Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Agility and Flexibility as core crisis communications practices

My good friend Gerald Baron has an excellent post about adapting to new technology or perishing. A must read for any crisis communicator and executive. To follow Gerald's military analogy, you need a quiver full of all sorts of arrows. As our audiences are diffused, so must be our ways to reach them. Key then, is the job of prioritizing levels of engagement. I say levels because you still need to engage with everyone ... but perhaps not to the same level.

Another reason why flexibility is essential is that sources of info have multiplied. Studies show that the first reaction of people in an incident or crisis will be to share with each other. This has an impact on news as Twitter becomes the world's key news wire for breaking stories.

More and more people get their news online and share through social networks immediately following the onset of an incident or crisis. We got a stark reminder of that in Oslo and Utoya last week.

Media is adapting to this reality ... the outlets that don't disappear, like the late, late shows, slowly turn to test signal and snow ... So they adapt with a stronger web presence and a growing reliance on social networks. A real effective way to reach these outlets is through social media as they maximize their news gathering operations by relying on citizens and organizations themselves as news sources.

The future appears brighter for citizen-based journalism than it does for legacy media, certainly for TV news. In Canada, there are more people surfing online each week than eyeballs glued to a TV set. The future for broadcasters looks dim in the age of "narrowcast" ...

What does the future hold? In my humble opinion, we'll soon face a landscape with few "real" news organizations and a multitude of micro-bloggers, twitter-like feeds and the such. Welcome to instant news worldwide!

ARE YOU READY for what this means? ... the need to communicate IMMEDIATELY and OFTEN?

Lots of rewriting should be going on pretty soon across the land ...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Five failure points in emergency information and crisis communications response

Here's my top five failure points for crisis communications and emergency information:

  1. Being unprepared: having no plan or ignoring your plan ... although sticking to an unworkable plan can also mean doom ... i like the old adage: "failure to plan = plan to fail" ... Having no procedures in place, no pre-approved messaging often means unorganized, ill-advised improvisation which leaves to a lack of strategic vision.
  2. Weak leadership: weak leaders are indecisive ... push everything "upstairs", make no stand when they're facing a directive that is obviously misguided. Weak leaders don't grasp the "big picture" and ignore established principles of good crisis communications practices ... Worse, they focus on process rather than on people ...
  3. Political or Senior Executive interference: micro-management leads to complacency, a lack of innovation and mediocrity. Micro-managers and political staffers get involved in operational details they shouldn't worry about and insists on an approvals process that handicap any hope for a successful communications response.
  4. Lack of collaboration and outreach: ignoring key stakeholders means building a tall, empty silo. Shunning joint efforts, not maximizing your reach and not establishing solid relationships, in favour of a "go alone", "we have our own agenda" approach, leads to fragmented, uncoordinated emergency information which serves no audience well.
  5. Lack of social media and web presence ... finally, we get to it ... a favourite "rant" of mine: you need to occupy the public space and move at the speed of your audiences. Social media and constant web updates allow you to do that. Putting obstacles in that process hurt your image. Having a stale website in a crisis shows incompetence or a blissful ignorance of your audience's needs. You need to stick to a posting schedule and have a constant stream of social media posts during a crisis to show you're active. 
In conclusion, operating under any of the five points above seriously hampers your response. Dealing with more than one is a critical wound ... having to suffer under more than two means you are irrelevant ... that is DEATH for crisis comms ....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An overview of the integration of social media into emergency management in Canada

Here's a link to a piece I put together at the request of Heather Blanchard from CrisisCommons and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.


Comments are welcome ...

On reaching out and expanding the use of SM in EM

SM in EM or SMEM ... Social Media in Emergency Management can be many things: a philosophy, a cause to champion, an online community (if you add the # in front = #smem), a starting point, an end point ... In truth, it's all those things. You can find out more at: www.sm4em.org If you visit the site, you'll see a blog post that give me the inspiration for this current entry.

The common element in all the people that have joined the #smem on Twitter and those who take part in our #smemchat on Fridays, is the belief that we call all better serve our clients, citizens, stakeholders by integrating social media into our emergency management practices/programs. While we all have a common vision, we don't necessarily agree on the best way to achieve ... and that's great!

There is always a danger that those ahead of the curve, to get isolated from the rest of their fellow EM practitioners. That silo approach is easy to understand: you congregate with people who share your ideas. However, we must endeavour to break down barrier by sharing and conversing with those who don't.

That will be the only way to expand SMEM beyond those who have adopted SM currently and move towards full acceptance (in doctrines such as IMS/NIMS, official guidelines and procedures). The debate should not be about what the #smem community is about or how the hashtag should be used.
The real conversation needs to be how we share our enthusiasm, knowledge base and lessons learned with the entire EM and first responder communities.

In my opinion, the key to the widespread adoption and use of SM in all pillars of EM (and into all functions of the EOC) is the promotion of the successes already achieved by those who've made it work: in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and more recently, in the US.

It comes down to this simple truth: we have to match the public. They are already reaching out to one another, creating crisis maps, exchanging data. Where are we in that equation as official organizations?
Or do we mine the fabulous data out there during a disaster? To help with the response and the recovery efforts?

We're in an era of participatory EM by residents who won't be satisfied at just being victims or witnesses. People are changing our outlook on communications.

Every citizen with a cell phone (with GIS/GPS tech) is a potential source of data ... a mobile sensor ... an extra damage assessment tool ...

Realizing this phenomenon and using it to better our response ... to give ourselves a "community-based" situational awareness or operating picture ... (it's not a common operating picture anymore ... it's multiple, organic, cloud and crowd-based pictures ... a citizen-created mosaic ...) ... that's the key to a bright and relevant future for emergency management and crisis communicators.

That's the only way we'll be able to close the gap that is widening every day between the expectations of our audiences and our own technical/technological/procedural/policy capabilities. We don't fix that gap and we become irrelevant. As simple as that.

Latest case in point ... the brand new Google+ social network is already being used by citizens and volunteers as an emergency and crisis informatics tool. We saw extensive use of Google's offerings today for the Mumbai bombings.

Where are we?

I'd like to hear your answers. For a starting point to spur your reflection ... here's a link to an online webinar I conducted for Gerald Baron's PIERSystems Strategy Forum a couple of weeks ago.

Here's the link to the recording (audio and video) of the webinar, And the link to the slides.

I hope to hear from you!