This week Businessweek ran an interview with (relatively) new Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss his vision of leadership. Although radically different than his predecessor Steve Jobs, Cook seems to have a clear and distinct vision of what it takes to run a successful organization. Upon review, I think Cooks principles are clear, concise, and very applicable to emergency managers -- particularly those struggling with how to embrace social media and emergency technologies. Cook's takeaways are as follows:
1. Diversity of Leadership -- Cook stresses that diversity is not just a buzzword for HR or a political correct organization, but rather can significant improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization. While most emergency managers are not looking at profit driven results like Cook, I think there is a strong possibility that involving a diverse mix of people in the emergency management planning and preparedness process will improve ideas, increase engagement, and ultimately improve preparedness.
2. Transparency is Key -- This is a point that is becoming increasingly important to government organizations and is absolutely critical when emergency management organizations engage their constituents in a social media environment. Nothing can be hidden so why not embrace being open and improve engagement and belief that your organization is doing everything possible to be prepared.
3. Listen to Customer Feedback -- Cook stresses reading customer emails if for no other reason than to be humbled. Customers, constituents, citizens, clients, and communities are ultimately who we work to serve. We need to listen to them. The public no longer looks at government like a parental system ("Don't Do This!"), but rather as a system that (often without choice) controls many components of their life. If they could find these services elsewhere (which is happening more and more with technology), our citizens probably would. Be humble and remind yourself that we are here to serve.
4. Do a Few Great Things -- This is perhaps the most interesting point Cook makes. He stresses that Apple's tremendous success was based on the fact that they focused on only a handful of things and did them extremely well. They dominate the music player, cell phone, and tablet markets with only a handful of options. Believe it or not, emergency managers can take this same attitude. We need to focus limited resources on a limited number of projects or initiatives that we can do really well. The remaining "necessary" issues need to come in partnership with volunteer groups, public-private partnerships, student internships, and other alternative strategies. This is a monumental shift for most organizations who try to juggle so many proverbial balls that we probably don't do anything really well. We simply do everything so-so.
5. Admit When You Are Wrong -- Much like customer feedback, it is important for emergency management organizations to admit when we get something wrong. No one likes mea culpas, but it is critically important. Our constituents know exactly when we screw up. There's no sense in trying to deny it. The faster we embrace and fix it, the faster we can get back to do doing a few things great and ultimately improve our communities.
In the end, these types of approaches are coming whether we are comfortable with them or not. Citizens no longer accept that government is different. They question why a three year old can manipulate an iPhone, but we struggle to have touch screen voting booths. These things must be addressed and Cook provides some great insight.
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After reading Chris Abraham's article, "Let Your Customers in On Your Secret Sauce", I was struck by its application for emergency managers. The article is focused on the need for businesses and organizations to be transparent because -- as Abraham says -- "all things being equal, people will buy your stuff if they buy into you". Customers want to know as much as possible not just about the product, but the people, values, and vision that back it up.
This is no different in emergency management. The last several months have focused on major disasters like Superstorm Sandy and the continuing struggle to get communities to engage and accept personal and family preparedness messages. While there are many reasons for this struggle, one of them is the general lack of transparency presented by emergency management organizations. When a disaster management organization is closed off, citizens and ultimately consumers are only sold on the "product", which by all accounts is often presented and available only during the worst of times. Moreover, disaster response is already extremely stressful for survivors and responders and only lends itself to very formalized response structures where government is in control. This kind of "sauce" only makes disaster response different and separated from its community.
While no one thinks we can stop disasters from striking out community, there is a strong possibility that showing "behind the curtain" before disasters happens will improve the acceptance and recognition of the role of emergency management and preparedness before, during, and after events. For example, emergency management organizations that post pictures of their staff or share successes and failures (often via social media channels) are far more successful at keeping a human connection with their community. When this happens, citizens and other constituents like traditional media and elected officials are far more patient with emergency management organizations as they try to leverage the limited resources available to them to reduce risk and prepare to respond and recovery from disasters.
Show the community what makes your organization tick or makes you special. Not a different kind of special, but a unique and valuable component of the entire community.
Much thanks to @cyberlandgal for sharing the original article by @chrisabraham.
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Perhaps it's still a pipe dream, but according to this article published on Quartz, the possibility of tablet computers as low as $25 each is less than 12 months away. While the article in question primarily focuses on the international impact in countries such as India, Thailand, and China, the practical applications would be profound on bridging the digital divide that still impacts many communities. This divide is particularly true for emergency notifications. Specifically, emergency managers in communities of all sizes and shapes sit at a crossroads where a significant portion of their community have shifted to sending and receiving information through digital methods (ex: social media and text messages), while other components still utilize (and expect) traditional methodologies such as television, radio, and print media. But with limited resources, how do emergency managers maximize their efforts?
Traditionally, there have been a variety of hurdles toward full digital adoption including comfort with technology, infrastructure availability, and device speed and functionality. Starting in reverse order, this type of low cost (nearly disposable) device will nearly eliminate this consideration. Even for those uninterested, well meaning friends and family may purchase them and force the consideration of adoption. As for infrastructure, Pew Internet has reported that broadband internet adoption is approaching 70% with only 3% of Americans utilizing dial-up internet at home. Likewise, many others are utilizing mobile devices and cellular plans to access web-based information on the go. While comfort with technology is a person-by-person issue, saturating communities with low cost devices and easy access will push this limitation to its limits as well.
When (not if) the scales tip toward nearly full mobile utilization, emergency managers can begin to refocus limited resources on leveraging these devices to their full potential and possibility. So perhaps next year, the emergency management community can give thanks for the widespread development (and hopefully) integration of low-cost devices that will further improve emergency notification. If not, we can keep dreaming until it does.
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Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy was a noteworthy event for many reasons. However, one of the more interest facts that came out was related to the use of social photos to document the disaster. For example, photo-sharing service Instagram released statistics showing more than 1.3 million photos were shared during the event with a peak average of 10 photos posted every second. Clearly this trend is worth exploring related to how it impacts emergency management and response.
The increased use of mobile devices to document disaster response and recovery activities is helping personalize the impacts of the event. While traditional media have always provided large-scale perspective about major disasters, smaller events and personalized issues are being projected much more quickly and efficiently through social photos.
While emergency managers already struggle with managing to assess the overwhelming amount of information related to a disaster, social photo sharing is an additional source to provide both primary information about the disaster as well as secondary confirmation. The confirmation capabilities are particularly important as limited emergency services resources can be better allocated if they do not have to provide confirmation about particularly issues in a given location.
Whether emergency managers like it or not, a growing (and significant) portion of their communities leverage social systems to communicate, commiserate, and ultimately emotionally cope. Much like traditional sharing, people often benefit psychologically from sharing hardships and challenges -- particularly those faced during disasters. Often they find others who have experienced similar hardships or who can provide clarity to the situation. When localized support systems are damaged, social systems often continue to function with little to no interruption. Sharing photos in social environments like Instagram is just one example of this.
Clearly, social photo sharing will continue to be an important part of disaster response and recovery. The faster emergency managers figure out when, where, and how that happens the more efficiently they can help their community recover -- physically and emotionally.
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In the past week, I have seen several stories that reflect changes in cultural, social, and technological values within society. For example, stories have been released about the death of AM radio, elimination of cursive writing education, and the death of Twinkees. In each case, I often saw doom and gloom statements associated with each -- "Our kids will never get to experience that", "How dare they stop that?", "This is just another example of how we're on the down slide", etc.
While it is understandable that we all fondly look back on these types of components that defined how we grew up and learned about the world, I don't think their elimination is a sign of anything more than change. In most cases, these changes are a result of something new replacing it. For instance, the use of AM Radio has declined with the rise of information on the go through the internet and social media. Likewise, cursive writing has been replaced by typing emails, texts, and other digital messages. Rather than being melancholy or downtrodden about the loss of these items, these types of news stories are opportunities for us to reflect on how fantastic the future may be.
This is particularly true in emergency management and disaster response. It is exciting to me to think that through the use of new (or yet to be developed technologies) and communication systems such as social media and crowdsourcing, the needs of disaster survivors and those impacted from emergencies may ultimately be addressed more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Likewise, to know that each and every person in the community is becoming more and more empowered in the emergency management process through more openly shared information is fantastic.
So while I do reflect on my past when things change, let's all try to reorient that energy to pushing the future and the possibility that a generation (or two) from now can look back and enjoy new memories of a network of communities who embraced changed for good.
Yesterday, Disney announced that it had acquired LucasFilms for approximately $4 billion. For those who don't know, LucasFilms owns the rights the Star Wars franchise. This means that Star Wars characters like Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, et. al join forces with other characters in the Disney family including those created by Pixar (ex: Buzz and Woody) and Marvel (ex: Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.).
While many people have balked at the idea that Disney could successfully embrace some diametrically opposing concepts as those established in Star Wars with kid friendly fair shown on Clubhouse Mickey, I think this is an excellent learning opportunity for emergency managers. Much like the rabid fans of Star Wars, many emergency managers struggle with change. Some of this is because we have long-standing systems based on best practices, while others struggle simply because we don't have the time to consider the issues that come with significant change. However, most emergency managers also acknowledge that our jobs would be impossible without collaboration -- both new and established -- with non-governmental organizations and other community groups.
While these relationships are very strong and successful in most communities, they can often lack creativity and spontaneous energy often seen in online communities. By leveraging social media and its related tools, emergency managers can begin to create new and energetic relationships to address a variety of issues that are impacting a local community. For example, volunteer initiatives like Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOST) or aggregation and educational organizations like Humanity Road are providing amazing results that probably can only be created when you put traditional systems in new environments. The tension and energy is contagious and ultimately beneficial to the community.
So if an online community or social media system presents an opportunity, don't be afraid to reach out and be changed for the good in the process.
PS: I enjoy blogging, but never thought I'd have the opportunity to write about emergency management, Darth Vader, Buzz Lightyear, and Captain America in the same posting!
Hurricane Sandy may well go down as one of the most impactful storms ever. At nearly 600 miles wide, it reaked havoc from the Carribean Sea to much of the northeastern seaboard (including parts of Canada). But Hurricane Sandy is historic for another reason. Emergency managers active in social media have long talked about the importance of social media after disaster, but it became crystal clear during this event.
At 10 AM EST on the day after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, Facebook reported to Mashable that the most popular terms included in personal status updates (after the term "Sandy") were the follow:
1. We are ok
2. Power -- Lost power, have power, no power
4. Hope everyone is ok
6. Made it
The most popular term -- "We are ok" -- speaks volumes about when, where, and how the general public is utilizing social media. Personal posts may be mundane on a day-to-day basis, but during a disaster like Hurricane Sandy a tremendous number of individuals utilize social media to tell friends and family they were okay. These three simple words have solidified the role of social media during disasters and should be further evidence that emergency managers must embrace these systems as communication tools capable of situational analysis, incident intelligence, and most importantly community welfare.
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Emergency managers often struggle with how to implement social media into their organizations in light of growing public expectations, limited resources, and conflicting interests. There is often significant misunderstanding and mistrust of systems like Facebook and Twitter especially in light of tried and true practices of public communication and outreach. This is even more difficult for forward leaning emergency managers who feel divided and isolated from peers who have not embraced these changes.
However, I was particularly taken by a blog post earlier this week by noted marketer Seth Godin called "The Easiest Way to Get People to do What You Want Them to Do..." where a case is made for creating a groundswell of support within a given community by simply identifying those people who are already predisposed to the organizational message. This is already done through traditional volunteer groups, but can also be achieved via social media by encouraging those people who already engage in Facebook conversations, retweet messages, and perform other levels of engagement to continue to spread the message. This provides a support and accountability group for an emergency manager within their community to not only help with efficiency, but also with magnification.
This impact was best addressed in Godin's closing statement: "You used to be stuck with whoever walked in the door or [took your brochure]...[but] today you change minds indirectly by building a tribe that influences via [their] connections to others.
Go build your tribe.
