The tragedy playing out in DC at the Navy Yard provides more valuable lessons about the progression of real time news reporting.
I called this NanoNews in a recent presentation for a DC emergency management conference and posted a video on it. It highlighted sharing of police scanners during the Boston manhunt. But then it was non-professionals getting this info from sites like Broadcastify and Ustream (where someone had put a webcam on a police scanner in Boston), or scanner apps like 5_0 Scan.
But, now the news media are using police scanners to provide realtime info. This article from Poynter provides the details but also says this shouldn't be done because the info is usually inaccurate. Like that's going to stop them? The audience race goes to the fastest and not much faster than scanners. So this may be the first but won't be the last.
What I find even more surprising is that the DC firemen's union @IAFF36, apparently now the official PIO and voice of DC fire service as their twitter feed has nothing on the tragedy, is actually promoting using emergency services scanners. They are even giving the actual link to the DC scanner.
USNavy (@USNavy) appears to me to have emerged as the go-to source for information on this tragedy.
Lessons? Establishing your organization as the correct and trusted source of information in this time or real-time clearly inaccurate news reporting by professional and non-professional sources alike, is absolutely critical. And Twitter with your news website are the indispensable tools.
Does your emergency or crisis communication plan state that only authorized spokespersons are to speak for your organization? That anyone else should not speak to the media, but refer to the authorized spokesperson? That has been standard fare, and when I tell clients--government or private--that that won't work, it is outdated and indeed may cause you significant problems, well, I get some very surprised looks.
Now, I'm the one surprised to see that the "everyone is a spokesperson" policy is now firmly embedded as federal emergency communication policy!
One of the biggest lessons coming out of the Deepwater Horizon event was this change in media access policy. Here's what happened. BP had the standard "spokesperson only policy." So did the government for that matter--at first. But reporters were crawling all over the place and with some 14,000 people working the spill at any one time, they had plenty of people on the beaches, in the street, on vessels to talk to. But, they started getting the standard answer: I'm not allowed to talk to you. Talk to the PIO over there." The media asked: who told you not to talk to us? The reporters wanted to focus it on BP and say that BP was hiding and being less than transparent. The truth was that Unified Command was in control and in that early stage was being run as Unified Command with BP as responsible party and US Coast Guard admirals leading the response along with representatives from other agencies. So, it was Unified Command policy. Then, with a much stronger DHS and White House presence, BP was removed from the joint communications and policy was set exclusively by the National Incident Commander with direct interaction with the White House.
It became a hot issue with the press digging deeper into why the access was limited and who was controlling it. One very experienced, very competent government official was summarily fired by Command (aka White House) when he told reporters, no, it wasn't BP setting that policy, it was coming from the White House. Hard to convince reporters the story is different from the way they want it to be.
The media access and limitations on who reporters could talk to became one of the burning issues to such a degree that National Incident Commander Thad Allen issued a Media Policy statement that said everyone involved in the response could speak to the media with the only restriction being that they were to speak about their area of responsibility and not go beyond that. If they were cleaning up the beach they could talk about their work, but couldn't go on and talk about other beaches, or policies about beach cleanup in general. This was nothing new to the Commander as it was exactly the same policy he implemented when he was
Commandant of the Coast Guard. There were reasons why the Coast Guard was widely respected for their public information management.
This policy effectively took away the media's metanarrative about restricting access. But, the residue lingers. Which means that anyone attempting to implement the now out-dated policy of spokespersons only runs the serious risk of accusations of lack of transparency, of trying to manipulate the news, or less than full disclosure. Such is our world. I believe it is only a real risk if the story has you wearing the black hat in a big way and there isn't much you can do to get it off.
Given this background, perhaps I should not have so surprised to see that this new policy finding its way into the new and modified ESF #15 External Affairs. This is the public communication policy and structure under the National Response Framework, and for those who have followed this blog, one that I have been highly critical of in the past. I don't like the fact that the US government has two completely different and in many ways contradictory emergency communication plans. And that the ESF #15 plan is so focused on political messaging versus just getting the facts from the response and communicating them. But, I have to say, this new 2013 version is much, much improved from what I have seen in the past. It doesn't do away with its weakness in Information Gathering and it generally doesn't include social media monitoring in any realistic way, but in many others ways it is much better.
As it relates to spokespersons here is what it says:
? ESF #15 leadership can address policy and incident management operations.
? All others can talk about what they do.
Couldn't be simpler, more straightforward and on target. This supports the separation of facts from organizational or response messaging, and helps the delegation of approvals to appropriate levels. Which, by the way, the new ESF #15 is also much more realistic about this delegation of approvals.
My congrats to Jeff Karonis and team on the vast improvements. I'll be looking closer at the new ESF #15 and commenting here more I'm sure. I'd love to hear from you about your thoughts about this new version.
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Way back in May I raised the question about where social media monitoring fits in the ICS. I received an unprecedented number of responses and many strong opinions. It is a very relevant question as emergency managers understand more and more just how valuable the information gained from social media and other Internet sources can be in making good response decisions.
As I expected many conclude that it belongs with the PIO and the JIC. This is no doubt because what happens on social media is of intense interest to the communicators. But, what if in monitoring you come across urgent pleas for help? If you discover (and verify) that a source of much needed water has just been located? Or that a building appears to be very near collapse and there are people in it? That's operational stuff, its urgent, and important. How to get it from the monitoring team, to the JIC Manager, to the PIO, to Sit Stat unit, to Planning, to Command--so that something can be done? How and where do you draw the lines so that your team can understand where they fit, what they do, where they go? And how do you put a process in place that takes seconds, rather than minutes (or more) when lives may depend on seconds?
I recently received a very intriguing answer to this from one of those involved in this earlier discussion. A discussion among team members resulted in the Planning Section chief saying: How about we move Sit Stat to the JIC? I thought I saw pigs flying when I heard that. But that's just what they did. The Planning chief observed that the JIC was scurrying around trying to gather up all the information from internal and increasingly from the important external sources and why duplicate the effort they were already involved in. Make it their job to collect information for Planning, assemble it, analyze it, verify it, share it. Sharing information is what they are supposed to be particularly skilled at anyway. Plus, the Planning chief said, it allows us to focus our job on preparing plans for the next operational period.
What do you think? I suspect the vast majority of Planning Chiefs and Incident Commanders would be more than a little squeamish about this. But, I would not have expected that solution so I may be wrong.
One thing is abundantly clear to me and is becoming an increasing element of my conversations with clients and others in this field, social media monitoring and its vital role in response management, not just communications, is driving communications and Planning, Operations and Command closer together than ever before. That, I believe, is a very good thing.
Does the top dog in your organization tweet? I hear you laughing, but the question is why not? President Obama does @barackobama and he has 35.5 million followers. Sure, you say, he has a staff who tweets--yes and that is made clear in the brief description that also says that when the president himself tweets it is signed (rather inelegantly) bo.
Coincidentally, I received an interesting news story this morning (thanks Marc!) about how Latin American leaders are tweeting. At the same time read Jim Garrow's blog post on "Tweeting Like A Boss." Add to that the presentation I recently made for the National Capital Region Social Media in Emergencies conference (via video and Hangout) where I suggested that one of the primary means of overcoming the approval delay problem is to follow the lead of John Daley, Deputy Commissioner of Boston Police, and have the approver do the tweeting.
In 2006 in my updated (then updated) Now Is Too Late2, I added a new chapter called "The Ultimate Communicator." I suggested that with the access to powerful digital communication tools (pre-Twitter and most social media) that the move would be for the top dog, the CEO, the elected official to be doing his or her own communications. We certainly have seen a lot of progress in that direction. But there remains much resistance. Yet, the models are out there. Cory Booker, according to the Economist is a rising star in the Democratic Party and I would suggest one of the reasons is his embrace of social media on a very personal basis. Someone complains about a pothole in Newark, he's on it.
If I were a communication manager of a large company or government agency or jurisdiction, I believe I would strongly promote that move. Certainly there are risks and challenges. A leader has more to do in a crisis (or everyday) than DM a bunch of complainers. But I'd rather be at their side advising them on how to respond or what messages to delivery rather than put a cumbersome organization in place aimed at trying desperately to get approvals for those same messages.
I really appreciated Jim Garrow's post today on "Nothing's Happened." What it says is that when people are looking to you for information, you need to keep talking even when there is nothing to say. What do you say? That there is nothing new. Jim explains why that is a big deal.
But, let me tell you a quick story. In the early days of selling our online communication management system we had a local school district as a user. We had a big snowstorm in our area and so school was out for a few days. Every morning about 6:30 am the communication manager for the district would send an email to parents who had signed up for updates and post information on the website that said school was again closed. One morning we noticed a very large amount of web traffic on their site. I mean 500,000 hits in just a little bit of time for a school district of 10,000 students. What was this? Denial of service attack?
No. The weather was improving and now it wasn't certain whether school would be closed. The administrators were having a hard time deciding. 6:30 am came and went and no decision. Parents were getting frantic. Do we arrange for child care or not? Nothing on the website. And where the heck is our regular update? So, every few minutes they refreshed their browser and hit the website again, and again, and again.
The problem was the communication director didn't have an answer so she thought she had nothing to say. She was wrong. She had the most important information which was that a decision had not yet been made. If she had just said "nothings happened" as Jim says, or just let them know what she knew, she would have saved a lot of anxiety.
What is a bit ironic about this, is this was about 2003 or 2004--they were one of earliest to set up an email alert system. The year before those parents would be sitting by the radio or TV waiting for the endless crawl of schools announcing their schedule. How impatient those parents got once there was an improved, direct and immediate way of getting the vital info they needed.
That too is the lesson. The better you get at providing good, fast, accurate, direct information, the more is expected of you. The easier it is to let people down when you don't meet their needs for information. So, communicate--even if there is nothing to say!
Shayne Adamski, who leads FEMAs social media operation, recently provided written testimony to Congress on the agency's use of social media. That document is well worth the read.
For those looking for the digest version, I think the most relevant part is the five uses of social networks he identifies.
1. Inform public about how FEMA helps communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. (In other words, you should use social media to build awareness for the good things you do.)
2. Provide safety and preparedness tips. (If helping your citizens and communities prepare, and if giving important safety information is important during an emergency, social media is an important channel.)
3. Help the public help survivors. (Encourage donation to appropriate charities.)
4. Inform survivors of available assistance. (You may consider using your social media channel to help those link directly to FEMA. Saves work.)
5. Gain feedback--and control rumors. (This may be the most important function. Given how fast rumors spread on social media, only social media can stop them before they go too far.)
It is interesting, but understandable, that Adamski did not include improved situation awareness as one of the main reasons for using social media. Understandable because FEMA, despite severe media and public misunderstanding, is not and never was a response management organization. So because it was not mentioned in his testimony does not diminish its significance.
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Yesterday I had the pleasure of a lengthy conversation over dinner with a global crisis communications leader for a Fortune 100 company. One question that came up, and I know is relevant to many of you, is how do you get approval authority to effectively use Twitter--especially now that it is understood that Twitter is the PRIMARY media management tool. After all, if tweets have to go through the same legal, executive, subject matter expert review that press releases are typically subject to, well, you might as well close down your Twitter account.
I told my friend about how the Boston Police did it. They have received kudos from the media and almost all in social media for their excellent use of Twitter during the Boston Marathon manhunt. In fact, those following their Twitter feed during the event were the first to learn of the arrest (unless you were on 5_0 Scan, broadcastify, or one of the live Ustream feeds listening in on the police scanner). If you were following one of those realtime news sources, you would have noticed that the tweet about arresting the suspect came seconds after it actually happened.
How did they do that? What PIO on earth would have such access and approval process? Well, I think it is possible but the secret here is that tweeting was done by the approver! Yes, if you have the one who needs to approve it do the tweeting, well that pretty well takes care of the time lag, don't you think? In this case it was Deputy Superintendent John Daly.
I suggested to my friend that he have whoever had approval authority do the tweeting. I got a funny look. Not going to happen. Well, I understand that. Although I don't think it should be such a stretch as many surveys are showing that leading CEOs and executives are pretty much up to speed on social media. But let's say you have that conversation with your Sheriff, police chief, mayor, emergency management director, Incident Commander or whoever. You tell them that like the Boston Police, you want to come out of any event with a great reputation for sharing information. That means it has to be fast, I mean like instant fast, like nanonews fast, and that means the best way to do it for the Chief to do the tweeting.
Either the Chief is going to say, yes, no, or get the heck out of my office. And if it is no, then you need a conversation as to exactly how close you can come to that kind of speed. If the answer is, we can't, then a discussion is needed about how the media use Twitter, about how the scan kids will tell the news on Reddit or Ustream, and how everyone will be too busy dealing with the info (right or wrong) that they get from everyone else that they won't have time to deal with your great big, way too late important announcements.
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The remaining fire, police and emergency management chiefs who don't get social media probably have one eye locked on retirement. However, if you are working in a department that doesn't quite get it yet, I urge you, to read Chief Bill Boyd's latest blog post on "It's Not My Emergency." It's my great privilege to work with Bill, now a retired chief and active corporate executive involved in safety, on social media and emergency management training programs. His many years experience in the fire service, and as a PIO, enables him to speak with great authority on the value of today's communication technologies for response management.
Today's blog post, titled "You Are Already Behind" gives a blow by blow account of today's digital mobile communications and what it can mean to save lives and improve response effectiveness. Read it, share it, do it.
From the earliest days of texting and channels like Twitter, a major concern of emergency managers were that people would use these means as a replacement for 911. This first came to my attention about 3 years ago when a pre-teen girl fell into an empty well in Australia. The good news was she had a cellphone with her. The bad news is she forgot the phone was to make phone calls--in this case 000, the Australian equivalent of 911. The good news is her friends were monitoring her Facebook page when she posted her predicament. The best news is she was quickly rescued unharmed.
Emergency agencies using social media routinely put "do not use this for emergencies. Call 911." This is wise and good practice. However, that doesn't stop people from using social media channels or texting when help is desperately needed. That's why it is a very good thing that the FCC is working to facilitate cell carriers to make text to 911 a reality. Progress is very much mixed on this front at this report show. A slow rollout is in progress.
But what this means is every emergency response agency needs to incorporate some means of monitoring and responding. This is particularly true in major disasters like earthquakes, floods or severe weather where cell coverage may be knocked out and text messaging still works. Disaster after disaster has shown the internet to be the most resilient so those who can access it outside of the cell networks will continue to use it--and may use it to call for help.
Where do you stand on this? Not practical? Not worth the effort? Or do you see it as part of your responsibility to respond as your customers expect of you?
Every major emergency event seems to cement Twitter as the most significant communication channel available. That seems to be the case with both the Calgary floods and the Asiana Flight 214 crash.
In her excellent analysis of the Calgary floods, Melissa Agnes points out that the Calgary police and Mayor Nenshi relied on Twitter to carry important messages. That is, until @CalgaryPolice (the Twitter identity of Calgary Police) ended up in "Twitter Jail," which is what Twitter does to your account when they believe you are being too active and chewing up too much of their bandwidth. Your account is temporarily suspended. but that didn't stop Calgary Police--Constable Jeremy Shaw simply took up the work with his personal account.
However, this does identify a strong problem with Twitter as a vital emergency communication tool. I hope Twitter gets the message and perhaps identifies accounts in advance that are exempt from "jail" based on their need to provide emergency communication. Twitter in the past has proven pretty slow on the uptake on issues like this (note: fake Twitter accounts, spamming, etc.), so it may be advisable to secure a second or third Twitter account. For example @hometownpolice1, @hometownpolice2, etc.
Bill Salvin similarly dissects use of social media in the early moments of the Asiana crash. What I was interested in was this event demonstrating nano news, which is my term for absolutely real time reporting. Sure enough, someone was shooting a cellphone video of the plane landing and caught the entire crash including tail hitting the seawall and the "cartwheel" that wasn't quite a cartwheel. CNN played it perhaps ten thousand times as a background to all the experts repeating inane comments about the crash.
In Bill's analysis you can see the what appear to be remarkably calm tweets from passengers, photos of passengers dragging their carryon luggage from the plane, and also see Twitter being used by news reporters to try and contact passengers for on-air interviews.
I watched the news reports on TV in those early hours after the crash, all the while knowing that if I went to my ipad or pulled out my iphone, I'd be getting a wider range, more immediate, and more colorful story.
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