12 Days of SMEM: Wrap-up and Review


What a three weeks! Our little 12DaysofSMEM may have been one of the
most rewarding and enjoyable blogging things I’ve done yet. And boy
did I learn a ton. I hope that you found these posts as enlightening
as I did and recommend folks check this post out to see all that we’ve

So, what’s next? First, a break. I’ll be back with renewed vigor after
the new year, and back to our normal emergency public information
work. I’ve got plans to get back to basics and review some of the
CERC (in time for CERC 2, maybe?) and
risk communication models. I had promised earlier this year to look
into video, and I still really want to do that. Beyond that, I’d
like to start talking more about media relations, especially when
viewed through the lens of social media. I envision my role in that
part of communications will only continue to grow here in Philly, so
as I learn more about it, so will you. And of course, we’ll be talking
about all of the disasters, PR and otherwise, that happen.

Thank you all for an amazing, amazing year. The folks who stop by and
read? Let me know who you are! Email, Twitter, smoke signals, comment
on the blog. The folks who comment and interact? Love you guys and
gals. Keep it up. The quality of your thoughts and comments only
serves to make this blog more relevant and expert (I really am a
reflection of your collected intelligence). And everyone that
contributed to the blog in some way? I owe you a beer, simple as that.

The Twelve Days of SMEM:


12 Days of SMEM: City of Chicago Department of Public Health

And this is what our twelve-day journey has led to. My special holiday
treat to you: The Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of
Public Health.

My reasons for asking Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair to participate
in our 12DaysofSMEM project are simple. I feel that the biggest
impediment to wider acceptance and implementation of social media in
public health is simply lack of buy-in by our Executives. Dr.
Choucair has taken to using social media more than most social media
experts so I think this isn’t a problem for him.
Google+. Instagram
(can’t find a link, but this is my favorite thing Dr. Choucair does

If, by his his posting here, just one more Executive decides to
explore the use of social media, this entire exercise, these hours of
research and writing, will be worth it. If one more Executive sees how
easy it is, the wide range of benefits, the why, then we’ll have

What do I mean by succeeded, you ask? As I’ve said many times before,
successful messaging, indeed successful emergency response, is
predicated on pre-established and well-greased communication pathways.
Dr. Choucair understands that and is working his thumbs off building
those connections. I can only hope this very best practice finds its
way to other cities and states.

Dr. Choucair, thank you kindly, and the floor is yours:

I have personally been using social media to promote our public health
priorities since my appointment as Commissioner of the Chicago
Department of Public Health in December of 2009. It’s a great tool to
reach individuals across all demographics. This is especially
important for a city as large and diverse as ours. As a Department we
started actively using social media to promote our priorities in July
of 2011 with the use of
Facebook. We launched
Twitter on August 16, 2011,
the same day we released Healthy Chicago, our citywide public health
plan with a vision of making Chicago the healthiest city in the
nation. Both of these efforts were initiated as part of the education
and public awareness strategy of Healthy
We knew then that it was an important communication tool and a few
months later we don’t know how we ever managed without it!

Social media should absolutely be a component of every public
information emergency response plan. Nowadays more and more people are
getting their news in real time 140 characters at a time. From a
public health perspective this is a double edged sword. When the
message is accurate it’s a great way to communicate up to the second
information of events as they unfold. However, when the information is
inaccurate getting the right information out can be a nightmare.
That’s why it’s extremely important that every message we put out is
accurate and that we are constantly monitoring for inaccurate

As I’m sure your readers are aware, responding to a public health
emergency is city-wide response. That’s why our next step in the
evolution of our social media efforts is to continue improve our
coordination efforts with all our City departments as well as with
other government agencies and the private sector. Over the next few
months we are planning some dynamic changes to how we use social media
as a City during an emergency. Look out for the announcement of some
new tools soon.

I need to take one moment to sincerely thank Dr. Choucair and Deputy
Commissioner Jose Muñoz for
their quick response to my request and willingness to work with my
deadline. They are both professionals in the truest sense of the word
and provide us all with a goal to strive towards. Thank you again.

12 Days of SMEM: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

(Getting away from public health today; sue me.)

About six months ago, I had the unique pleasure of being invited to
participate in the 2011 NEMA Mid-year Conference’s Social Media in
Emergency Management workshop. I was a last minute addition and
struggled to find passage down to Washington. (Big shout out to my
good friend, James Hamilton, for
the ride.)

