Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crisis Commons and Random Hacks of Kindness

Hey folks ! These are good people doing good work !

See below some info on Crisis Commons and Random Hacks of Kindness.

If you can help, please do so

Random Hacks of Kindness 2.0 (RHoK)

is in Toronto on December 4 - 5, 2010. This is the first Canadian RHoK event and the 3rd global event.

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a community of developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today. RHoK is all about using technology to make the world a better place by building a community of innovation. RHoK brings software engineers together with disaster relief experts to identify critical global challenges, and develop software to respond to them. A RHoK Hackathon event brings together the best and the brightest hackers from around the world, who volunteer their time to solve real-world problems.

Last June I had the awesome honour to participate in RHoK 1.0 -Sydney, Australia. It was amazing to support and promote their efforts. Check out a RHoK 1.0 video from the event

Calling all Brains

We will need Hackers, storytellers, software engineers, programmers, university students, marketers, web content creators, emergency planners,international policy and development students, teachers, librarians, videographers, event planners, organizers, project managers and YOU. Creating humanitarian software in a hackathon is a very special collective collaboration.

Participants can select from a number of problem definitions. (These will be posted in the new few weeks.)

Video screens and online tools like IRC, blogs, wikis and more tools will connect the world. You could be collaborating with any of these countries to solve problems and brainstorm. Yes, there is even some healthy competition in store.

Help us make this global event RHoK. RHoK 2.0 is happening in Toronto (Canada), Chicago (USA), Berlin (Germany), Bangalore(India), Mexico City(Mexico), New York(New York), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Aarhus (Denmark), Nairobi (Kenya) and Lusaka (Zambia).


Register for RHoK Toronto

Date: December 4, 2010: 9:00am - December 5, 2010 8pm. ALL NIGHT

Location: University of Toronto, 100 St. George Ave. Sid Smith, Rooms 2015,2016,2019,2020

Tshirts and stickers will be provided.


We are looking for food and beverage sponsors for the RHOK 2.0 event. We will need food and drinks for 30-50 volunteers for 6 meals.

Please contact Heather AT or @heatherleson

Thank you to University of Toronto, Idee Inc, TinEYE and HackTO for sponsoring the event.

Heather Leson

Twitter: HeatherLeson


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Social Media Beat

A new social media resource or link ... this one from the International Association of Chiefs of Police ///

The Social Media Beat

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Drought may threaten much of globe within decades

This story is very much related to my post of last Friday on the theme of "WATER" for world blogging day.

Drought may threaten much of globe within decades: "

The food we eat

A new study, based on twenty-two computer climate models and a comprehensive index of drought conditions, as well as analyses of previously published studies, finds that most of the Western Hemisphere, along with large parts of Eurasia, Africa, and Australia, will be at risk of extreme drought this century; in contrast, higher-latitude regions from Alaska to Scandinavia are likely to become more moist

The United States and many other heavily populated countries face a growing threat of severe and prolonged drought in coming decades, according to a new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Aiguo Dai.


read more


Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog action day: water scarcity and impact for EM planners

Hello everyone! Today is Blog Action Day which is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year's topic is water.

This will explain why water is the subject of this year's actions:

For emergency managers, the concept of water scarcity and its impact on our North American society might be difficult to grasp because the problem is not yet an acute one. But how soon before it becomes so?

There have already been some heated discussions between states in the Southern US on water supply. and many issues related to the Klamath River water system in the Northwest ... and many Californians have felt the effects of water shortages at different times over the last few years.

By all accounts, these situations are only going to get worse.

What does this mean for EM planners? What are the implications in terms of public policy and public safety? Could we face internal mass migration toward areas where it's perceived there is more water? 

Would the Great Lakes area be flooded by American or Canadian refugees? 

It's often very difficult for EM planners to look at long time hazards/risks and engage in efficient mitigation and preparedness practices. In this case, I'd say that this is a topic that cannot be ignored. Large segments of the North American continent would not be able to sustain the population levels that are projected for 2050. Where will these people go? what will be the pressures on other states and on the relationship between the US and Canada? 

As climate change slowly affects all of our lives, many scientists and observers think that its impact will become more and more apparent on our demographics and geography. People will move where there is water, where crops can grow. Large swaths of territory (i'm thinking Vegas and Phoenix in particular, but also many areas of Texas, the central plains, Alberta and Saskatchewan, even northern Florida) will be severely impacted. 

How do you plan for a population displacement on such a scale? 

