Thursday, January 26, 2012

What if? ... Are you ready for 2012?

I'm thinking the Mayans and others (St. Malachy, Nostradamus, etc...) may have been onto something ... 2012 indeed looks very ominous ... just kidding

One thing that's a fact, is that disasters are coming more frequently than before and are proving to be more costly, if not in lives lost, certainly in their economic impact. I think it's fair to say that most First World countries are prepared to deal with a major disaster ... No one has perfect plans but we'd cope with a strong earthquake (still the biggest killer), industrial accident or severe weather outbreaks.

We have all heard the old adage about one ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure. Well, it's still true. However, in times of tight fiscal conditions, preparedness often seems to be among the first budget cut targets. This certainly seems shortsighted when more and more of the so-called "low probability" events actually happen.

And, it seems, the risks are pretty well known. The luminaries currently meeting in Davos, Switzerland, have a pretty good handle on identifying the risks. Will action follow?

I've mentioned above that we're moderately ready to respond to a major disaster. But what about multiple disasters? Or, one that cripples our critical infrastructure?

This brings me to my own "worst case scenario" ... a general failure of the network of networks that all of us take for granted and allows for the light to come on when we flip a switch, for our water to pour out when we go to the tap, and, our Internet to be available when we turn our our laptops.

But what if? ... Cyber threats are terrifying in their potential calamity.2012 is already forecast to be a "breakout year" for cyber attacks and threats. We have seen reports in the last few months, of actual attacks or perceived security gaps in critical infrastructure:

That's just the top of the iceberg. Whether state-sponsored or terror-related, cyber threats are real. We know major countries are preparing their cyber arsenals (the United States, China, among others). The cyber warriors even admit their own systems are at risk.

By some accounts, the cyber security business is going to reach 66 billion $ this year and continue to increase by 10 per cent every year as industries try to bolster their defenses. Is it enough? 

Time will answer that question. But I believe that emergency managers should plan for the worse and get ready to deal with a cascade of failures of the very systems we normally rely on to organize our response to disasters. We know it's happened before (Latvia, Georgia, Iran ...). We know there are direct threats to the links that make all the networks work together.

So, how do we answer the call without power, satellite communications, disrupted transportation system, gas and oil pipelines where nothing will flow? ... Not a pretty picture ... Perhaps a bit alarmist ...outlandish? I think not ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Of sinking ships and internet protests: the power of the crowd in the social age

Of sinking ships and internet protests: the power of the crowd in the social age:

I've written before (on this forum and on my personal blog) about the "age of social convergence" and its meaning for emergency managers and crisis communicators. In a nutshell, social networks have changed crisis management imperatives. They bring the need for speed, pre-approved communications plans and tactics that can be launched immediately├ó€¦

- Author: Patrice Cloutier

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Take 2: democratization of EM and crisis comms

You want more on how SM can change how we respond to crises? I was just checking my Twitter links and this story came in ...thanks to my good friend @thefiretracker2 ... It's about a new social networks analytics tool that reads trends and emerging patterns ... here are some claims:

Quantum Leap Buzz's unique capabilities include but are not limited to:
1. Getting emerging news stories before they are reported in the media
2. Getting actionable intelligence before the competition

3. Setting notifications on your dashboard for trending-developments with updates texted directly to your cell phone
4. Issue analysis. The ability to see patterns of sentiment around issues important to you, personally.
Now, if the first two items don't resonate with you ... you're missing the whole point of social convergence.
Read more in my previous post from tonight.


Age of social convergence and the democratization of EM

This the first substantial post of the new year for me. Since my last post before the holiday break (my top 25 #smem countdown), I've had some time to reflect on some trends that I observe in emergency management and crisis communications.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced we're into a truly transformational phase which will impact the work of emergency managers, business continuity planners and crisis communicators. Simply put, emerging technologies and trends have brought about a generalized "democratization" of these fields.

Let me explain. Three factors motivate my position:

  • the growing importance of social networks and mobile technologies
  • the overwhelming realization that speed is EVERYTHING 
  • greater public participation and input
The consequences of this are numerous but they all add to the immediate workload of EM folks and crisis communicators when an incident/disaster occurs. You must respond, alert/warn, monitor and then engage/communicate. In all this, social networks and mobile tech play crucial roles. A recent blog from my good friend Kim Stephens highlights the importance of mobile.

Second, the speed at which incidents and crises (and it doesn't matter if they're in the real world or virtual/social network related ... they will all hurt you if not handled properly) ... means that delegation of authority and the automation of comms response processes becomes absolutely necessary. To be able to "handle" such a crisis ... you need to use the tools your audiences use. 

Or you can ignore the risks and social media chatter (and you'll kill off your rep or your entire bottom line) or go on a misguided offensive without really engaging with your audiences. Former senator Chris Dodd is learning the harm in doing that in his response to the SOPA protests as the Hollywood mouthpiece. The fact is, if you handle things correctly, people will defend your actions ... come to your defense even

Third, social networks bring greater participation from your stakeholders and audiences. That's the great democratization factor. Online communities coalesce rapidly over topics, crises and disaster recovery for example. Emergency managers and officials now have to deal with all sorts of newcomers to the EM table ... from crisis mappers, crowdsourcing groups and online volunteers.

Here's an example of how the crowd can contribute ... from a new piece of tech developed in Australia.
Sirenus is developing a computer network that will take information on a disaster threat from a variety of sources including official, mainstream and social media, and combine this with crowd-sourced information from its own users and subscribers. It will sort, categorise and rate this information and then deliver information to users automatically and immediately via the Smartphone, Web, Social Media (Facebook, Twitter), email and SMS (text message). Users will have real-time, localised and personalised information at their fingertips.

The three factors combine to make a questioning of the IMS/ICS necessary? do we need a new position in command to handle the extra outreach workload? Or should the PIO and LO  share the work? When response becomes more diffuse and activities are decentralized, does command retain the same meaning? Where in the doctrine should social media monitoring and data mining/analysis be placed?

To help answer these questions ... you must read the two documents just released by the US Department of Homeland Security ... download the two PDFs and have a read ... at first glance, they offer the outline of a brighter future for EM ...

Would be glad to hear from you on this ...

Friday, January 13, 2012

When leaders come together

I'm currently taking part in a very interesting experiment on the power of social media in emergencies. As part of today's #smemchat ... we're asking for as many people as possible to help build interactions and networks .... all the while, helping a great charity.

Find our more here: