As we approach Thanksgiving Day in the US my thoughts turned to the millions of people in the Philipines suffering the aftermath of the one of the worst storms in history--Typhoon Haiyan. About 7500 people likely to have died, millions of homes damaged or destroyed, about 3.5 million displaced. But, have you heard much about it? Thought much about it? Cared much? Sent any relief dollars?
My intention is not to cause any guilt but to help us think through disaster weariness. It is an entirely expected consequence of an information-saturated world. I liken the Internet-based global communications that has emerged in the past decade or two to a global nervous system. A nervous system informs the entire body of what is going on in the rest of the body. Stub a toe, bump your head or sit on a sharp object and the knowledge is instantly shared throughout your body. Now, with billions connected via mobile devices and the internet we have "nerve endings" in the farthest reaches. This is a good thing, as the pain sensitivity God gave our bodies, is a good thing because pain tells us there is something we should pay attention to. Feeling no pain means not having the capability of finding out when dangerous things are occurring.
But, when there are too many pain signals coming all the time, we become desensitized. Not just pain. Too many signals leads to desensitization anad loss of ability to respond. I love going to art galleries and oohing and ahhing over wonder works of art. But, my system can take only an hour or too before things start to seem hum drum. It's quite frustrating, really. There I am standing in front of Night Watch by Rembrandt and my brain is too weary to be in awe.
Is this happening to us when it comes to disasters? I heard at one time that the chain of tornados that hit Washington, Illinois was one of the worst. That disaster, like Haiyan or Yolanda, is largely forgotten it seems, not just in the media but in social media, discussions, consciousness. Have we just had too many in the last while? Are we just disaster tired? Or, is it just me?
I do think that one reason for the desensitization is how media covers events. It's been pretty well established that in an information-saturated environment, a certain amount of shouting is required to break through. That's why flight attendants are trained to shout instructions in passenger's faces during or after a crash. There's a lot of frightening information flying around in those circumstances. TV crews are certainly going to provide those scenes of greatest devastation, find those people most outraged and most hurt, and amplify the greatest complaints or frustrations. Shouting is necessary in this environment. But that amplification also means that the toe stubbing we feel seems three times more painful than the actual damage caused. And that further desensitizes.
So, what does this possibility mean for communicators responding in a disaster? First, interest may peak very quickly and then quickly die. Pew Research talked earlier about one week wonders, where media coverage was intense for a week, then went away. We may now be looking more at one or two day wonders. Many plans still have JIC's getting organized and set up in a disaster in two days. Won't work. Disaster communication has to start very quickly. But does that also mean it ends quickly? No, but it does mean it changes.
The Washington Illinois Facebook page has 178,000 likes. That means a lot of people are interested, tuning in, eager for information. Not 7 billion across the globe, not even the majority of Americans, or mid-westerners. But still, a lot of people. The people closest to it, the people most affected which includes the friends and family members of victims whereever they are.
And this comes back to a core principle I believe in: stakeholder first strategy. Sure, in a big event media from all over will be beating down your door. You have to be ready to respond to them. But you must never forget, even when Anderson Cooper or Brian Williams is begging to talk to you, to pay attention to keeping those closest to the event, your organization and your future fully informed. They are the toe that has been stubbed and they are hurting. Even while the rest of body goes about its business.
Once again, Chief Bill Boyd (former Chief, really, but to me he will remain Chief), comes through with a clear, powerful and perceptive description of the powerful changes occuring in incident command from the continuing emergence of social media.
This article in Fire Rescue Magazine is generating lots of buzz and interest--rightfully so. Boyd doesn't just repeat the mantra: hey guys, you have to get with it. He provides a powerful example, from his real life experience as a fire chief and incident commander, about how social media changes the reality of what IC's and other response leaders have to deal with.
What strikes me here is the challenge of perception vs. reality. In the incident described, a cloud of gas escaping from an overturned tanker on a busy interstate turns out to be benign. Nothing dangerous. Fortunately. So, now get the traffic moving, clean up the wreck and get on with things. Wait. It is dangerous. Not because of what has been released, but the cloud of fear, rumor, uncertainty and miscommunication--largely made possible by the instant spread of incomplete and simply wrong information spread on social media.
Is an event that causes panic in the community an issue for incident command, for emergency management? Yes, I would think. And that means the IC can't simply say, no harm, no foul from the gas, and go on. The perception must be managed.
Sure, he/she could leave it to others. But who knows whether it is benign or not. Seems to me those who have the real, solid, dependable information have a responsibility to communicate that, and in the process help put an end to the fears and uncertainties.
That means ICs must manage perceptions as well as operational responses. That means social media is a key part of IC. And that's what Mr. Boyd is preaching.
I'm interested in infographics as an increasingly important communication tool today. Like video, infographics are increasingly necessary to quickly communicate a lot of information in a very "snackable" form.
So, I'm offering this infographic from emergency-management-degree.org for two reasons. One, it offers some interesting perspective on disasters and major events, including an analysis of risk trends and current strategies and practices to address them. I'm not enough of an expert in emergency management to know if this is on target or not.
The other reason is to show you why infographics are increasingly important in crisis and emergency communications. Look at the graphic. Now look at the text below it. What is more effective at getting information from your screen to your brain? Yep. That's what I thought.
I need to start using these things.
You might think about how infographics can be used in your daily and then emergency communications. Having a lot of numbers and statistics helps, but as you can see from this sample, its not necessary. In a major event you certainly can help clarify the various elements of an event, the agencies responding, the number of people, where the resources are being allocated, the results (such as number of power outages restored over days or hours), and so on.
As normal now, there are tons of good articles on this subject and of course lots of freemium services (ones that are free for limited use, then get you to upgrade) that make creating infographics easy. Here's a pretty good guide to start.
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I'm working with Bill Boyd on a presentation for port communication officers and, at the risk of once more stealing from him, noted an interesting point in a slide. He said the crowd walks into news. In other words, people going about their daily business suddenly find themselves in the enviable or unenviable position of telling the world what wonderful, amazing, humorous, tragic or terrible thing is happening right in front of them.
That reminded me of a recent study from Pew about Facebook users and their use of Facebook as a source of news. The Nieman Lab story on it was titled: Bumping Into News. Only 16% of Facebook users go to get news, compared to 68% who go there to see what friends and family are up to. In fact, 78% of Facebook users say they get news about what is going on that interests them from Facebook, not when they are looking for it, but when they are on Facebook for other reasons. In other words, they bump into news as part of conducting their regular social interactions.
I suppose this is nothing terribly new, especially on the news finding end. I was a seventh grader at recess when I bumped into the news about President Kennedy's assassination. I was driving in downtown Bellingham listening to the car radio when I bumped into the news of the Challenger disaster.
But, still, there is a difference. There are 1.1 billion people using Facebook. Most are pretty well connected to a lot of other users. After I got the reports referenced above, as hungry as I might have been for additional info, it was not easy to get. I could not easily share my shock and fears with anyone, let alone those closest to me, with any ease or rapidity. And I hate to wait for further radio reports, wait on their timing, to get more info.
There is an even bigger difference on the news reporting end. News wasn't done by those bumping into it. A few years ago, while filming some forest property in a helicopter I and those with me bumped into a brand new plane crash. But, after calling the authorities, then my wife and relaying the news we called the local TV station to tell them we had footage. We had no capability of sending the video and news to the rest of the world--let along carrying it in our pockets way up in the dense forest. Now, we would.
Bump into the news, and we suddenly have the power and reach of a major broadcaster. That's new.
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Right now police in Howard County, MD are looking for a suspect in a police shooting. And right now Howard County Police are providing a positive example of effective use of Twitter. A tip of the hat to Dave Statter of Statter911 for pointing this out to me.
You can follow the Howard Police twitter account here: @HCPDNews
1 First tweet about event says "unconfirmed information" about event at the location, then promised to provide updates as soon as avialable.
Don't wait to get the whole story before starting to communicate, because those on the street near the location won't wait. Do you want them to become the go-to source for the information? This way, those looking for info will keep coming back to you at least until you prove that you aren't communicating fast enough. That means, in an event like this, tweet every few minutes, as they did. Keep the flow going, and that will keep the others from turning away to other sources.
2. Even before that tweet note the DM (that's Direct Message) to a local reporter answering a question.
That means the reporters and the police are used to engaging this way on any question, and that means that when you really need to work with the media they'll know to find you here.
3. Subsequent tweets providing on-going updates.
The event was police responding to report of a man with a gun. Then possible shooting. Then report of officer shot. Then info about condition and where he is going. Then info about PIO enroute. This is real time reporting. And this kind of flow will ensure that you will be the continuing, reliable and trusted source for the information.
4. Info through FB and Twitter only.
In a tweet marked "MEDIA" the police send a clear message that this is where to get the updates. Critically important. Sure, they may want to call, or email, or meet a PIO at the scene or nearby, and indeed the tweets said a PIO was enroute. But this tweet says: you want information? Here is where you are going to get it fastest and best.
5. Press Briefing
A following tweet provided the time for a press briefing. An event like this calls for one because local TV are going to want some videos of police officers talking about the events. But by the time they get that on the air, the story they are telling will have long been told.
Fortunately in this case by the Howard police themselves.
Since I've been preparing to talk about social media monitoring training in some webinars coming up, I wanted to share some additional thoughts.
The biggest question seems to me about whether any such training is needed. I suspect that if you have already begun at least some social media monitoring for crises or emergencies, the answer may be somewhat clear. It's those who are at the very start of it who may need some convincing. The thought may be, I know we'll be able to find some of the younger folk who do nothing but twitter, tweet and facebook all through dinner and any other social engagement. We'll get them in here and they'll do the monitoring for us.
Bringing in the digital natives is not a bad idea. But keep in mind, you may be putting the effectiveness of your response, and the future of making use of such monitoring, in jeopardy. If the Incident Commander, Police Chief, Emergency Management chief, mayor or whoever is going to run the response is of a certain age and along with it a certain disinclination to use social media him or herself, then the first time it is used in an exercise or real event is pretty darn important. Given the instinctive mistrust inherent in the very words "internet" or "social media" its a good idea to get it right the first time.
Having some new team members running around reporting on rumors of sharks swimming up Madison Avenue and yelling that twelve people are calling for immediate help is not going to help your cause. Those who do the monitoring should have some idea of the response structure, where they fit, how to analyze and verify information, who and when to report urgent information, how best to determine search parameters and how monitoring results should be reported so they can be actually used in the response. Those are just a few of the considerations needed as part of your training program.
I should mention the webinar series scheduled to start tomorrow has been postponed--an updated schedule is here.
There are some of us who have been pounding the social media in emergencies drum for a long time. The fact that some organizations are establishing social media monitoring training programs is one of the best indicators that this discipline is beginning to become a serious and recognize part of emergency management.
I was fortunate to participate with Bill Boyd and Patrice Cloutier in a contract for such a Social Media Monitoring Training program for New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It was a fascinating learning experience--hang around Bill and Patrice for a while and you really learn what you don't know about social media in crises and emergencies. But it was the mere fact of seeing an RFP issued for this program that got me thinking about where other organizations are at.
Wouldn't you like to know what others are thinking about this too? Tell you what, participate in my little one minute survey and I will email you the results.
Integrating social media into an emergency or crisis management program may not be quite as easy as it sounds. For example: where will it sit--with the PIO or Planning, or the new Intelligence unit that is part of the upgrade of ICS? Will response managers (Incident Commanders) take it seriously? What's the best way to inject urgent info from social media into the stream of action and planning? How will you deal with calls for help that will inevitably come through social media? What tools are you going to use for monitoring? Free ones? Subscription? Some are very expensive but where is the bang for the buck? You know in a major event you are going to need several on this team--how to organize? What roles do you create and how are they to interact? What do you tell them is expected from them in routine reporting? Does it work to use volunteers? If so, how do you clarify expectations? How can you assure confidentiality as you pull them into the emergency management inside?
My point is, as you institutionalize a social media monitoring program, there is a lot to think about that. Ugh, you say, as if I don't have enough to think about. We understand that and we'd like to take what we've learned and make it as easy for you as possible. I don't like using this blog to promote much of anything, particularly anything I'm involved in, but I do think the webinar series Bill, Patrice and I are planning starting on Oct 23 may be of interest.
The digital mob seems to be sneering more heartily than normal about Fox News. This time is it their brand new newsroom just revealed, call "the News Deck."
Gotta admit, I was joining in the laughter at their BATS, which Shepard Smith called their "Big Area Touch Screens" but I'm guessing, like others, that "area" will be replaced by something else, indeed, that it probably started with something else.
But, looking past the humoungous tablet that flow around the news deck floor like control stations on the Enterprise, making the "information specialists" look like somebody shrunk the news producers, there is some important insights into news, and as importantly, about the information gathering process of any crisis or emergency response.
I've been focusing on the Information Gathering role lately in part because I am completing a training video on that role for the OnePage Crisis Communication Playbook program, and also because I've been contracted by a large company to produce role-specific video training for their global crisis communication operations.
Information gathering isn't like it used to be, anymore than news is like it used to be. But, I'm afraid, that for many the realization of how dramatically things have changed have yet to show up in plans, training and drills. Info Gathering was sending someone to the Planning Section to check in with the Sit Stat unit, write some notes on what was on the big board or the big map, bring it back to the PIO, or APIO, or Info Production lead, (or in ESF#15 the Planning and Products unit) and then go back for more. Be honest, is that still pretty much it for you?
Then I strongly encourage you to watch the video on the above link about Fox News BATTY new newsroom and understand what they are trying to do. Because your job as Info Gatherer is not fundamentally different from that of Shepard Smith or his room full of Information Specialists.
What Fox News understands is that news is now mostly captured by those who happen to be near it. That it is shared through fully public connections--connections which they can and must tap into. That there is a wide-range of possible sources--he even mentioned the New York Times feed for goodness sake! Fox News? All those Info Specialists are using their BATS to see what is out there, determine what is relevant, focus in on it, then try to determine if it is reliable or not. Here I saw Shep get squeamish. He said, and I listened to it about five times to get it right, "to try to make sure that things are, well, vetted and confirmed to the degree that we can." What do you mean, Shep, that you can? Of course you can. You got the gazillions of Murdoch behind you, why couldn't you? Simple, because as he said just a moment later, "news pops in when news breaks--that's sort of the nature of news." He should have added, news today. It was not always so.
But speed is everything squared. And all that investment in BATS, in feeds, in the 38 foot video wall with the fancy dancy remote control that Shep gets to present it all with, all that is to gather the info from all the possible sources, confirm "to the greatest degree possible" and present to a news audience that more and more is ignoring it because they can get it directly from those same sources that are showing up on those BATS.
Speed is important for you as Info Gatherer. Too late means you are out of the game. Accuracy is important as well, because not just reputation depends on it, but as the intelligence that is gathered out there becomes actionable the veracity of it may impact lives, health, safety, the environment and property. As Info Gatherer, you have exactly the same challenges as Fox News and Shepard Smith. So many sources, so much to follow and check up on, and so little time to verify. For them, their ad dollars depend on it. For you, lives may depend on it.
Now, I gotta go shop for one of the dad gummed BATS.
Probably no coincidence that on the day I turned 62 I had a conversation about what in the world can we do about this older generation who just doesn't get it?
Say there is one department in your city who is "old school" about news and public information. But you are of the thought that we live in a time when "maximum information with minimum delay" is the best way to build trust and protect and enhance the reputation of your department. You could say: "you go your way, I'll go my way" but the trouble is there are a lot of times when you need to work together. Those are times of intense public interest. Just when you really need to do your job of keeping the public informed, you either are gagged or risk outright confrontation with your response partners.
Is this common? I suspect it is very common. Police chiefs, fire chiefs, incident commanders, emergency managers, mayors, county execs--all may have very different ideas of how to meet the public information challenges all face today.
What to do about it? Here are a few thoughts to start with and I'm hoping to go into this subject in more detail later.
1. Wait for their retirement (or yours). Ok, so that's not a good solution, unfortunately I think it is the most common one currently employed.
2. Do what you have to do, with respect. I think this is probably the most realistic solution. The trust in your agency is at stake. Unless forbidden by those above you, communicate. Ask forgiveness rather than permission. Do it with respect and the minimum necessary to accomplish what you need to. Then have a good thorough thrashing out once the event is over and you can debrief. (This advice probably shows why I never really had a chance of surviving in a big company or big government)
3. Use the public safety argument. Chiefs and EM leaders' primary responsibility is to protect the public. What happens when a rumor runs rampant? What happens when citizens panic because of false information? What happens when the media, unencrypted scanners, provide false reports of a gunman on the loose in a mall? Who will know and tell the truth fast enough to protect public safety and property? If they say that's not their job, someone needs to suggest its time to turn in their badge. And if they don't see the connection between fast, correct official information and protecting the public then someone isn't being very effective in telling them what's what.
4. Two pictures. I went to the internet and grabbed a photo of a 1930s era fire truck, then a new one. I was imagining sitting down with a recalcitrant fire chief (say one about 62 years old or so) and trying to convince him or her that using the best available tools was important in doing the job. I would ask, suppose it is your job to fight fires and you had a choice between these two vehicles. Which would you choose? I suspect they (if they don't refuse to play suspecting a trick question) would choose the new one. Then, I would ask, is building trust in our department part of your job? Assuming the answer is yes, then ask: why do you insist we continue to use completely outdated tools and methods when the new ones have been completely proven to work much, much better. (If he/she says prove it to me then print this article out and lay it on their desk (assuming he or she doesn't have a computer to view the article on)) Or, you could have them watch the video I did on this subject called NanoNews.
5. Understand the obstacles. There are many reasons beyond sheer exhaustion that keep leaders from adopting the new communication methods. You can't change a mind until you understand the mistaken thinking behind these obstacles.
For example, "Everything on the internet is wrong. It's worthless information." Yes, a lot is wrong, especially early. Both those who have the correct information usually quickly correct it. And the corrections are distributed through the network as quickly as the rumor. But (ask them gently) whose fault is it when those who do have the correct information refuse to correct it? Who is really responsible for the false information then?
Another example: "If you put out this response on Twitter and it involves us, suddenly the media are going to be calling us, and now, because of you we have to take the time to answer a lot of questions". OK, I'd respond: I won't tweet a single event that is completely invisible to the public. Because I'm not here to just attract attention. But if there are others there, they will be tweeting and sharing information and the media will get it and much of it will be wrong. Do you really want everyone else to be the trusted source for every response? And what if they can't be trusted? Do you want the media to only get information from those who may have an ax to grind with your department?
6. Chinese water torture. Keep it up, keep bringing them information, examples and case studies about the use of these tools. Ask, why are agency after agency from the White House to the smallest response agency eagerly adopting these tools?
What's your solution?
I suspect most of you out there have far more experience with this issue than I do--and probably a lot better answers. Please be willing to share them here. If you want to remain anonymous, you can send me your thoughts using this form (I'm loving the forms function of GoogleDrive). You can also email me at email@example.com or simply comment on this post. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, I'm the one who laughed when a few years ago Twitter launched and some told me it would be big. I thought: who's going to care what kind of latte you are sipping right now? Now, I find myself over and over telling communicators of all kinds that Twitter is the most important media and crisis management tool you have.
Will Instagram become the next big news channel? Huh? Instagram? Where the social media kids share sepia-toned pictures of themselves mugging at the camera like we used to do in those old photobooths? Before you pull up your nose, or laugh, or switch to a better blog, you should know that Instagram is now becoming a news channel. That is, one news provider "NowThisNews" is using Instagram as one platform for distributing news. Here's what it looks like. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, one of the rising political stars in part based on his social media savvy, is of course one of the featured stories right now.
Why use Instagram as a news platform? Instead of building a new news channel, or app, or website the thinking, according to the Nieman Lab article, is that Instagram is where the audience is already so why not go there. Rather than a "if you build it they will come" idea, it's a sort of "since they are already at the ballpark, let's go there and have a game." Makes sense to me.
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