Thursday, May 31, 2012

Post-deployment soul searching ...

I've been back for a couple of days from an operational deployment where I was asked to go and help coordinate emergency information regarding forest fires and threats to communities.
Now, nothing beats getting out of the office and getting to the real world. As a planner at the provincial level and helping to coordinate emergency information at the strategic level, it's very useful to go and get the feel of what's needed, what's practical at the local level. And I sure did!

My mandate was three-fold: 

  1. coordinate comms/emergency information with provincial entities
  2. provide assistance and advice to local officials if requested/needed
  3. act as liaison between provincial authorities and local officials

A few generic lessons reveal themselves (and I don't want to get into too many specific details ... those will come in fulsome debriefs with all parties involved.) ... but I'm okay with general observations: 

  • The primary quality of an effective liaison officer is the ability to listen, be humble, offer advice only when sought ... 
  • Coordination is only possible when all parties involved see a benefit ...
  • The use of social media in emergency management programs on the ground varies greatly between regions and the seat of government
  • Social media monitoring is slowly being recognized as a necessity ... however, few organizations have the surge capability, the right policies and procedures, to operationalize the data gathered ... and to engage effectively with audiences.
It is however, heartening to see the realization of the importance of social networks during crises. Local officials certainly took their first step with putting media briefings on Youtube:

Yes, that is a good first step ... using SM as a crisis comms tool ... this one-way push of info can be effective and lead to broader two-way dialogue and engagement ... You got to start somewhere !

We tried to make as much multimedia materials available on Emergency Management Ontario's Facebook page. It worked ... visits and likes were way up!  So content does matter.

Further observations include: 

  1. Many still see traditional media as the main audience, the key channel to get information to residents in an emergency 
  2. crises/disasters represent fantastic opportunities to reiterate preparedness messages ... this was done masterfully in this case ...
Conclusion: i come back to my job with my enthusiasm for SMEM intact but a bit more balanced by the reality on the ground ... Those of us who are pioneers in the use of emerging technologies in emergency management must remember that current practices have worked well for decades now ... to change them wholesale might not be appropriate ... a gradual approach is necessary to convince senior executives of the benefits of SM for situational awareness, dispelling rumours and reputation management.

I can't end this without mentioning the absolutely fantastic work of fire crews ...on the ground and in the air ... in command posts and on the fire line ... who put everything they've got to protecting property and ensuring the safety of communities ... Innovation and dedication are key in those battles: 
The air ops are a veritable aerial ballet ... planes and helicopters dropping their load with extreme precision to douse or slow down the fires ... spectacular: 

Hats off to the men and women who do this... great stories to tell ! 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for this Patrice. Your observations hit really close to home for me in a number of ways, especially in your role as liaison. I hope there will be some sharing of lessons learned at future conferences and workshops.