Yeah, I know. It's still some 40 years away but my children and their children will need water ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Viva Chile!

Now ... the whole scene down on the Atacama desert floor was unbelievable! A great success story all around. Made for some of the most gripping TV in history. Everyone loves a happy ending but that was one for the ages.

A few observations from a PIO perspective:

  1. The rescuers did a fantastic job! and so did the people handling the communications response to the incident and rescue efforts.
  2. It was all about the rescue and the miners ... not much else got traction once the decision to close the mine after the rescue was made.
  3. the decision to provide live feeds from the surface ... but also from down in the cavern where the miners were trapped once the rescue got underway was pure genius ...
  4. I read that someone said that the world was interested in this story because all humans share the fear of being buried alive ... While we all share that fear ... that's not what made this story so gripping ... this sort of mining accident happens all too frequently in places like China, the Ukraine or Russia ... What made it special ... is TV and social media ... we could all see it, live it ... that's why the world watched ...again the live feeds were genius ...
  5. the set up at the top of the shaft was also great: you had the shots of the family members waiting in turns: their joy, expectations for all the world to see ... yes it was staged ... but very well staged ... didn't lose any humanity ... again, it allowed the media and the world to focus on the "human" aspect of this ...
  6. Having the President of Chile there too, was good ... not for grandstanding ... but the guy became the "cheerleader-in-chief" ... and provided a "fatherly" figure to everyone involved ... you could see genuineness in his emotions as he greeted the emerging miners ...
  7. The live feed on top also showed the determination and spirit of the rescue workers culminated with the singing of the Chilean anthem, led by El Presidente, once the 33rd miner came out of the capsule.
  8. in the middle of all the engineering and technology involved in the rescue ... whoever came up with the hand-drawn sort of gauge that indicated how far from the surface the rescue capsule was... is a genius ... this anachronistic bit of old wisdom brought another element of humanity to the whole story ... the shots of the families, rescue workers ... were often only made more poignant as spectators and viewers could share in the anticipation whenever shots of the gauge appeared ... brilliant !
some lessons: 
  • If you can provide a live feed (and it's advisable to do it)... do it 
  • the whole world is watching ...every incident is local AND global, global AND local ...
  • it's not just about the technology ... the people are the heart of the story ... your crisis comms plan should reflect that and guide your response ...
  • if the top guy is going to show up (whether corporate or political/elected) he's got to be one of the guys ... his appearance has got to fit: clothing, demeanor, showing compassion and enthusiasm ... is your guy prepared ? does he or she have what it takes ?
  • don't forget about families ... their reactions will play a key role in shaping public perceptions of your response ... involve them as much as possible ...
Another observation: did you see all the miners coming out wearing those sunglasses ? 
did you see all the stories in today's papers about the manufacturer who donated a couple of dozens of these sunglasses so the minors' eyes wouldn't be damaged?  

That kind of good will and positive reaction cannot be bought ... another master stroke there ...

This brings me to a final point: in incidents today, how you deal with volunteers, people who want to help, whether directly or indirectly ... and donations ... is a critical aspect of emergency management ... should be a factor in communications planning and stakeholder engagement.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Musings on PIOs, the IMS and ESF-15

I had the occasion last week to take part in a webinar on how the communications response to the Deepwater Horizon incident was conducted. As always, Gerald Baron from PIERSystems did a masterful job of leading the debrief on how the Joint Information Centre (JIC) used their particular piece of technology to communicate with all their audiences.
(see here for a full report: )

Our world is moving so fast that it's becoming harder and harder for those who plan the delivery of emergency information (EI) to keep up. Gerald told us about the popularity of live feeds (streaming) and other resource-intensive tools that they used to great success. Our audiences now expect us to go above and beyond the traditional release or old, stale ways of providing EI.

But where do we draw the line between doing all we can and cost efficiency? That's a question for another day perhaps.

From a distant (and distinctly Canadian perspective), I think, overall, the whole response of the JIC during the Deepwater Horizon incident was handled magnificently on a technical standpoint. The people running the JIC made wonderful use of a wide variety of tools and channels, through a great piece of kit.

What proved to be more difficult was the actual continued integration of all the key partners into the Unified Command (UC), especially in the latter stage of the response. To be blunt, and to reflect the general thinking, the UC worked well as long as the politicians stayed away and refrained from commenting on operational issues or focusing on responsibility and distancing themselves from other key partners involved in the response.

