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.

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