Thursday, September 29, 2016

Being prepared helps ... for a debate and during a crisis

By all (the sane) accounts, Hillary Clinton walked all over Donald Trump during Monday's first presidential debate in the US. The consensus seems to be that the "Donald" was not as prepared as he should have been. 

Now his campaign is spinning all sorts of fantasies ... from mediator bias, to faulty microphone and big bad Google censoring anti-Clinton stories. Off-the-record though, the fact is that most of his advisors are appalled by his lack of effort to be ready. Bluster will only carry you so far.

Even if politics has morphed into entertainment ... where the prize of the reality TV show that is the 2016 campaign is the White House ... Where late night talk show hosts and TV doctors are part of the process ... Playing for the camera is key. But even the most solid "command of the stage" can't hide being unprepared ... At first, I thought expectations were so low for Donald Trump that he only had to show up not being drunk ... and not in his underwear ... to win .... I didnt' expect he's show up TRUMP! 

Only one person was ready ... prepared ... poised. Clinton nailed it with knowledge of the issues, a stateswoman-like demeanor and an understanding of how the debate worked."Sniffles" Trump ? Not so much ...

Now, imagine that your company/agency/organization is facing a crisis ... and despite all your efforts to have a solid crisis comms plan in place ... the Boss decides to wing it ... Do you run for the hills? Or do you stay to try to have any semblance of influence over what the approach and messaging would be? 

Tough question ... the reality is that the Boss is not always the best suited spokesperson during a crisis ... But convincing hard-charging, agenda-driving executives that they lack the training and poise to do it ... might well be impossible and even career ending.

But you still need to do your job. The debate was a good illustration of what needs to be done: Anticipate, Prepare, Practice. Those are the guiding directives behind the crisis communications technique of message mapping.

There are about a million political operatives who have been working on anticipating issues and concerns ... from the public ... about the candidates ... and their vision. They know what's likely to be asked or brought up at a debate. They have answers prepared ... they drill the candidates in mock debates ... subject them to incessant questioning, interruptions and even downright hostility. All in the name of being ready.

For BCP/COOP professionals, emergency managers and crisis communications practitioners, the same rule applies.

  • You know the risks/hazards your organization faces ... add the concerns that your stakeholders/public may have if they materialize ... you end up with a matrix of concerns/risks ...
  • Take that matrix ... rank risks/concerns by likelihood of occurrence and severity of impact ... then start drafting messaging ,,, for specific audiences ... identifying specific channels to reach each and everyone of them ... make sure it can all be adapted quickly during an incident ... that's your playbook
  • Now, take your playbook ... run drills ... practice ... as often as you can ... identify the right people for the right job in your comms response team ... repeat .... repeat ... repeat ....
A huge component of trust is competence ... As well as clarity of messaging and transparency ... these principles all go together in various degrees. Here's a document that might help your crisis comms planning.

Finding the right mix in a crisis is key ... Anticipating, Preparing and Practicing will help you find that right composition ... often by trial and error.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The future of emergency management collaboration is virtual

Image result for virtual collaboration

For old geezers like me (I'll be 55 soon !) learning new tricks as someone involved in emergency management and VOST work takes more and more of the little flexibility left in my brain. I can still manage the jump from Skype to Slack or WhatsApp or learning how to do new search strings on Hootsuite or Tweedeck ... but just.

A key component of the effectiveness of the Virtual Operations Support Team concept is virtual collaboration .... the assignment of tasks remotely ... working together with a team whose members I've never met. For some new VOSTies, that takes a bit of getting used to.

But I have no fear that the next generation of emergency managers won't be able to manage. Fact is, young people already collaborate in a virtual fashion every day to accomplish various tasks. How? They play online multiplayer games.

For example, I watch my son play a game online and collaborate with many other players to get things done on a map ... mostly they don't know each other ... yet they are able to work together ... organically some order appears and results are achieved.

That points to the fantastic pool of resources available to EM agencies across the world. Something that's already been tapped into and exploited for good during large-scale disasters. The Internet Response League is one such organizations using the enthusiasm and digital expertise of gamers.
This supports two key trends for EM officials and first responders. First, there's the growing reliance on digital volunteers who bring expertise not always on hand in EOCs  ... And second, IMHO, the EM world is slowly moving to its own version of the C5I command and control concept ...Some thoughts: 

Command: incidents are getting more and more complex ... unified and even a more diffused command structure is becoming more adapted to deal with all the various facets of an emergency ...
Control: technology and virtual tools have made some aspect of the span of control precept a bit outdated ... with crowdsourcing, span of control is irrelevant ... especially if dozens, hundreds of people are working on a solution collaboratively ...
Communications: closed-in agency-limited comms nets/methods hinder collaboration ... interoperability now involves the public and digital volunteers ... EOCs need access to all available nets.
Computers: while OpSec and cyberthreat issues remain vital concerns ... EM agencies must have in place a process to share and access data from a multitude of platforms ... some using open source software ... not many agencies are there yet ... again digital volunteers lead the way in that regard.
Collaboration: there must be procedures in place in EOCs to facilitate inter-agency cooperation and now, most importantly, working with digital volunteers ... Official acceptance of the value brought by digivols is growing as the realization of the effectiveness and surge capability they can bring to an official response dawns on senior officials.
Intelligence: when all five Cs work as they should ... when EOC plug into the world of social data available to them ... with the aggregation and analysis performed by crisis mappers and VOST teams .. EOC managers get the most important thing they need to make better decisions in the allocation of strategic resources: actionable intel ... that's priceless ...

