Thursday, December 18, 2014

Debunking #smem myths and the future of digital volunteers in EM

I usually give people the benefit of the doubt. I assume that most professionals know what they are talking about. Sadly, that's not always the case. 

Here's an example: 

Reliance on volunteers has become a fatal flaw in the evolution of the #VOST concept. #smem
The logic (or lack thereof) totally escapes me in that tweet. The whole point of the VOST concept is to offer surge capability to EOCs and municipal EM agencies. Most (if not all), have no ability to efficiently monitor social media during incidents/emergencies. 

Here's more from their misguided interpretation of the role of digital volunteers: 

Defined partnerships & service agreements btwn professionalized orgs can reap benefits of #VOST model w/o risks that come with volunteers

Again, my counter-argument is based no the capability factor but also on the implied notion that "only" professionals should get involved in emergencies. That's pure BS ... doesn't correspond with today's reality ... and is a remnant of a long-ago discredited notion that the only people who belong at the EM table (or in the EOC) are first responders, municipal or other government officials, etc. 

Well, in fact, anyone with a stake in dealing with an emergency belongs in the EM sphere: private sectors, NGOs and now, digital volunteers ... and citizens who contribute by sharing how a disaster is impacting them.

Trust, authority & clearly defined responsibilities are key to any extension of EOC functions outside the traditional EOC.
Trust and authority are growing in the digital volunteer world. Organizations (from UNOCHA and other UN agencies), to FEMA and US government agencies and now in Canada ... all acknowledge the contribution of digivols. It's simple ... virtual volunteers are motivated, they care, they are tech savvy and offer expertise that is often terribly absent from the official realm. 

#SMEM should be considered a mission-critical element of EOC information management. Yet SMEM still a hard sell to many EMDs.
I agree with the first part of that statement. As for the second part, that's changing as the recent #dvsroe/#cause3 experiment showed. And that applies for the growing number of VOSTs around the world and certainly to our own CanVOST north of the border.

#VOST built on volunteer corps has a hobbyist sensibility that justifiably makes many EMDs & PIOs nervous.
Here's the proof that whoever is behind the @virtualEOC account knows little about digivols ... a great many VOST members are actually professional emergency managers. 

The creators of the concept (Hello Jeff, Scott, Cheryl and all the others) are top notch EM people in their own right ... CanVOST itself includes professional EM, first responders and other municipal officials ... 

Hobbyists my ass ! We do it because we care and because we saw a gap in our collective response capabilities ... something that the "professional establishment" didn't foresee or even realized.

Expanded EOC #smem capability could be a #VOST-like, distributed solution that relies on nwk of professionals functioning in partnered orgs.

Opportunities of #smem in EOCs justifies fully professionalized solution (with fallback to volunteer corps if needed for defence in depth).
Another illustration of their poor grasp of the technology front and expertise in most EOCs across the country (and I'm sure it applies to the US too) ... The simple fact is that there is very little capability in municipal (and even provincial) EOCs to effectively monitor social media during a large-scale (and small ones too ! ) emergencies. 

The networks already exist ...they're called VOSTs, or Standby Task Force, or any of the other excellent and dedicated groupings of digital volunteers ... What's needed in most EOCs is not to recreate what's already in existence ... but a greater openness and realization that IT"S NO LONGER YOUR EMERGENCY  ! ... 

We all have a role to play ... from witnesses who share pictures/videos/comments on social networks ... to digivols who monitor/aggregate/analyze social data to support efficient EOC decision-making ... to EM officials who realize the full benefits of having a firmer grasp of how an incident is evolving based on crowdsourcing.

What do you think ?