Sunday, December 30, 2012

At number 4: early March tornado outbreaks in the US

It astounds me that some are still debating whether or not our climate is changing. We had tornadoes at Christmas a few days ago. And, earlier this year, an outbreak of tornadoes in late February and early March caused significant damages through large parts of the US midwest.

To me that series of events is important to the development and general acceptance of SMEM by emergency managers for a few reasons:

  1. social media played a key role in the alerting process 
  2. social networks were extensively used to help with the response and early recovery efforts 
  3. the use of social media made its way beyond the realm of the PIO and into other functions of the EOC.
Screen Capture from Tweetdeck showing the hashtags #Henryvillehelps and #Henryvilleneeds

These events affected a great number of people throughout many states. For many of them, social networks proved to be an essential lifeline. In fact, the technology can be used to harness the power of the crowd, increase community resilience and play a key role in recovery efforts. Here's what my friend Kim Stephens wrote earlier this year on a project combining all these.

For the above reasons, the outbreaks of tornadoes in late February and early March rank at number 4 in my list of top 10 SMEM-related events of 2012.

The list so far: 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

At number 5: the Aurora theatre shooting

Before the terrible tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, just a few days ago, the massacre at the movie house in Aurora, Colorado, seemed to be the most incomprehensible of calamities. We now know that something truly evil lurks in the shadows and can happen at any moment.

But what made the Aurora tragedy such an important moment for #SMEM? To me, it marked the generalized realization that news breaks on social media, particularly on Twitter. This makes monitoring and keeping situational awareness through social networks a must. Most of us can now follow unfolding events in real time as people tweet, instagram, facebook and reddit them. We can build instant stories based on what's being shared. Social networks even help create a sense of collective empathy. 

The legacy media has picked up on that and to remain relevant, they too jump on the social bandwagon when incidents occur. Why not? They now have thousands upon thousands of "citizen reporters" they don't have to pay. So they maintain pretty solid social media monitoring postures.

What's the price for not being "socially convergent aware"? Ask the NRA (again?)
 or a UK online retailer (CelebBoutique), how they felt when they sent automated tweets hours after the incident ...without really being aware of what had just happened.

The lesson here? Monitoring social media is now an essential part of maintaining situational awareness ... and you must have a plan to ramp up from routine social listening to a full on social surveillance program when an incident occurs. Are you ready for that? 

To me, the attention brought to the role social networks played in getting the story out, makes the Aurora shooting number 5 on my list of top 10 SMEM-related events of the year.

The series so far: 

Series introduction (Dec. 5,m 2012)
#10: the Israel-Hamas War (Dec. 9, 2012)
#9: the wildfires in the western US (Dec. 12, 2012)
#8: the SMEMTO conference (Dec. 16, 2012)
#7: the lauch of FEMA's SMEM course (Dec. 17, 2012)
# 5: The Aurora shooting (Dec. 26, 2012)

Jim Garrow's list on his blog: The Face of the Matter 

Friday, December 21, 2012

at number 6: SOPA, leave my web alone !

I've talked about "social convergence" in emergency management before. The social convergence equation: mobile tech + social networks = empowered citizenry/volunteers + greater mobilization of data/people, reflects societal changes that go far beyond how we respond to disasters.

The greater participation by the public, this democratization of not only emergency management but government as a whole, is not going away. This is a direct result of the perception of the web as a free forum for all sorts of exchanges. 

So when the powers that are (lead by Hollywood) tried to restrict that perceived freedom through the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)/Protect IP Act (PIPA), a huge online surge of indignation followed. It was perhaps the largest and most visible representation of "people power" on social networks and the internet. 

It also helped bring to the fore a kind a cultural/age divide, which is (appropriately) diminishing as months go by. For one, the representative of the film industry, a former US Senator, totally misread this new wave of direct democracy.

So what are key learning lessons for the SMEM community in the SOPA affair?

  1. transparency is essential 
  2. incorporating the public's participation is paramount 
  3. don't ignore online sentiments and perceptions of your response ... they'll derail it.
  4. the era of "we know best" is long gone ... there's is lots of wisdom in the crowd.
For all these reasons, the SOPA episode ranks sixth in my list of top 10 SMEM-related events of 2012.

The series so far: 

Series introduction (Dec. 5,m 2012)
#10: the Israel-Hamas War (Dec. 9, 2012)
#9: the wildfires in the western US (Dec. 12, 2012)
#8: the SMEMTO conference (Dec. 16, 2012)
#7: the lauch of FEMA's SMEM course (Dec. 17, 2012)
#6: The SOPA episode (Dec. 21, 2012)

Jim Garrow's list on his blog: The Face of the Matter 

Monday, December 17, 2012

At number 7: the launch of FEMA's SMEM course

It was the middle of the summer when the launch (re-launch?) of FEMA's IS-42 course: Social Media in Emergency Management, brought the SMEM community abuzz. Why do I believe it deserves the seventh spot in my list of top 10 SMEM-related events? 

Simple, IT'S FEMA! What they do influences many. No matter how people feel about "big government" ... leadership still counts. Under Craig Fugate's turn at the helm, FEMA has embraced outreach and the tools that foster citizen, volunteer and community involvement. From the launch of the new "whole of community" document earlier in the year, to promoting the use of social networks in emergencies, FEMA gets it.

If you add this to the guidelines from the DHS First Responders Communities of Practice/Virtual Social Media Working Group, the US feds are paving the way from some crucial change.

Is it done? By no means ... but some interesting work has been completed. Challenges remain: How will the IMS/NIMS doctrine be modified to be relevant in the age of "social convergence"? Does the very structure of command need to change

Perhaps these questions are too premature. Lots of ground needs to be covered ... many organizations still look at SMEM with some trepidation

But someone needs to lead the way. Even as a Canadian, I can see great value in FEMA's accomplishments in that regard.

Series introduction (Dec. 5,m 2012)
#10: the Israel-Hamas War (Dec. 9, 2012)
#9: the wildfires in the western US (Dec. 12, 2012)
#8: the SMEMTO conference (Dec. 16, 2012)
#7: the lauch of FEMA's SMEM course (Dec. 17, 2012)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

at #8: holding a SMEM conference in Toronto

You'll excuse me for being a bit parochial in my choice for the 8th spot on my list of top smem-related events in 2012. I include the SMEMTO (social media in emergency management - TOronto) conference because it marked the first such event in Canada that gathered government officials, emergency managers, law enforcement officers, academics, NGOs, VTCs and private sector organizations.

The goal was to further promote the acceptance of social media by governments and emergency management officials and showcase the powerful force-multiplying effects that digital volunteers can bring to the table.

Putting together an event like that is never easy but our team (Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services + Public Safety Canada + University of Toronto) was able to attract relevant and respected speakers which included, among others:

  • Shayne Adamski from FEMA (@shayneadamski)
  • Chris Stelmarski (then from DHS) (@ski)
  • Doug Allport from MASAS
  • Lance Valcour from CITIG  (@lance_valcour)
  • Jason Cameron from the City of Calgary (@jayCyyc)
Special thanks to Peter Sloly (@deputysloly), the deputy chief of the Toronto Police Service whose keynote at lunch had everyone talking. And on a personal note, to my good friends Kim Stephens (@kim26stephens) and James Garrow (@jgarrow) for coming up and animating the last session of the day. Their presence confirmed to me once again, how knowledgeable and always willing to help, these two leaders of the SMEM community really are.

What did we achieve at SMEMTO? We started a lot of conversations, bridges were built, the CanVOST creation grew out of it too ... We made a positive impact for the more than 200 people who attended ... perhaps our reach extended much further since our conference hashtag (#smemto) actually trended in Canada that day! 

Thanks again to all that made it possible.

Series introduction (Dec. 5,m 2012)
#10: the Israel-Hamas War (Dec. 9, 2012)
#9: the wildfires in the western US (Dec. 12, 2012)
#8: the SMEMTO conference (Dec. 16, 2012)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

at #9: wildfires heat up SMEM and crisis comms debate

Helicopter Fighting The High Park FireAs I've said before, I try to learn as much as I can from a variety of sources and other people's experiences.   In June, earlier this year, as wildfires were raging across Colorado and other western states, a lot of attention was directed at the use of social media by authorities.

