenon. In the future, news will break even faster than before. Putting additional pressure on organizations to have effective, flexible and quickly implementable crisis comms plan in place. All of this is closely linked to how people get their news.
  • Climate change will continue to make headlines (by the way ... when it's minus godawful out there ... don't call it global warming ! ). The impact on emergency management is becoming more tangible every day.  The costs and other impacts are rising well beyond the rise of sea levels.  That won't change soon.
  • Drought ... the most visible effect of climate change for manyDrought is particularly worrisome concern in the western part of the US. The whole sustainability of key regions/cities in now in doubt in the long-term. Mass migrations possible? 
So ... the new year will bring us some challenges ... but as always, the most important quality of an emergency manager is flexibility ... It will certainly come in handy ... 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The most socially convergent technology: Twitter ... the top #smem tool

We have reached the conclusion of this series. The trend readers will have noticed is that most of the 9 technologies listed so far have a close relationship with the one true social network for SMEM: Twitter

N1By now, most of us realize that stories break on Twitter first .... whether a plane crash ... or some other important news event ... nothing beats it for speed.

In fact, the world turns to Twitter in large scale disasters.

That's why so many organizations now consider it as the primary tool for ongoing incident communications.

A clear indication of the growing importance of Twitter is the fact that more and more news organizations use to report and get sources for stories. And while it's not the only source of info among social networks, the amplification power and the typical Twitter audience make it a valuable tool. It's a fact that Twitter capitalizes on with an array of tips for news outlets.

For crisis communicators, it's an essential tool. Once they realize that traditional media should no longer be their primary info channel, they latch on to what matters: to be relevant in a crisis, organizations have to move at the speed of their audiences (social networks .... most often Twitter) or run the risk of being irrelevant. 

And to have a chance to be heard among many conversations, they must use the tools their audiences use: mobile devices.

For emergency managers, the power of Twitter starts with it as an alerting/notification system .... with your followers amplifying your alerts. Twitter is making that even easier now

The usefulness of Twitter goes beyond the alerting and communications realms. It brings enhanced situational awareness when organizations conduct effective social listening during emergencies.

It's also good to help find families and tell loved ones you're OK .... you can text in a tweet too: 

I could go on but a lot of my writing here has been about Twitter, to me, it's THE most important technology in the social convergence equation. That's why it sits on top in my countdown.

The series:

#1: twitter ... the SMEM social network of choice (January 5)
#2: the social media monitoring platform (January 3)
#3: the IPhone/IPad (and Android too ! ) (January 2)
#4: GPS (December 30)
#5: the crisis mapping platform (Dec. 27)
#6: Skype and Google Hangout (Dec. 17)
#7: Facebook (Dec. 12)
#8: SMS (Dec. 8)
#9: the mobile app (Dec. 5)
#10: Youtube (Dec. 3)

Series introduction (Nov. 29)

Jim Garrow's blog 
Kim Stephen's blog

Friday, January 3, 2014

Number 2 on my countdown of the top 10 #smem tech: the monitoring platform

We're close to the number 1 tech ! In reality, the technology that sits in the #2 spot is as important as any other in #smem ... perhaps more important than most.

Key in social media engagement ... and growing more important by the day for crisis and emergency managers, is the ability to listen. 
That's what makes social media monitoring (or listening) platforms so essential to any #smem effort.

Whether agencies/organizations go for the paid tools or the free services, the goals should be the same in a crisis/incident. There are five reasons you monitor social media in an emergency

  • validate how your emergency info/messaging is being received and acted upon
  • isolate calls for assistance and route them through appropriate channels (that means 9-1-1 in many cases)
  • detect false rumours that could put public safety/your response into jeopardy
  • identify threats to your reputation that might impede your ability to respond
  • enhance your situational awareness.
Fact is you don't need a high-tech command centre to do it (although it helps !). What you need is a section in your emergency response or crisis comms plan that details how you'll do it.  Other decisions include who's going to do the monitoring in your organization during a crisis? If you follow the ICS/IMS doctrine, will that be the PIO ? or the planning section? 

My colleagues Gerald Baron, Bill Boyd and I are in the process of running a series of webinars on social media monitoring to help answer some of these questions.

Tools are all about comfort and finding a specific platform that fits your objectives and is easy to use. My own preferences turn to Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. As a VOSTie ... I also liked Tweetgrid ... but that's gone ... however we adapted. 

So what are the keys? 

  1. define what you'll be monitoring for in a crisis
  2. find out what kind of search strings you'll be putting together 
  3. learn how to find and then monitor for keywords/hashtags that are being used in association with the incident 
  4. learn how to locate tweets coming from a particular area (geo-fenced searches ... some good info here on that ...)
  5. learn how you'll share monitoring duties and collaborate online
  6. and, very importantly, learn how you'll tun the social data you get into operational intel that will support effective decision making.

Truth is, organizations that listen ... respond better. Social media monitoring is now an imperative.

Fortunately, you don't have to re-invent the wheel. Lots of people can now share valuable lessons learned from recent experiences. Heck, if you're an emergency management organization, volunteers can even do some of the work for you! 

The series so far: 

#2: the social media monitoring platform (January 3)
#3: the IPhone/IPad (and Android too ! ) (January 2)
#4: GPS (December 30)
#5: the crisis mapping platform (Dec. 27)
#6: Skype and Google Hangout (Dec. 17)
#7: Facebook (Dec. 12)
#8: SMS (Dec. 8)
#9: the mobile app (Dec. 5)
#10: Youtube (Dec. 3)

Series introduction (Nov. 29)

Jim Garrow's blog 
Kim Stephen's blog

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Top 10 #smem technologies .... at number 3: the IPhone/Ipad (and Android) powerhouse

Nothing has had a more significant role in putting the power of social convergence into the hands of ordinary folks and emergency managers alike, than the IPhone (followed by the IPad and Android over time). Because of the Iphone, smart and superphones are now nearly ubiquitous. That has helped turned millions of people into additional sources of data for emergency and crisis managers. 

This phenomenon has a particular impact on crisis communications: 

As my good friend Gerald Baron explains in the video above, a whole new flow (flood ? ) of data is available to emergency managers, crisis communicators and business continuity specialists when "it" hits the fan. 

How to Use Your Smartphone As an Essential Part of Your Disaster Kit
In my opinion, emergency managers have to embrace social convergence and the prevalent use of mobile devices by the people they serve. It's actually happening. Here are a few examples: 

Are mobile devices perfect? No. Does the use of mobile devices turn us into blind automatons? Maybe ... Is reliance on mobile networks a risk in large-scale disasters? It could be ... but solutions are being put together

Risks and possible obstacles should not impede the adoption of mobile tech and social convergence as a whole by the EM community. There are just too many positives to ignore!

A critical selling point is the resilience-building aspect of the use of social media and mobile technologies. That fact alone warrants putting the Iphone/Ipad and Android devices at the number 3 spot in my list of top 10 #smem technologies.

The series so far: 

#3: the IPhone/IPad (and Android too ! ) (January 2)
#4: GPS (December 30)
#5: the crisis mapping platform (Dec. 27)
#6: Skype and Google Hangout (Dec. 17)
#7: Facebook (Dec. 12)
#8: SMS (Dec. 8)
#9: the mobile app (Dec. 5)
#10: Youtube (Dec. 3)

Series introduction (Nov. 29)

Jim Garrow's blog 
Kim Stephen's blog