It's a fact, the professionals assembled by BP, the Coast Guard and many others, did a great job to coordinate a vast response and do what had to be done. That was also reflected in the operations of the JIC ... the "mouthpiece" of the UC.
This made the job of delivering EI a bit easier .... although there were always going to be great difficulties because of the nature of this specific incident.

Things started to go awry when messaging with political overtones became more and more present ... often originating from the federal government ... on behalf of whom the Coast Guard was coordinating the UC. When the blame game became more important than operational solutions (although there's no denying BP's responsibility in the incident) ... the whole concept of the JIC was threatened and the UC as well.

When BP was the subject of a sustained "us versus them approach" by the other key partner in the UC ... messaging drew more and more garbled or misleading ...

How are we supposed to keep messages coordinated and uniform while key partners in the response are being drawn into an ever growing battle to have their side of the story heard?

That lesson about the critical functions of the IMS (NIMS) and coordination was not lost on the man Washington put in charge of the incident. Admiral Allen from the Coast Guard had his own conclusions:

When the UC and the JIC become fractured ... what's the outlook for the IMS?

I'm positive that this lack of a unified voice played a large role in shaping the vastly negative perception of the response ... If the powers that are, abandon or don't understand the value/concept of the IMS, UC and the JIC, how will professional emergency managers and communicators be able to do their job in a coherent and collaborative manner?

I believe the time may have come to separate some functions normally associated with Public Information Officers (PIOs) under the IMS/ICS and some of the responsibilities that fall under ESF-15.

On large-scale events/incidents, often involving the creation of a UC, different orders of government, multiple agencies and the private sector, shouldn't the PIO and the JIC focus on EI? ... That is, providing operationally-oriented information for audiences affected by the incident (evac orders, ops update, etc.) ?

In such large-scale incidents, the more stakeholder/liaison-oriented functions (often outlined in ESF-15) ... what could be described as "selling" the response .... the PR component ... Does this side of the PIO's work need to be given to someone else?

While the PR game is on (or is that the blame game?) the PIO should concentrate on operational requirements ...

Frankly I'm not too sure how to handle this. Who should do this PR job?
Do we need another position in the UC structure?

When does an incident become complex or large enough to warrant such a measure? I'm not naive enough to think we can eliminate all political considerations as part of our jobs as PIOs. There will always be such a component.

I believe it's up to emergency management professionals to "educate" the political class on the tenets of the IMS/ICS. Involve them in exercises and planning activities. Build up some familiarity with the doctrine, the plans and the people ... so that when an incident occurs ... the politicians (and their staff) will know where they stand ...

As always, I'm very interested in hearing from you. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Providing emergency information beyond social media

OK ... We have clearly established that most PIOs can integrate technology and social media to provide emergency information. Now what happens when elements of our critical infrastructure (CI) become unavailable?

With the perceived threats to our CI (electrical grids, worms/viruses affecting SCADA, DNS attacks, etc...) how prudent is it to put all our eggs (mostly!) on Internet-based communications channels? Or even to think there will be a reliable electrical supply?

We will have to turn to traditional media again to relay critical information. But will they, themselves, be able to deliver?

I often wonder how we'd reach many of our most vulnerable populations (in their own language? in remote areas?) following a large-scale disaster when communications become spotty.

Are our broadcasters ready to take up the slack if we can't use our websites or social media platforms?

In the US, they've prepared for that kind of contingency. Competing media conglomerates are working together, shepherded by the FCC and FEMA, to ensure continuity of operations in the provision of emergency information.

And the FCC, has just adopted new Public Alerting standards in the US.

But where are we in Canada? Some networks have done very good work, both in the public alerting field and the resiliency aspect ... Others, well ....

Some stakeholders are promoting a stronger national public alerting system for Canada but we're lagging behind ... both in public alerting and ensuring media reliability/resiliency during a disaster.

So I ask: how long can we wait?

Social media as emergency preparedness and risk communications tools

Hello Everyone!

You've heard me often say that I believe social media is now an essential tool to communicate with our audiences during a disaster/crisis. That's widely accepted although some die-hards are still out there who believe SM is a fad.

I'm now wondering on some measurement factors when you use SM as emergency preparedness and risk communications tools well BEFORE any incident.

I've found a few articles or blog posts on this issue but would be very interested to hear from practitioners out there.

I know there's been some analytical work done by Public Safety Canada on their 72-hours emergency preparedness campaign using social media ...

I think it's time to look into measurement and see how best we can tweak our use of social media to increase preparedness in our communities.

Suggestions? Thoughts ?