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by Heather Blanchard: Emerging technologies, digital engagement and the rise of digital humanitarians.

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August 22, 2012

Today there has been a litany of articles written about the 20th Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew in Florida. Headlines such as “Lack of hurricanes worrisome” or “Have years of no hurricanes made us complacent?”  What these articles fail to mention is the crisis within the crisis which will happen. It will happen very soon here in the US. We saw it in Japan, Haiti and New Zealand. Information will be flow at a velocity never seen before. It will effect the way response is delivered and the tone of recovery.

Moore’s law says that every 18 months integrated circuits will double. Meaning that technologies improve at a rapid pace increasing speed and capabilities of technologies. I don’t think that Congress has appropriated resources and authorities at the speed of Moore’s law, but it needs too. 

It’s been five years since Hurricane Ike but there hasn’t been substantive changes to policy or appropriations which will support the modernization and transformation of emergency management. How can that happen when daily operating budgets are being slashed across the board?

In 2011 according to Columbia University, the cuts that were made to emergency management are staggering. Regional Catastrophic Preparedness program was cut by 58% from $33.6M to $14.1M, the Emergency Operations Center program was cut by 75% from $57.6M to 14.1M and overall the funding that supports state and locals were cut across the board from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion—a 28% cut.

Programs are bracing for the cuts to continue or the discontinuation of services. Last summer, someone shared with me that their city EOC's funding was cut and they eliminated their only GIS person. Now there is an EOC with GIS equipment that nobody knows how to use. 

To be fair, this isn’t just emergency management problem, almost every kind of organization is going through some kind of austerity.  It seems like we are in a perfect storm: a world speeding ahead with technology and an economic environment where improvement may have to compete with daily operations. 

Thinking of those extremes, with a world and populations moving faster than the ability of organizations to keep pace, are we racing towards a new kind of a digital divide?

With every cut and shift in priorities today that public safety has to make, the gap grows wider. You can’t optimize everything. What are we really sacrificing? Is it the 28% cut of services that we see today, or something even deeper, the ability to keep pace with the transformation of society and how that will shape the future of emergency management? 

 

 

 


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April 03, 2012

I spent about 20 dollars printing out all of the FEMA framework documents the other day which have been open for public comment. At first I wanted to write about little nuggets in the documents such as the National Response Plan has only three mentions of collaboration and two mentions of data. So instead I just picked a few topics which popped out at me. Maybe they would for you too. 

Iterating in Collaboration

 It strikes me that what we keep running round and round about in emergency management (as well as international humanitarian relief) but we don’t talk about is how people who are charged with coordinating in a crisis actually work together or not. What are the methods? What kind of help do they have to support these efforts? How does inclusion and sharing come into play? How can these groups make better decisions (or be empowered to make decisions in the first place) while under extreme pressure to get something done now? We talk about command and control models which work great for the fire services but can that really handle the need to collaborate with stakeholders who often do not speak the language of emergency management? I really think we need to start looking at a new approach for how people work together in disasters. We need to understand how they are collaborating, what tools they are using. It always seems that it is so difficult to go from lessons observed to lessons learned (and to stem any policy revision from those lessons). I’m not sure five frameworks is the answer. Perhaps this is something that could go into the future cast that FEMA Policy shop is looking into? 

Emergency management is getting there in sense. Whole of community talks about collaboration but doesn’t give it the policy charge (nor the grant dollars). An example I observed was during Hurricane Ike, ESF-6 was testing out a new approach which was a simple multi-stakeholder forum where anyone who was relevant to the discussion could participate at any level from any organization. This was not true of other coordination points in the JFO where you had to be invited to meetings.  What ESF-6 was doing was providing an open forum for collaboration where in essence FEMA (and other agencies) could figure out where the gaps were and how to apply resources to shore those gaps or push the bureaucracy forward. This is a super smart approach, similar to an adhocracy which can be, "Any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results.” I can’t help but think that emergency management may need to evolve to a more adhocratic model which is decentralized, task oriented through group collaboration. 

Level the ESF vs. Annex Playing Field

I often wonder why are we are so bent on creating categories where some are more important than others? It continues to baffle me that both the Private Sector and Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources functions are not “Essential” rather they are still provide a support role through “Annexes.” There are states, including the State of Florida, who have addressed this gap in emergency management policy by creating their own ESF for private sector coordination. If we are truly to create a whole of community engagement then that needs to start with how disasters are coordinated. These stakeholders need to be at the table and essential, not in an annex form. This needs to be balances with equity. There can’t be four companies in the EOC getting information that gives them competitive advantage. On the government side, private sector liaisons need to be funded. They need funds to engage the private sector, they need to leverage existing communities. They need to be where their stakeholder are at. 

Bye Bye ESF-14. Hello Overlap

I can’t help but think before we talk about whole of community we need to talk about whole of government approach. This is especially true with Recovery where we now have a separate doctrine now focusing on recovery which takes ESF-14 out of the response system and creating its own system which haven’t been mapped between all of these policies. I was in the initial discussions of the Recovery Framework and several people were infatic on having RSFs. So now we have ESFs and RSFs. We now have separated these systems even though we tell them to work together. When does recovery begin? Who has authority and resources? No one at the table could answer that question. It was suggested that the main problem for State and local jurisdiction was the conflicting information coming from federal agencies. In fact, there is not an inventory of resources available from the federal government to state and local jurisdictions during recovery operations (this would be nice for response too). In discussions with stakeholders many just did not know what was available to help their community. It didn’t help that every single agency has its own authorities and resources which are not pooled, rather are executed direct. So in a way a town who has had a disaster not only has to deal with the disaster that has happened to their town but they have to fight a bureaucracy who is not mandated to work together or sometimes be able to obligate their agency in any way.   

Technology and Data

 Okay. Hardly any of the new revisions really focus on the use of technology as relates to their specific operational mission objectives. What does this say? It could be argued that it is meant to be general not prescriptive but I can’t imagine waiting another three years for the next revision without a significant amount of technology -- this includes data, mobile, geospatial, paid and volunteer expertise. Where does this sit in the ESF structure? ESF-2? ESF-6? ESF-5? ESF-15? This is super important to figure out. It should be derived by lessons learned. There is a lot of them. How will the tech folks have a voice at the decision making table as well? How is this funded to create preparedness to use technology and how to raise the level of digital literacy of the emergency management (including VOADs). For example, where does the Red Cross Digital Operations Center or the Wal-Mart EOC provide its data feeds? To whom in the EOC? Where does that go? How do these feeds get shared back out? While these documents shouldn’t get in the weeds, they should address at a top level these necessary operational (not public affairs) considerations. 

 
Dear Congress: Fund Emergency Management At All Levels

In a way FEMA isn’t built to do all of this. FEMA isn’t getting more support from Congress that it needs to do its job. FEMA needs an investment to modernize its capabilities and capacity. First responders need Congress’ help. 

How can localities possibility address all that is has been identified in these documents? How can we be sure that technology is included, including raising the level of digital literacy of practitioners. 

How can our national emergency response system at every level be prepared for how their community will be communicating in a crisis?

Private sector coordination is underscored in almost every lessons learned report and still it remains a secondary priority in policy development. 

How can local government know what the federal government and provide if they haven’t created an inventory of recovery resources available to communities effected by disasters. Many of those resources aren’t built for disasters -- i.e. HUD grants. Yet HUD was a very strong influence in the development of the Disaster Recovery Framework. 

We really need Congress action to not decrease funding for grant programs, rather increase the ability for people-centric funding so they can create open forums for collaboration actually work. 

Sidenote: I'll give credit to whomever wrote the below line in the National Response Framework. I had to chuckle because this certainly is aspirational.  It's almost like the NRF was executing the laws of attraction. 

"Federal and state response operations are highly collaborative and mutually transparent"


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March 30, 2012

Lots going on via #SMEM. Patrice Cloutier (@patricecloutier) organized a Social Media in Emergency Management event (#smemto) in Toronto, Canada today.  The interwebs were a flurry with @smackenz reporting that a total of 1,100 tweets were generated to provide 2,487,984 impressions which reached an audience of 180,433 followers today through the #smemto hashtag. Makes you think that maybe next time you have a meeting, open Wi-Fi is perhaps a critical element of the discussion not only in the room but by those who want to participate outside of it. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch the whole event, so @patricecloutier if you want to post and update, happy reblog it. What I did sense was that Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Peter Sloly @DeputySloly stole the show.   @berettamae exclaimed that “@DeputySloly <---- amazing man to #follow! #smemto” 

Lots of folks participating but @HeatherLeson, Ushahidi's Community Leader perhaps said it best in her tweet: Let it be known that @patricecloutier changed emergency management in Canada today. 

Well said. So here are a few highlights of #smemto as seen on Twitter:

@johnverdon: #smemto emergency management in digital environment involves not just dealing with the situation But how we 'appear' to be dealing with it

@nellleo Emergency mgmt involves quite a bit of community mgmt bc you're organizing and using community volunteers go help 

@ayoudo: Most people using social media to seek info, it's time to start using social media to request/offer help. 

@DaniGirl: Good point from @Kim26stephens at #smemto - providing "info" not enough in a crisis. Must be relevant, meaningful, HELPFUL

@smackenz: Steady, constant, open communication wins the race. 

@DaniGirl: 'If you think your primary audience in a crisis is the media you're dead in the water. ' sez Patrice @ #smemto

 @johnverdon: #smemto when authority doesn't know answer but responds to question with that answer - people feel they have been heard - eases minds

@ayoudo: Most people using social media to seek info, it's time to start using social media to request/offer help. #smemto

@yling: Says @kim26stephens Continued support following disaster, facebook pages live well after event = town hall & support #smemto

RT @memci: RT @nellleo: We are not in an era of message control. If you think your primary audience in a crisis is the media, you're entirely irrelevant. 

@memci: Heather Leason #smemto - need to communicate a new way of working

@nelllio: "if it's true, it can go (online)" - @Kim26stephens on how Queensland empowered officers to tweet as they go

@nellleo: What happens right after a disaster? People start to help. They do communicate official info through their own channels 

@nellleo: Users are content creators.If there's a situation in their communities, they'll talk about it.Monitor+reach out -> avoid blowout 

@fantoniTO: Social media rule: Tell the truth. If you don't, you'll get caught + lose credibility, says @patricecloutier #smemto

@johnverdon: #smemto content creation for the Internet is a new literacy - that can only grow until it is expected as a ubiquitous act of citizenry

@nellleo: Citizens (on SM/the online community) = filters & amplifiers of official info for those are impacted - @Kim26stephens 

@HeatherLeson: This is a great 1st step #smemto. Tx to all who organized. Stage 2: an unconference: tap into the community brain trust + officials

@TantoniTO: Community pages = information aid. Opportunity to engage broader audiences and partner to get official messages out

 


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March 30, 2012

While there is Pinterest, which basically pins pictures and is more visual, there is Instapaper which allows you to keep a running list of what you might be interested in reading. 

Here are a few clips worth reading. 

[Facebook] LA Times: Mark Zuckerberg Meets with the Japanese Prime Minister

 

"Zuckerberg told Noda that the tsunami that struck the nation inspired him to find ways that the social network can help people in natural disasters. Last month, Facebook rolled out a "Disaster Message Board" in Japan to help people find each other during emergencies.

For years Facebook lagged behind other social networks in Japan. But it doubled its users after last year's tsunami and jumped into the No. 1 position ahead of Twitter and domestic competitor Mixi."

[Big Data] GovFresh: White House announces 200M in funding for big data research and development, hosts forum at AAAS

 

White House Fact Sheet

“In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security,” said Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a prepared statement.

“IBM views Big Data as organizations’ most valuable natural resource, and the ability to use technology to understand it holds enormous promise for society at large,” said David McQueeney, vice president of software, IBM Research, in a statement. “The Administration’s work to advance research and funding of big data projects, in partnership with the private sector, will help federal agencies accelerate innovations in science, engineering, education, business and government.”

Notable from WH FAQ: The Center of Excellence on Visualization and Data Analytics (CVADA), a collaboration among researchers at Rutgers University and Purdue University (with three additional partner universities each) leads research efforts on large, heterogeneous data that First Responders could use to address issues ranging from manmade or natural disasters to terrorist incidents; law enforcement to border security concerns; and explosives to cyber threats.

[Geospatial] Guardian: OpenStreetMap verse Google Maps

 

The stark difference between these two images of Sarajevo really brought home the impressive coverage of OpenStreetMap and more importantly it really shows the power of open data, open software and communities of people driven to solve problems.

[REPORT] From UK: Riots Communities and Victims Panel

The Independent Riots Communities and Victims Panel was set up to examine and understand why the August 2011 riots took place. The Riots Communities and Victims Panel’s final report has now been published. This sets out our final findings and recommendations for action to help prevent future riots.

[Fireside Read] Smithsonian Magazine: Richard Clarke on Who Was Behind the Stuxnet Attack 

America's longtime counterterrorism czar warns that the cyberwars have already begun--and we might be losing. 

[Lighter Fare] WSJ: Drowning in Files? Hoarding Goes Digital

"Digital hoarding is a huge problem. There is so much available storage, we don't have to make decisions anymore," says David D. Nowell, a neuropsychologist specializing in attention issues in Worcester, Mass. "The problem isn't that it slows down your computer—it slows down your brain," he warns, since each of those photos, links and folders demands some mental energy.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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March 27, 2012

Not sure if you caught the article, "Will Twitter put the UN out of the disaster business?" the other day as a result of the #commisaid event in London. Just the title alone will get folks talking. It's a silly title really. Of course that would never happen. I'm sure Twitter likes its business just fine.

Why that title is interesting is what is represents or perhaps reinforces an identity that large institutions and agencies have an inability to innovate or desire to do new things. From what I have seen from the last few years this is not true. Not in the least bit. There are many in institutions who are slogging it out everyday and doing more with less. Some are doing amazing things. Just take the American Red Cross and their new digital operations center. Times are tough for government budgets -- really anyone's budgets. It's hard to innovate when every year there is less and more to do. Change happens with small wins. 

I'm a hybrid kind of blogger. I understand what its like to be in a large institution (i.e. Homeland Security) but I can also understand the agility and possibility of those who are not encumbered with institutional challenges (resources, authorities and expertise). Both have challenges equally. 

From my perspective, I would offer that what is happening today in organizations large and small, public and private sector, non-profit and academia is a fundamental shift of how society operates. No one knows where this all will go, not even the technology companies. They have a pipeline of products for the next five years but who knows what will happen in the future. Just putting it out there. The world is shifting. So much is happening. It hard for everyone to keep up. 

Just to scope out #disasterbytes, maybe we'll start with four areas. First, I'd like to explore how crisis management can move beyond the conversation of "if we should do something" to sharing what actually works. If you have something that works in your organization, let me know, I'm happy to share that broadly. Maybe we can do a little video series?

The second area that might be interesting for #disasterbytes to look at is the inclusion of technology and telecommunications considerations (including technical expertise, donation management, volunteer and data coordination) in its doctrine and public policy. For example, what are the major changes with the new field of frameworks and how will they support greater use of technology and increase digital literacy of practitioners and volunteers. As of the end of February, FEMA posted the draft policy documents and have been open for comment. Public input closes on April 2, 2012. If you didn't catch that -- almost all of the US crisis management policy is up for comment! Comment today!

The third area that I'd like to look at is how online communities engage with institutions. For example, how are (or not) technology volunteers (donated skills and resources -- including the private sector in a philanthropy) connected with official response systems? How can local response systems request federal technology and telecommunications mission support (i.e. imagery, visualization, data coordination)? 

Finally, I'd like to share what's happening as #heardonthestreet. For example, how does Justin Bieber's prank the other day when he purposefully tweeted a phone number missing a number and some people in Texas received a deluge of phone calls. Today there is a legal action pending. Why should crisis management care about it? Well, what happens when you put a false piece of information (or information that is old) out there and people react to it and its implications? How can that situation of information and deluge matter to crisis management? 

So there you go. Another blog is born (like we need anything else to read!). I'm totally into getting your feedback on what #disasterbytes should be about. Let's start a sub-hashtag of #smem while we are at it. Feel free to tag ideas, thoughts and diatribes to #disasterbytes. Don't forget to follow #smem - that's where all the cool kids are. I'll be following both. 

While I might be in Paris physically, I'm online most of the day. Yes, even in my classes. Puts a new spin on passing notes in class. You can find me on Twitter @poplifegirl pretty easily. You can always LinkedIn and Facebook. If you want to see my slides from past presentations you can check out Slideshare and of course if you want to see what kind of terrible music I listen to you can follow me @rdio. I also am very much interested in music and technology. You can check out my blogs on #midem here. Yeah, and good old fashioned email works too at heather@newcicada.com

About Heather Blanchard 

Heather Blanchard is currently conducting research for a book at the American University in Paris where she is finishing her Master of Arts in Global Communications. Prior to her sojourn in France, Heather was a co-founder for CrisisCommons a community of volunteers who use technology to support crisis management and international humanitarian relief efforts. She served the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington D.C. in various roles including serving the Office of the Secretary's Private Sector Office as a Business Liaison Director for Technology and Telecommunications and the Office of Public Affairs as Deputy Director of the Ready Campaign. She began the first eight years of her career in the private sector working for the Marasco Newton Group.

In May 2011 Heather testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Social Media and Disasters. In March 2012, Government Technology named Heather one of the Top 25 Dreamers and Doers in the public sector

Heather received her Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Radford University in 1995. Representing Homeland Security, she participated in Harvard University’s Leading in a Crisis program and Oxford University’s Comparative Law and Policy’s Summer Institute on Global Media and Technology Policy. 


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March 21, 2012

Heather Blanchard is currently conducting research for a book at the American University in Paris where she is finishing her Master of Arts in Global Communications. Prior to her sojourn in France, Heather was a co-founder for CrisisCommons a community of volunteers who use technology to support crisis management and international humanitarian relief efforts. She served the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington D.C. in various roles including serving the Office of the Secretary's Private Sector Office as a Business Liaison Director for Technology and Telecommunications and the Office of Public Affairs as Deputy Director of the Ready Campaign. She began the first eight years of her career in the private sector working for the Marasco Newton Group.

In May 2011 Heather testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Social Media and Disasters. In March 2012, Government Technology named Heather one of the Top 25 Dreamers and Doers in the public sector.

Heather received her Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Radford University in 1995. Representing Homeland Security, she participated in Harvard University's Leading in a Crisis program and Oxford University's Comparative Law and Policy's Summer Institute on Global Media and Technology Policy.


1 comment

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