The HEROIC (Hazard, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communication) Project Team is a collaborative research team comprised of individuals at the University of Colorado -- Colorado Springs and the University of California - Irvine. They recently released a study of the Waldo Canyon Fire which occurred in late June 2012 in the Colorado Springs area of Colorado. This particular fire impacted more than 32,000 residents and resulted in more than $352 million in insurance claims. From a social media perspective, there were more than 100,000 messages from more than 25,000 Twitter users.
In this study, they found a variety of lessons learned about the use of Twitter during an emergency and disaster. Those within the emergency management community active in social media have long held that Twitter allows certain types of communication -- particularly during disasters-- that are not easy to do via traditional means; however, scientific analysis has been limited with anecdotal evidence receiving the lion's share of attention. That is why research from HEROIC is so interesting and applicable.
The following lessons are of the most interesting and applicable:
- Original content tends to be produced by local organizations, but is most often retweeted by non-locals
- Inclusion of URLs may show that response organizations recognize the need to have additional information available outside of Twitter (due to the limitations of 140 characters)
- Organizations should not judge attention demand for social media during non-disaster events
- Local organizations gain a large number of followers immediately after a disaster
- Highly active government organizations gain the most followers (relative to pre-disaster counts)
These types of findings in many ways validate the antecdotal observations of many users. Ultimately, emergency management organizations can significantly benefit from the use of Twitter during disasters. Be active, be engaged, and be relevant. Those are the keys to success.
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A colleague of mine shared a link to a TalentZoo article explaining various facts about social media and networking uses. The following data points were shared:
- Facebook’s most consistent spike is Wednesday at 3 p.m.
- Facebook predictably spikes at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 p.m. daily
Facebook posts appearing before 9 a.m. get more comments and shares than others
- Facebook posts at the top of the hour get more virility
- Facebook posts on Saturday draw the most Likes
- Most Facebook shares happen at noon
- Sunday is Facebook’s slowest day
- Twitter has daily traffic peaks at noon, 4 p.m., and 11 p.m.
- Lowest Twitter volume is at 7 a.m.
- Peak tweet volume is Friday
- Peak retweet days are Wednesday–Friday
- Peak retweet time is 5 p.m.
- Blogs draw the most comments on Saturday
- Blog posts at 8 a.m. prompt the most clicks, views, and comments
- 75% of clicks occur within 1 day of posting
- Most clicks occur 2 minutes after content is posted
- 12% of all clicks come from mobile devices
For those emergency managers active (or considering) in social media, these are important considerations. There is so much white noise -- particularly in a digital environment-- that emergency managers must ensure they get significant return on the time invested in social media. It may be easier to post first thing in the morning or only once a week, but based on these numbers it is unlikely to be "hit the mark".
Yesterday, the Beloit College Mindset List was released which provided 75 perspectives on incoming freshman at universities and college throughout the world. For those of you not familiar with the Beloit College Mindset List, it is a non-scientific compilation to aid teachers, administrators, parents, and peers that incoming freshman have a significantly different life experience than those charged with their learning and development. In the case of the Class of 2016 (rising Freshman), these students were mostly born in 1994 and have a variety of unquestioning experiences that impact their direct and expected engagement in the world. The following are seven that jumped out to me as particularly interesting to the emergency management community:
They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of "electronic narcotics."
If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.
Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.
Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
The Real World has always "stopped being polite and started getting real" on MTV.
Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.
While these perspectives only represent a small portion of a local community, they do represent the future. With every month, year, and new technology, the class of 2016 (as well as many others) move toward a community engagement that is increasingly (if not completely) digital. Specifically, not only do/will individuals receive information via technology, they will find purpose, definition, and fulfillment as well. Whether this is good, bad, right, or wrong is irrelevant for emergency managers. Our job is to prepare our communities to respond and recovery from emergencies. Ignoring changing demographics or cultural expectations hinders that process and prevent us from doing a our jobs well.
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My blogging colleague Eric Holdeman wrote this morning about a lack of trust that is building and the need to build trust between individuals, organizations, and community partners. Eric suggests that "we must first have a relationship with the people from the other organization...then we must be 'trustful' and do what we say and mean what we say". Additionally, he concluded his thoughts by saying: "Generation Y can smell a phony a mile away".
While I agree with Eric, I'd like to take his observations a step further. Emergency managers have long understood (even if they didn't do it well) that trust was necessary between organizations and response partners, but we have often misunderstood the importance of trust with the general public. We often make the mistake of thinking that we are trustworthy simply because we are government officials and have a default responsibility and control over the constituency. This type of approach -- particularly in light of growing expectations in, around, and from social media (see American Red Cross survey) -- can create a significant divide between a community and its emergency managers.
Instead, emergency managers can utilize the openness and transparency associated with social media before, during, and after disasters to eliminate any trust barriers that may exist from previous events (ex: public scandals and cover-ups). It is the equivalent of asking yourself where you find trust -- sitting in a one-on-one conversation (ex: social media) or when someone stands on a stage and tells you their are trustworthy (ex: traditional government approach).
Eric is right that improving trust is critical. But you don't have to read the hundreds of books available on amazon that he aludes to in his post. Just cruise over to Twitter and Facebook and start engaging in open, honest, and transparent dialogue. The rest will take care of itself.
As I already mentioned in my first post about Olympic lessons, the summer Olympics current underway in London provide numerous lessons for emergency managers and disaster response officials trying to utilize social media.
For example, because of the time changes related to an international sports event and the desire to show events in the United States during evening "prime time" hours, NBC has been broadcasting the various events in tape delay in the United States. While this is not inherently bad, it is a flawed approach considering the hyperconnected citizenry around the world. Individuals and traditional media have both intentionally and unintentionally shared results via social media systems like Twitter well in advance of the "official" results shown later in the day.
Because of this process, NBC has been receiving significant negative feedback and publicity online including a fast moving hashtag, #NBCfail. For example, the #NBCfail was used in a Twitter message only 212 times on the first day of the Olympics, but jumped to 6,000 by the second day and 20,000 by the third day! Likewise, numerous Twitter parody accounts have been set up to mock the process.
While this may seem insignificant to the emergency management community, it is far from it. On the contrary, the process being utilized by NBC is very closely analogous to the traditional risk communication and public information model established within the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Specifically, messages have to be written, reviewed, and presented in a clear and constructive fashion. Even within the fastest organizations, this process takes time and often is presented as "official" information even though the general public has long had access to the same (and often more)information.
Social media is here to stay and has infiltrated every method of communicating with both small and large audiences. NBC is a major company that can absorb the bad PR and make changes for the future, but most emergency managers cannot. We simply fail. Let's avoid #DisasterFail by taking action now.
Like millions around the world, I am obsessed with the Olympics. For two short weeks every four years, the summer Olympics come around and regale us with the highest form of athleticism and sportsmanship. They also are interesting markers for cultural and societal shifts.
For example, the uses and implications of social media since 2008 (the last Olympic Summer games) has changed exponentially. Cell phones with cameras and internet access are nearly ubiquitious with people utilizing these devices to routinely seek out and share information about a particular event.
Unfortunately, as many on Twitter have noted over the last three days, this change was not fully embraced by Olympic planners. For example, during the first day of actual events, the Olympic broadcasters were struggling with GPS and other wireless technologies that were supposed to aid in the delivery of information during the event (like the distance between bike riders). However, this was not a traditional failure of technology, but rather they blamed the public's overuse of social media (particularly Twitter and text messages). Consequently, Olympic observers have been asked to limit their use of social media to "urgent updates".
This is an interesting dilemma. Much like emergency managers trying to coordinate response and recovery during a disaster, the general public will be heavily utilizing these types of social media systems. So what if the same thing happened during a disaster? Would emergency managers tell people to stop using social media? Urgent messages only (who defines what that is)? Only during certain hours? These responses (as are those related to the Olympics) are impulsive and short-sighted. This is why it is important for social media to be incorporated before, during, and after an event so the interest and use by citizens can be leveraged to amplify messages (rather than interfere) and empower the community to respond together rather than in an antagonistic way.
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Emergency management is dead. Well, at least as most people know it. It’s time for another revolution in the professional field of emergency management that embraces the impact, expectation, challenges, and potential benefits of embracing the integration of social expectations into the general public. This is not the first time the profession of emergency management has needed to revolutionize how it approaches preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation of hazards and risks.
For example, during the Cold War, the focus of these activities was civil defense with the primary threat and focus being on both perceived and real risk from nuclear war. However, as social, cultural, and political changes occurred throughout the world, the threat of nuclear war diminished with a significant need to shift and diversify the focus of preparedness to include all-hazards approaches to planning and response which focused on common capabilities across various all potential hazards.
Yet again, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the field of emergency management again shifted focus toward homeland security threats to comply with changing standards and to stay relevant and eligible for funding considerations. During this phase, there was a significant push to embrace best practices in the Incident Command System (ICS) that had become the norm in disaster prone areas like California and to standardize response protocols to reduce miscommunication and to improve efficiency. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) became the foundation of many components.
Now, we (as professional emergency managers) stand at another crossroads. No longer do standardized, best-practice based approaches adequately embracing the changing landscape of the general public. While there are many positives to all-hazards, standardized practices, there has to be a shift that embraces best practices while adequately figures out how to consider social issues like transparency, open government, social collaboration, and public expectations for a more social government.
I feel confident that many of you reading this (if you've made it this far) are frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable with these types of changes. But I suggest two responses. First, at each revolutionary change many responders were uncomfortable about these changes and were unwilling to make the necessary adjustments. However, when we look back and consider older paradigms like civil defense we clearly seen that there was a need to change and adapt. Secondly, emergency managers are tasked to first and foremost support and protect the collection of citizens within their respective communities. While we should not bend to every whim of the public, there are times where there are world-shattering changes occurring around us and it does our community a disservice to ignore them.