What first came to my attention, was the misguided notion by a local sheriff (Justin Smith, Larimer County, Colorado) to keep the media from showing images of the devastation caused by the fires. It was a noble intent in the sense that he didn't want residents who had lost their house to be further victimized.

What's the lesson here? It's entirely futile in the age of social convergence, to try to keep the media or anyone else, from sharing pictures or other information. The way the disaster story is being told has forever changed and does not depend on legacy media. So picking a fight with reporters and news outlets is totally clueless. 

Although the evolution to crowdsourced news in not fully complete and many organizations still rely on "old ways" to tell their story, we're well down the road to the overwhelming acceptance of social media as an emergency information tool.

Some very illuminating examples of that can be found from the same wildfires that had Sheriff Smith so bothered with the media. One of the more probing case studies comes out of the Waldo Canyon Fire of late June.

There, the local sheriff's department (Jefferson County), made extensive use of their web and social media properties to convey info to residents. But more importantly, people themselves created their own news networks and shared and retweeted official and unofficial information.

That's what reveals the futility to try to cordon off segments of information. With so many sources available, why pick a fight you're going to lose? 

This highlights the ultimate point I often try to make about social convergence: organizations must move at the speed of their audiences (social networks) or face irrelevance. They must also use the tools they use (mobile devices) to have any chance to reach them and possibly be heard.

The top 10 SMEM-related events of 2012 so far:

#10: the Israel-Hamas war  (Dec. 9)
#9: the wildfires in the western US (Dec. 12)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top #smem-related events of 2012: at #10: Israel-Gaza war

Here's the first post in my Holiday series on top SMEM events of the year. 

Some may think there's little in common between a war in the Middle East and social media in emergency management. Well, I like to think you can identify lessons to learn from pretty much any field, anywhere.

I've said in the past that social convergence now should now have agencies/organizations do four things all at once from the onset of any incident:

Furthermore, you conduct social media monitoring for five key reasons:

  1. verify the effectiveness of your emergency information messaging
  2. rumour control
  3. detect and deal/respond to any request for assistance
  4. identify reputational threats that could undermine your ability to fulfil your mandate
  5. enhance your situational awareness
So, where does the war between the Israeli Defence Forces and Hamas fit in? It's simple. Both sides in the recent conflict understood that you need to own the public space on social networks to position your operations under the best possible light. That PR component played a key role in how international public opinion perceived the conflict.  

Ask FEMA if they need to "fight for their image" during response and recovery efforts. They sure do. Critics abound and ignoring them can undermine the effectiveness of any operation by bringing unwanted distractions from a focused enterprise. 

The same applies to the American Red Cross. Their efforts were fantastic and still doubts and frustrations were common. I remember a newscast where a resident of New York was complaining that " ... all those highly-paid Red Cross people are nowhere to be seen ..."  or words to that effect ... We all know that it's VOLUNTEERS that are at the heart of the Red Cross emergency operations but there was a perception of inaction and frustrations grew along with the volume of misinformation.

So, that's the lesson I learned from the Israeli-Hamas war. You must defend your response to any incident, using all the platforms and tools at your disposal (with a particular focus on social networks) even as your are conducting on-the-ground operations. 

No emergency is local anymore. Perceptions are shaped on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube (among others) instantly. Impressions are made on your street, in your neighbourhood, town, county, state/province ... across the country and the globe. 

Welcome to the SMEM PR war! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our second annual #smem holiday series of posts

Okay, so maybe two years doesn't make a tradition. However, my two American Amigos and I (James Garrow and Kim Stephens) have decided to repeat last year’s experiment and do an end of year/holiday series of posts once again. I'm not sure what exactly Jim and Kim have in mind but it'll be interesting for sure. 

My series will be the “top 10 SMEM events” of 2012. The selected events (totally arbitrary ... chosen by me ! ) will cover everything from natural disasters to conferences; all occurrences that helped move the integration of social media into emergency management over the last 12 months or so.

Since our efforts met with some success in our first try, why not risk it again? So stay tuned. My posts will follow every second day or so until we reach the “big reveal”. For last year’s list see the links here: