Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mr. C. goes to Washington and Banff ....

In the last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm about the use of social media in emergency management with various audiences ...

First, I had the privilege to be invited by a US government agency to go to Washington and talk about the operationalization of info gathered from social media monitoring. As my good friend Jim Garrow called it, the "secret squirrel" meeting, allowed SMEM proponents such as Jim and myself to talk about the benefits of using social networks, not only as communications tools but as situational awareness tools to support decision making.

Without revealing too much are some key points from my presentation and discussion with government and think tank officials: 
  • most organizations are moving into the SM realm by first using these tools as communications channels and for alerting 
  • pioneers are recognizing the key role SM monitoring can have to ensure the creation of a more comprehensive operational picture 
  • examples of crowdsourcing are all around us ... for public health in particular, ... trend is now moving towards also integrating info from the public and not just health professionals
  • social convergence is not just about social networks (see below for more)
  • in an era of diminishing resources, crowdsourced info during disasters, allows emergency managers to deploy these resources more strategically/efficiently
  • key is to be able to first aggregate/collect the info ... then to curate/analyse it and then visualize it so I/C and EOC managers can use these additional sources of info to make decisions 
  • this visualization aspect is growing in importance re: crisis mapping 
  • there are challenges: resources, training and staffing are issues ... as is the question of finding the right spot for SM monitoring within the EOC and even NIMS/IMS/ICS
  • latest frontier is about layering info ... marrying social media data with real-time imagery/mapping capabilities ... based on operational/validated crisis mapping criteria
  • in the end's about ensuring you know what you're looking for (search parameters) and then getting the right tools to analyse/curate/visualize data (Ushahidi/Swift river for example) and then having the human expertise to put the info into context and perspective as decision making support tools ...
All in all, it was indeed a privilege to be asked to contribute to the discussion in Washington.

That was last week, this week I went to Banff to take part in Disaster Forum 2012. I was asked to provide a keynote address on social media and emergency management. I used the occasion to talk more about social convergence ... here's a link to my Prezi. There were about 250 emergency managers, business continuity planners and government officials in the auditorium at the Banff Centre.

After my talk (which was well received ...) i did some thinking and came up with the following mental sticky notes:
  1. never assume that your audience shares your enthusiasm for, or knowledge of, social media ... therefore ... keep things simple ... don't omit the basics
  2. although the overwhelming majority of people have recognized the value of social networks during emergencies ... there are still many obstacles they face in their everyday work to use these new tools: lack of expertise, policy, resources ... 
  3. offer good rationale ...based on benefits for situational awareness and the effectiveness of tools such as Twitter for alerting, when talking about smem
  4. finally ... provide examples, case studies ... and generally material that relates to your audience .... 
I really relish these occasions to talk about smem. The few days in Banff were fantastic ... the conference organizers were extremely supportive and gracious to me and my wife ... the Banff Centre is a spectacular and perfect venue for this type of gathering ... 

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