This will not be the last change for emergency managers, but it is time. It is time for the social emergency manager.
I typically try to keep posts here oriented around practical application and allow others to speak on technologies and other social interfaces that may be on the horizon. However, I could not help but be mesmerized earlier this week when Google showed off their Google Glass prototype. If you haven't watched their simulated video it is worth the time. The Google Glass (as presented earlier this week) is a pair of "glasses" that are worn by the user. Within the viewing space is a small camera that captures the world being seen by the wearer. External sources of information (ex: weather, address, etc.) are then laid over the view in the "glasses", which ultimately creates an augmented reality where real and meta data are provided simultaneously. This is not the first attempt at augmented reality, but like many Google applications this may be the version that pushes the technology from concept to reality. For the sake of consideration, here are some potential applications:
LAW ENFORCEMENT -- Law enforcement officers when engaging a citizen (whether to issue a ticket or to arrest) could immediately be provided with information through facial recognition information, license plate/vehicle registration, address, time, etc.
FIRE SUPPRESSION -- Fire fighters could utilize augmented maps placed into their visual spectrum when placed in areas of low visibility or recognition.
INCIDENT MANAGEMENT -- Incident commanders could be looking at multiple sources of real-time video feedbacks from all responders wearing the augmented reality device to make decisions based on real-time observation and management protocols.
DAMAGE ASSESSMENT -- Damage assessment teams could overlay GIS data and property documentation to visualize the pre-disaster conditions and make more accurate evaluations of damage in disaster zones.
These concepts just beginning to scratch the surface of what applications might exist via robust augmented reality systems. At this point, this is just a concept, but I think it is an interesting consideration as the technology is developed and organizations and communities continue to consider what improvements can be made to prepare their communities for emergencies and disasters.
The UK Guardian published an article earlier this week called From Russia with Likes that discusses a new social network being setup by the Russian government in an attempt to control public activism and outcry from local citizens on other established networks like Facebook, Twitter, and similar Russian equivalents. Russian leaders hope that creating a new network that encourages the public to engage in conversation (and complaint) about public officials will allow a more manageable interface to the pesky problem of public complaints. This problem and proposed solution are often considered by emergency managers and government leaders alike.
The problem is that this type of approach never works with social media. Simply creating another place will not accomplish anything as most of the users will continue to use the pre-existing networks and the communities built there-in. Otherwise, it is the equivalent of talking to a walk or into a bucket -- all that will be heard is the echo of the original message rather than a well-received and constructed feedback.
Consequently, the only way to help manage the information exchange is to get engaged in those communities on Facebook, Twitter, and the like that are already developed. Only in this format will government leaders and emergency managers potentially be able to better shape the public perception about activities and leadership decisions.
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Yesterday a law enforcement friend of mine sent me an email sharing that his organizational Twitter account had passed 4,000 followers. While this figure does not approach the 25 million followers of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, it is significant for a mid-sized Midwestern community. His success, however, triggered a thought -- what does it take for emergency management and first responder organizations to be successful at social media?
The answer (if you aren't Lady Gaga) is to be relevant and compelling. In today's uber-connected and hyperfast world, people are so called "Information Vampires" with nearly insatiable desire for more and more information. The challenge is that there are an exponential number of sources of information, which means if one source is not providing interesting, compelling, and relevant information the user will simply move on. The following are a few ways to ensure social media messaging maintains compelling relevancy:
Emergency preparedness organizations must strive to have the highest level of transparency possible within the laws and rules of the given area. For example, many law enforcement agencies often announce via social media upcoming DUI or seatbelt checkpoints. This is open and honest and allows the public the opportunity to engage and learn about the process. Likewise, organizations should always be willing to be open and honest in conversations that are started via social media channels (i.e. don't delete comments you don't like). If your organization can't defend its activities in an open or social forum, alternative strategies should be considered.
Whenever possible, organizations should also attempt to have a personal (yet professional) voice via their social media channels. This ranges from announcing staff changes, promotions, volunteer opportunities, and awards among other things. It also includes acknowledging mistakes and sharing lots of pictures and videos of real people doing real activities. The time of the traditional PSA (think smokey the bear) is over.
TIMELY & SPECIAL
Information via social media channels must always be timely and of limited availability to the general public. For example, posting daily weather reports is a waste of social media time because there are dozens of social media outlets and many more traditional media outlets that already do that (most often better than you can). However, if you provide information in a timely manner that is special and unique (ex: information from a National Weather Service briefing) you have become a vital source of social media information.
Citizens are inundated with information so what is presented must be interesting. Long-winded and bland statements for preparedness and response are not effective as attention spans and available time are shrinking. Consequently, it is important to try and find ways to present standard messaging in unique ways. For example, utilize non-emergency management emphasis days such as Chocolate Lover's Day and Game Player's Week to tie in messaging about emergency food samples and games in emergency kits, respectively.
By utilizing these types of strategies, emergency preparedness organizations can quickly and effectively become strong social media players. Stay relevant and stay compelling. The rest will take care of itself.
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