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Last night I had the distinct pleasure of finishing reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. His book was very interesting and particularly enlightening about the strengths and weakness of an enigmatic figure that help defined not only the personal computing industry, but helped redefine mobile phones (iPhone), portable music players (iPods), tablet computing (iPad), and network storage (iCloud). Additionally, his introduction of the iTunes store helped save the music industry when piracy was running rampant. While few leaders -- much less emergency managers -- could have the vision and the dedication to develop technology systems that were this impactful, there are numerous lessons emergency managers can learn from Steve Jobs.
First and foremost, Steve Jobs was a designer. He sought out ways to strip products down to their core functions to streamline the process and make it easier on the end user. Unlike most technological operations that start with the engineering and technological capabilities, Steve Jobs often pushed for the design to be set first with the engineering to be set around it. This is a revolutionary concept to most emergency managers who focus on the system and structure necessary before considering how it is engaged by citizens and various community constituencies. What happened if we considered the needs and input of citizens before we pushed for new systems or plans? Ultimately if our grandiose system doesn't work for disaster survivors, it doesn't work at all.
Steve Jobs was also notorious for implementing a "reality distortion field" where he simply ignored or disregarded the things he was not comfort with or was not ready to deal with (including his own health issues). Because we are busy and often over worked, emergency managers are very good at this skill. We routinely toss aside issues (ex: social media) and community expectations that don't fit well with current systems, best practices, or our own sense of the world. The problem with this is that we aren't Steve Jobs. Most of us will lack the personality, drive, and "lone genius" mentality that will allow us to implement a "reality distortion field" without alienating our staff, volunteers, and community.
OPEN VS. CLOSED
Isaacson also spends a significant amount of time discussing the dichotomy of an open or closed system. Jobs pushed for a closed system of fully integrated parts that created a seamless structure for the end user to be able to use iPods, iPhones, iPads, and other technology devices in an interchangeable fashion. This was strongly contrasted with the more open and shared systems at Microsoft and Google. While Jobs vision was ultimately very successful at Apple, he was unable to identify another organization who had shared similar success with such a closed system. In many ways this is important to emergency managers. We often try to establish heavily controlled systems to engage in emergencies and disasters; however, there is a growing push for more open engagement through virtual volunteers, crowdsourcing, and various other emerging technologies. Obviously closed systems can work, but only when each step is managed and controlled, which is extremely difficult to establish within governmental organizations.
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About a month ago, the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) was named in lawsuit brought by a local gun advocacy charity over Facebook posts that had been deleted by the department. The gun advocacy group claimed that HPD "arbitrarily delete[d] posts and ban[ned] those who make comments that are unfavorable to the department on the social media site". The foundation of their arguement is that HPD's Facebook page was created as an open forum to the public and therefore removal of public postings is a violation of free speech. Interestingly, the lawsuit is not seeking any monies, but simply wants HPD to change its policy and reinstate the deleted posts.
HPD's policy states that it only prohibits speech that is "obscene, sexually explicit, racially derogatory, [and] defamatory" or solicits, advertises, or suggests illegal activity. While this AP story suggests that some first amendment experts are excited to see how this falls, I think it presents a couple of interesting points.
1. While I am not a legal expert, the policy utilized by HPD seems reasonable, prudent, and in line with concepts around this issue. Much like a person is not protected if they scream "Fire!" in a theater, I think and have observed many organizations using this type of policy with a specific limitation clause to perfection.
2. It continues to show evidence that some people (including first responders and emergency managers) still look at conversation in a digital realm as different than than in a physical world. In reality, most of the general public (particularly those active on Facebook) see them as one and the same. Their Facebook posts are simply digital extensions of their own voice and personality.
3. I would be surprised if the HPD Facebook community did not self correct some of the information included in the deleted posts. Specifically, many social media systems regularly self-correct misinformation or behavior that is not inline with stated or implied rules of behavior.
While I do not know anyone at HPD or have any knowledge of how they run their social media systems, I think this is an opportunity for all organizations to not just review your policy, but also to consider how they engage their communities. Specifically, are the digital environments open, transparent and ultimately encouraging of conversation, community, and individual opinions.
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