Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Post #2: social convergence in the EOC/ICP ...plans and ops

In the first post in this new series, I talked about how socially-convergent tools could be used by command staff and incident commanders. Today, I'll explore what the future might hold for the Operations and the Planning sections within an ICS/IMS structure.

But before, I get to this new chapter, I'd like to reiterate the power of mobile technologies in the hands of first responders, SAR/HUSAR teams and the such. It's not just about the use of social media in emergencies. Social convergence is much bigger than that!

From adding to a search dog's natural abilities, to receiving images coming from a bouncing ball full of cameras, creating 3-D maps on the go in destroyed buildings and making the work of rescuers easier, the power of mobile devices has barely been exploited:

It's clear to me that in the Operations Section, social convergence brings new, validated tools and procedures that can be used by a single resource ... up to the Section Chief.
From dynamic, real-time, GIS mapping showing up-to-date situation on the ground, to the use of drones to support efficient decision making, everything points to the integration of mobile technologies (phones, drones, satellites) to make response efforts more efficient. And all that can be held in your hand ... on a smartphone or tablet. 

Now, imagine combining the data from drones, crisis maps and crowdsourced information, in real-time, to give the response leader all he/she needs to deploy resources in the most strategic fashion possible. 

Want rapid damage assessment? What better than a cheap drone ... keep your staff out of the danger area. Here's what the aftermath of a recent tornado in Angus, Ontario looked like from a drone's eye view:

In the planning section, the obvious benefits of social convergence are in the creation of better maps. Maps that reflect reality as experienced by the people impacted by a disaster or emergency. We are squarely in an era of community-based situational awareness. An understanding of how an incident evolves based on the experiences on the ground and not simply analysis conducted in an EOC far away.

This might appear daunting for the Planning Section Chief or even the EOC manager/director to grasp. The fact is, there is help out there! More and more digital volunteers are stepping up to support emergency management agencies. Virtual Operations Support Teams (or VOSTs) are now active in many countries (including Canada). 

Furthermore, that work is constantly being validated by sound academic studies and projects that keep giving it growing legitimacy. The results are in: VOSTs and other digital volunteerism efforts (mainly crisis mapping) save lives and speed up response/recovery efforts when whole neighbourhoods are burning or when large storms affect an entire country.

As the Plans Section Chief, you can use socially-convergent tools. Your resources unit can combine check-in apps, mobile devices and mapping to lay out a clear picture of what's available at any time. Again, the power of mobile is only beginning to be discovered.

For the Situation Unit ... mapping as previously described is greatly enhanced by social convergence. But sharing sitreps is made so much easier by the prevalence of mobile devices (smartphones, phablets, tablets) often "ruggerized" for field use. With a bigger screen info can be consumed much more easily by responders because it's provided in a much more visual manner.

The Documentation Unit can use a variety of cloud-based apps (google docs, dropbox, others) and services, all accessible by mobile devices to do its job and support operations.

Even your Demob Unit can use mobile devices and services such as check-in apps, cloud-based spreadsheets to keep track and help it plan the post-op draw back. 

I'm only scratching the surface here .... in the next installment in this series, I'll look at socially-convergent tools for the Fin/Admin and Logistics section ...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Social media in the EOC or the incident CP ... a look at what could be.

I've written in the past about the need for organizations to operationalize social network listening during incidents. It's become an absolute imperative. But how do you actually do it? What tools can you use to make it an effective addition at the incident command post and/or the EOC? 

In the first one in a new series of posts, I'll take a look at how command staff can make the most of social convergence in emergency management.

It starts at the scene. Today, there are tools that would allow any response leader to know what's on the social sphere when showing up at an active shooter situation, a large urban fire or some industrial accident. 

Case in point, the San Mateo pipeline explosion in California a few years back. It took a while for firefighters to realize there was no plane crash but that the pipeline blew instead. A look at Twitter might have told them right away. Listen to about 50 seconds into this video.

A tools such as Geofeedia might be a good one to have on a tablet in first responders vehicles. Any incident commander (I/C) could have a quick look to see what's up on social networks around the site.

Lets take a look at what the other command positions could be doing with socially convergent tools as the incident grows bigger. 

The Liaison Officer (LO) could start a group on Twitter and send out info that way. Or the LO could use Yammer or a private Facebook page to ensure inclusive comms where info could flow.

The Safety Officer (SO) could use Foursquare or even Google+ as a way to keep track of personnel and share relevant info via mobile devices. The SO could use Pinterest to post notices and other safety-related items. Again, this shows tablets or smartphones are a must for responders of any kind now.

The Public Information Officer (PIO) can use of combination of social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Youtube,etc) to send out info as he and the I/C decide on what needs to be communicated. They could even harness the power of mobile alerting through tools such as Ping4 Alerts! and similar apps. The role of PIO is evolving fast!

The Intelligence Officer (IO)  (OK ... to me it's a command function ! ) could use a laptop or a powerful tablet to set up an incident-specific mobile social media listening dashboard. Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and a few others come to mind. They have the ability to track hashtags, do geo-fenced searches and much more. It's a definite priority in my mind.

All this to say that technology exists to start this almost as soon as any incident emerges. No need to wait for a full EOC set up or a full fledged social media command centre to be set up.

What needs to happen though is procedures to be written, training to be thought of and given ... but more importantly for minds to be opened !