Monday, January 31, 2011

Protests in Egypt: drinking ( or not ) the social media Kool-Aid

By now, all of you know I'm a firm believer in the usefulness of social media in emergencies, both for emergency information purposes and for situational awareness.

However, every so often, I take a deep breath to ensure that I don't get too comfortable aboard the SM bandwagon. As social media gathers steam and has now reached critical mass for emergency managers (see my previous post), it's easy to overlook the limitations of existing social media platforms and mobile technologies.

These last few days, with the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, a lot of attention has been focused on the role of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for example. Some people are tempted to call these popular movements and protests ... social media revolutions ... It's partly true but I believe it's a big overreach to think that SM alone resulted in these popular uprisings.

With that, I agree with some commentators who think the role of social media has been overblown:

Social media can be a major force for the democratization of communications certainly .... but there are still limits to its power in the political sphere.
Failures of social media in the Egyptian uprising

So where is the balance? Well, social media provides great mobilization tools and tactical coordination for popular movements. But they're only that ... a channel, a tool ... where people share information and what they think about a particular situation focus on specific platforms ... is to forget the true nature of social media ... the one that's now a part of our society and will continue to remain so: we now have the ability to share ...

How we chose to exercise that is up to us ... what i had for dinner is not very interesting to most people  ... yet some people feel the need to share that kind of info ... others see a bit more potential for SM and share more "profound" items ... such as a common cry for liberty and freedom ... in the end's the message that counts ... not the channel itself ... but having the ability to coalescence common thoughts and aspirations remains what's relevant about social media.

And that's why the Internet and social media are perceived as threats by authoritarian regimes.
Silencing the Internet in Egypt

That hasn't totally silenced Egyptians and reporters who are still finding ways to tell their stories:
Reporters and social media

Egyptians have different tools to try to go around the government's attempts to curtail their "digital rights" with the help of large corporations and volunteer groups alike:
Tweeting ... one phone call at a time ...

What are some of the links we can establish between what's happening in the Arab world and emergency management?  A few things perhaps:

  • crowdsourcing is a reality ... as a political mobilization tool or as an emergency response capability ... the merging of social media and mobile technology gives EM practitioners new situational awareness, new tools to base decisions on, new channels to communicate and engage with their audiences
  • social media has its limitations ... Internet access can be limited or inexistent ... social media platforms unavailable ... can't put all your eggs in one basket ... you still have to multiply the channels you need to reach all your audiences ... although social media now offers the most efficient and immediate way to do it.
  • Social media is now a primary source of news gathering for traditional media organizations ... they monitor emerging crises, ongoing incidents and your response to these ...
So, I remain a bit wary of the Kool-Aid offered by enthusiastic supporters of the omnipotence of social media ... temperance seems the order of the day ...

But there are beneficial lessons for emergency management in what's going on in Egypt and elsewhere:

Looking forward to your comments!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Social media and emergency management: have we reached critical mass?

Recent events and newly published studies have shown beyond any doubt that social media should now be part of all aspects of emergency management planning. From preparedness to recovery, and including emergency information during the response phase, social media platforms now represent a vital component of an EM program. Here's Gerald Baron's take on this.

The recent floods in Australia have really highlighted the role social media can play in the response phase. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide a critical emergency information channels.
This role will only increase as flooding spreads:

The consensus seems to be that Australian emergency services, police, fire and all others, used social media in a very effective manner in the last few weeks.

And in true social media fashion, what we're seeing is not a unidirectional conversation ... but real dialog is taking place where social media users are providing valuable information to emergency managers and authorities. Of course, this means that agencies and organizations involved in the response must monitor those channels and be able to quickly correct misinformation and falsehoods which are bound to be present.

More and more tools are being developed to "mine" the useful data being shared on Twitter or Facebook during disasters. To emergency managers, this adds a whole new level of situational awareness because so many people now have the ability, and the willingness, to share what they're seeing and experiencing.

Now, a year later, the Haiti earthquake provides a whole series of lessons learned. What's being realized in that mobile devices and technologies bring multiple benefits to the analysis that's necessary to plan operations during the response phase and then analyse that response and guide the recovery.

To sum up ... it's an absolute necessity for EM managers and planners to consider the role of social media in bettering situational awareness. For communicators, social media as an emergency and crisis communications tool is now a proven entity. You need to plan for that ,,, prepare and practice.

You can now practice a comms response using social media in a totally safe and off-the-web way with a new product recently introduced that allows you to use Twitter, Facebook, blogs and web posts, to practice your emergency info response.

In a connected world, where mobile devices and social media become lifelines during a disaster, not being ready to exploit those tools is the shortest path to failure.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Social media and a revolution ... why it matters

Hello folks ... I tried a new tool to tell the story of the Tunisia revolution (the Jasmine Revolution) through social media.

This new tool is called Storify ... I invite you to give it a look at and watch the demo video.
As a former reporter myself, it's a pretty good way to tell a story ... using social media clips/posts/tweets to make a point ...

The implication for emergency information and crisis communications appear numerous and positive.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Social media and the Australian floods

I'm really fascinated by the role social media has played in recent days in informing audiences of the consequences of the flood in Queensland, Australia. Others are noticing too:

The impact, economic, social and very personal in many cases, of this disaster will be felt for a long time. These pictures offer a glimpse of that.,7

This piece from a traveler's info website is very informative on how social media picked up the ball (in a very crowdsourcing sense) when the websites for key organizations or agencies were "swamped" both figuratively and literally.

This illustrates a point I've made on this blog a few times. The communications response to a disaster is no longer the lone purview of emergency managers, government officials and business leaders. With mobile technologies and devices and social media platforms, thousands, millions of people, can share what they're witnessing or experiencing.

You need to monitor that to give yourself broader situational awareness.
Social media and mobile devices and technologies offer a brand new array of tools for EM professionals:

In addition, people are also sharing how they feel about your response ... Again, monitoring social media is paramount now among the activities that must be undertaken by a PIO or within a JIC context.

So, it's very heartening to see agencies in the affected area, including the Queensland Police Service, realize the full potential of social media as emergency information tools.!/QPSmedia

The feedback has been positive:

In summary, here's another example, along that of the Boulder Fires, the Haiti earthquake and a very few others, that illustrate the fact that social media are now part of all our lives and should be part of any comprehensive emergency management and crisis communications plan.

Today's entry in our project: components of the crisis comms planning process

Hello everyone! Our project on PTSC-Online is progressing nicely. Barry and I are now moving in the "meaty" part and today's entry deals with the key components of a sound crisis communications planning process.

Here's a brief overview: 
In this section we introduce the main components of a crisis communications plan as we see them or the FOUR Ps as we call them. They are:
  • Policies (and procedures)
  • People
  • Preparations
  • Practice
We also deal with the growing need to inject a fifth P into the equation. A “P” for platform as in social media platforms. As indicated throughout this project, we strongly believe that social media and mobile technologies have forever changed the nature of crisis communications planning, the provision of emergency information and, more importantly, the expectations of our audiences.

For more see our section on the PTSC-Online website at:

I hope to hear from you!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another example why social media as an emergency info tool is critical

This is taken from the same document I mentioned in my previous post.

Again, this brings up something I've discussed here in many occasions: the old ways of communicating at the onset of a disaster are no longer sufficient. We now have millions of stakeholders, clients and citizens who walk around with mobile devices on their hips and in their bags.

They have the world at their fingertips. Their expectations (and more and more, the traditional media's too) is that authorities will communicate about a crisis, disaster or business disruption within MINUTES.

No longer do we have the luxury of waiting even an hour to have a news release approved or some messaging posted on a website. Immediacy in the response, alongside accuracy, is now the most important factor that should guide emergency information planning and delivery.

Here's the excerpt:

In November 2007, a freighter hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, dumping 55,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay. Although the event was very visible and might have appeared to be a serious incident, bunker fuel floats and is relatively easy to clean up. However, because official information was not made available to the public promptly, emergency management officials quickly “lost the public information battle.” 

Blogs and other media began reporting inaccurate information—but these media were not being tracked by officials. Soon the reports led to unsanctioned cleanup efforts and the formation of protest rallies. Further complicating the situation, the San Francisco city government lacked the authority to close the city’s beaches even though the bunker fuel was toxic. The upshot of the situation was
that the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management found itself dealing with the repercussions of a nondisaster that, despite a very successful clean-up effort, was being viewed as a disaster by the public.

This event highlights the challenges of traditional crisis communications capabilities. Traditional tools such as the Emergency Alert System, which provide for notification of emergencies via broadcast radio and television, as well as newer technologies such as satellite radio and cable television, do not appear to be useful during such events because the events themselves are generally viewed as not being serious enough to warrant the use of the traditional
alert and warning tools. 

As far as working through the media, it can take PIOs a long time to
prepare, get approval for, and deliver news releases and briefings. The city of San Francisco did have a short message service (SMS)-based alerting tool available, but here too, it would have taken a while to get a message composed and approved. More-rapid dissemination tools, including the use of social media, are being looked to as additional tools for providing more timely information in future events.


A fantastic read on public alerting and crisis communications

Hello everyone !

I've downloaded a fantastic document that pretty much sums up the continuum between public alerting and crisis communications and features some pretty good analysis of the use of mobile devices and social media.

Thanks to Jean Sutton for sharing ... and on twitter: suttonj

What makes people tick when they get an alert ... this document is well worth the read: on Public Response to Alerts and Warnings on Mobile Devices ...

Here's an excerpt that I find very interesting that summarize the alerting process:

The Warning Process: Message Receipt and Response by the Public. Below is a list of steps that the affected population takes during a crisis or emergency following the receipt of an alert and/or warning message.

· Receive the warning—People must physically receive a warning.
· Understand the warning—Once people receive a warning they must be able to process the message and understand what it means.
· Believe the warning is credible—People must believe that the source of the warning is reliable and the threat could materialize.
· Confirm the threat—People must take steps in order to verify that the threat described in the warning is real.
· Personalize the threat—People must believe that the threat is something that can potentially affect them.
· Determine whether or not protective action is needed—People need to decide if they need to
take action.
· Determine whether protective action is feasible—People need to decide if they are able to take action.
· Decide if you have the resources to take protective action—Finally people need to have the resources to actually do what is required.

SOURCE: Reprinted with permission from Joseph Trainer. 2010. Myths and Misconceptions

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What to expect on this blog in 2011

Happy New Year ! 

We're truly living in a wonderful age of great changes and challenges. This blog will try to reflect the ever changing nature of crisis communications and emergency information in the coming year. Here are some of the topics you'll read about from this author:

  1. more on the project launched by my colleague Barry Radford and I on "advancing crisis and emergency communications" for the PTSC-Online community. We've now completed the intro part of the project and are now working on the "meaty" part: crisis communications planning itself.... more at:
  2. Another key topic is the convergence between social media and crisis communications and the impact of SM on audiences during crises and disasters ...and the increasing use of SM by agencies/organizations as comms tools
  3. a related topic is the growing importance of mobile devices/technology in the planning and delivery of emergency info and crisis communications practices ... there will be plenty to say about that since there seems to be a new platform or software that's launched everyday dealing with this ...
  4. generally, you'll see more comments from yours truly on best practices in crisis comms and emergency info ... again l like stirring stuff up and i always welcome comments.
  5. I'll comment on stories that i post in my google reader account which you can find here: ... i post items related to social media and emergency management, social media and crisis comms, CBRNE, risk communications, anti-terrorism, social media and its impact on communications practices, law enforcement and its use of social media and much more ... hope you enjoy the stories.
  6. finally ... I'll share on my experience related to online collaboration, teaching and imparting knowledge ... key things that keep me going ...
To all, I wish a great 2011 and stay tuned !