Coming back to my son ... when he and his online team tackle hordes of zombies ... they do so in teams that coalesce ... self-direct ...self-correct and yet, organically move to a kind of diffused command system that works ...

That's why asymetric warfare can be so effective (think Crimea or Eastern Ukraine) ... In a way. all of that. makes command and efforts to vanquish the enemy ... a lot more resilient ...

Food for thoughts for my EM friends !

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Social convergence in emergency management, what next?

Trying to determine where technological advances will take the world of emergency management and EOCs next is a bit like trying to predict what new kind of social network will be hip with teenagers next year ... In other words, it's hard to say ...

Social convergence (the union of mobile tech, social networks and associated trends) and its impact on EM is always evolving ... but I believe a few trends will stay relevant.

First, the use of digital volunteers will become more common in EOC and EM planning ... I've touched on that subject recently. The role of Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs) in particular will be a critical consideration. 

Few organizations have the capability to put together a full team to monitor social media during an incidentLarge agencies such as the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene can put together a team to perform social listening in an emergency. They have done so successfully. But it's a big task, with lots of resources and staff needed which are not available to everyone. Hence the need for volunteers from outside the organization.

VOST teams are not the only game in town (although they can be used as a one-window approach by digital volunteers into the official realm of EM). Crisis mappers will also play a larger role in helping situational awareness. There are organizations of crisis mappers globally that can rely on outstanding reputation for stepping up with quality products during large-scale disasters. Chances are. a number of their volunteers know your area and could help if an incident occurs near you. Here, crowdsourcing is the name of the game.

The second trend I see reaching quasi-orbital velocity ... is the use of robotics and drones.  This is already happening at ever quickening pace in places such as Nepal where extremely detailed maps were produced by using high-tech to help in the aftermath of severe flooding.

Drones, robots and other new developments can bring connectivity after a disaster, deliver aid and provide command with aerial imagery that would be otherwise difficult to obtain. They can help EOC mangers and incident commanders decide the best route to deliver supplies and aid such as in the hours following flooding in Houston earlier this year:

Drones are good!  Repeat after me: drones are good! Despite some morons using drone to harass residents, put aircraft in danger and generally being obnoxious, there's no denying the good they can do in a disaster.

Drones and robots can help responders get places where they normally couldn't go such as in the Fukushima's damaged nuclear power station:

These two trends I've identified so far (the use of digivols + robotics/drones) can be combined to give us the third trend: 3-D, real time imagery and mapping. Nothing tells a story or can provide ICs and EOCs with an instant understanding of how in incident is evolving, as well as a map and a picture ... and why not?  both at the same time.

This is the new frontier in crowdsourcing, robotics and GIS-tech ... instant depiction of what's going on.  Imagine a map created as responders walk into any building or structure ... that reflects whatever changes caused by the incident.

The lesson here for first responders and emergency managers is that .... it's hard to keep up! But fortunately, there are serious enthusiasts out there who can help ... many are professional EM folks. engineers and tech-savvy individuals eager to help their community. Tapping into that expertise will make your job easier!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Of baskets and binders: why words matter especially in a crisis

There is little that's routine in an election campaign ... things might not be at the "big crisis" level ... but being prepared and avoiding communications regret is critical.

Crisis comms is really about avoiding regret: being prepared to say what you want/need to say ... and being able to avoid saying something you shouldn't ... In both cases, a crisis comms technique such as message mapping will help you be as ready as you can be. Learning about that process developed by Dr.Vince Covello is a must for any communicator.

Improvisation in a crisis, or even at a campaign event, can lead to almost fatal mistakes. 
Secretary Clinton learned about the pitfalls of generalization and putting huge part of the electorate in the "crazy" basket: 
Maybe it was planned all along ... but to me ... that generalization proved more damaging than the point she was trying to make ... A better approach might have been to say something like: 
"We know some of Mr. Trump's supporters are not among the most admired ... the racists, bigots, etc ... I'm sure that the majority of decent Americans who support him do so because they have been left behind and are angry ...their voice matters and I am listening to their anger and frustration ... "

A better approach offers a bit more nuance ... 

Sometimes, one colorful image can undo a whole life's worth of promoting equality and the role of women in the higher echelons of politics, government and business ... Just ask Mitt Romney about "binders full of women" ... a bad turn of phrase that totally undermined his message ... just watch the full video below:

Under stress, many successful executives and even experiences politicians and spokespersons will slip up ... That's why preparation and practice are so crucial to face a crisis with confidence.

And then of course, is Donald Trump ,,, who consistently creates crises of his own making ... suffers from the worst case of misogyny and verbal diarrhea imaginable when his expresses his views on women: 

Short of a total apology and retiring to a monastery on some remote island ...there's nothing that can be repaired there by even the most experienced crisis comms practitioner ...some things ( like the tobacco industry ...) are just indefensible ... 

In the end, being prepared will help you detect, possibly even avoid ... and certainly help you deal more efficiently with the communications challenges of a crisis or emergency. Relying on the boss' expertise and experience ...without a solid crisis comms plan ...without even exercising the one you might have ... all that will leave you totally exposed to just one bad turn of phrase or slip up ...