The morning was just starting when we walked in the door, and looking
around the room it was like a Who’s Who of Social Media in Emergency
Management. So many of my heroes in one place. Heather
. Pascal
. Sara Estes
. Jeff
. Greg
. Joel
. Dawn
. Christine
. A dozen, two dozen,
others that made that day the amazing success it was. (If you haven’t
already, read the

But the best part of that day is that the momentum hasn’t stopped. If
anything, it’s sped up. We’re all now barrelling toward the future,
steered by some of the greatest minds in emergency management. Like
Kim Stephens. And Patrice
. My compadres.

Earlier this fall, the three of us got together and came up with this
little project. Let’s do something similar to the 30 Days, 30 Ways
that was so successful this
past September. But it’ll all be inside baseball, written for
emergency managers about best practices, true rockstars and where the
field is going. We each chose our own, and our own format (I’m no
machine like Patrice is. 25 days of this would’ve killed me, I’m

And wow. What an amazing set of lists. Frankly, I expected more
overlap between our lists, but there is just so much good stuff out
there. Next year we’re going to have to set some kind of bar for
inclusion on these lists. (Klout score, maybe? =P)

And with that, onto the good stuff.

Kim Stephens is a contractor that has advised emergency managers,
cities, counties, states and agencies on the East Coast. She
brought the exceptionally well-done and always popular SMEMChat to its
current weekly schedule. An expert in social media use in higher
education, she’s helping to make sure all of those kids that will take
our jobs and do them better than we ever could imagine are safe. A
devoted wife and mother, she also takes amazing care of me and Patrice
and is always ready with a helpful and thoughtful comment. And in her
ten free minutes per day, Kim writes the exceedingly excellent
iDisaster 2.0 blog. This must-read
blog scans the entire world for examples of best practices, lessons
learned and interesting initiatives that deserve a further look. Her
posts on the Queensland

this year brought to the attention of the SMEM community what was a
truly world-changing social media campaign and deserves to be read.

I think of Kim in two ways. One, she is a true thought-leader and is
leading the emergency management community into a future in which
we’re all safer and more ready. Two, she’s a dear friend. I don’t know
which is more important to me.

And then there’s our neighbor from the Great White North. Patrice
Cloutier is the Team Lead of the Strategic Communications Unit at the
Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Patrice’s specialty is emergency and crisis communication, but he
started on the other side of the camera as a reporter for the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation. So, when he tells you how to react and
interact with a reporter, he speaks from experience. As someone else
that writes about emergency public information, I’d be lying if I
didn’t tell you I regularly check the archives of his Crisis Comms
Command Post
blog to make sure
Patrice hasn’t already covered a topic better than I can. To continue
his list of ongoing projects would consume the entirety of this post,
yet I’m loathe to ignore any of them because they’re just so damn
good. From his work on the Emergency 2.0
, to his
work with PTSC-Online
(which I honestly want to steal as an idea), Patrice never stops. His
most underrated work, though, might just be his daily digest,
Patrice’s Picks. As Patrice
scours the web he saves everything that’s interesting or useful or a
best practice or a lesson learned. There is literally no reason to
read the newspaper after going through the daily picks. A devoted
father and husband, Patrice still finds time to take his kids to
football (soccer, dammit) and watch more hockey than I’m sure is good
for you. There are few people I would travel to another country just
to buy a drink. Patrice is one of them, and very well might be the
only one. He’s one of my best friends, digital or meatspace.

Thank you both for an amazing year, and for giving the rest of us
something to shoot for.

12 Days of SMEM: San Diego County Power Outage

And the hits just keep on coming. Today we head all the way to the
West Coast, to beautiful, nothing-ever-happens-there, San Diego,

But something did happen. Do you remember what you were doing on the
afternoon of September 8, 2011? If you were in parts of Arizona,
California or Mexico, you were walking around in the
what the heck was going on.

And if you were concerned about any type of public health aspect of
losing power (and really, there are only scores of reasons not to
lose power to avert public health problems), you had a friend in San
Diego County, California: Tom Christensen and the folks at the San
Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

As PIO for SDCHHSA Tom coordinates messaging for the Agency, and on
that afternoon (and ultimately through the night), Tom got on Twitter
and blasted out as many updates as he could. I truly believe this is
one of the very best examples of how Twitter was used in a public
health emergency. And as such, Tom, and the rest of the San Diego
County Health and Human Services Agency folks, deserve a robust round
of applause, so without further ado:

The County of San Diego began its social media effort to highlight
County programs and services in March, 2009. The Health and Human
Services Agency (HHSA) followed and launched its social media efforts
in August, 2009. The County currently utilizes these accounts, as well
as a ReadySanDiego account
assigned to our Office of Emergency Services, during any emergency

We use all three accounts heavily in emergency situations. We will
often utilize features like Splitweet or HootSuite to send out the
same message on all three accounts.

We have fully embraced the use of social media, and our County of San
Diego Twitter is one of the top ten most followed local government
entity Twitter accounts in the nation with around 6,800 followers.

Twitter is becoming more of an immediate news source every day. It
seems the first place anyone hears of any major news event happening
is through Twitter. As a government entity, we use Twitter to reach
targeted audiences (in the case of HHSA, many of our followers are
local media members, other public health departments and health care
organizations); to reach the general public; and sometimes to by-pass
the traditional media with unfiltered messages.

We have had two emergency situations in the past two years with two
very different circumstances. The first was during the H1N1 pandemic
in 2009 and most recently, we had a power outage on Sept. 8, 2010,
that affected up to 7 million people in Southern California, western
Arizona and northern Mexico.

We did not begin using social media at HHSA until we were well into
the H1N1 crisis. We had been doing some messaging on the main County
account, but our first HHSA tweet reported three local deaths related
to H1N1 (these were the 14th-16th H1N1-related deaths in our County).
Since the pandemic was months old at that point, we mainly used social
media to remind people to get their H1N1 flu shot and to report
significant events such as deaths and mass vaccination clinics.

The power outage provides a better example of the power of social
media. This emergency unfolded quickly, and because it was a power
outage most of the mainstream media was unable to operate normally. TV
stations weren’t able to broadcast and the only radio station on the
air was the area’s designated emergency station that had a backup

Social media supplemented our public outreach of news conferences and
press releases during H1N1. During the power outage, traditional media
outreach wasn’t an option and people turned to Twitter in droves
seeking information and direction.

The three Twitter accounts
ReadySanDiego and
SDCountyHHSA) gained more than
2,400 followers during the power outage incident. The County Twitter
account sent out 123 messages during the nine hours most of the region
was without power and those tweets were retweeted dozens of times.
This provided solid evidence showcasing the power of social media and
how quickly you can spread your message.

It also allowed us to interact directly with the public. Without TV
coverage, Twitter became the main source of information and was more
immediate than Facebook or the County website. We received many tweets
from the public asking for specific information related to the power
outage and we were able to directly answer questions via Twitter.

One of the most practical uses of Twitter that evening was when we
announced we were going to have a press conference with County
officials and representatives from the power utility. People began
tweeting us back asking how they could get the information with no
television coverage. The answer? We “live tweeted” the press
conference. We sent out all the information from the press conference
in 140 character messages as it was happening.

Both during and after the power outage, we received dozens of tweets
from the public acknowledging us for providing them with constant
information. If anyone had doubts about the power of social media,
they were erased during the power outage.

Once you have established yourself as a reliable source of
information, people will continue to turn to you in a crisis. Social
media allows you to get your message out directly to the public and
allows them to help you spread that message even further. In an
emergency situation, it makes a great partner with traditional media
to get your message quickly to as many people as possible.

12 Days of SMEM: Association of Public Health Labs

As the last week of our 12 Days of SMEM starts, oh boy do I have some
treats for you. I am more stoked about this week’s articles than I
have been in a good long time.

First up is an organization that I’ve partnered with in the past, the
Association of Public Health Laboratories. Now, you can image in how
important labs are to public health emergency response. Frankly, there
is very little we as emergency planners and PIOs can do without
talking to our friends in the lab first; seriously, step 1A or 2 in
the process. So to learn that they’ve not only integrated social media
into their communication strategy, but have embraced it as a way to
bring the labs to the public, well, you know they’ll be on my list of
organizations that we can all do a better job emulating.

As a way to keep from burying what is probably the most important part
of this whole post, I’m listing their contact information right here
at the top. Visit the, interact with them, learn from them:

The following is a post pulled together from Scott Becker, Executive
, Jody DeVoll, Director of Strategic Communications, Tony Barkey, Senior Specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response, and my personal favorite, Senior Specialist for Media, Michelle Forman (Michelle, you’re the
best!) The post was written in reply to the following questions:

  1. Social media is becoming an important part of the work we do in
    public health. When did you/your organization start using it? Why?

  2. The 12DaysofSMEM project is being used to identify best practices
    in social media and public health emergency response. Do you think
    that social media can be useful in responding to public health
    emergencies? How?

  3. What is the next step in social media use during public health emergencies?

And, without further ado:

APHL launched our social media efforts in early 2010. The original
goal was to engage our members (public health laboratorians) in online
communities. We quickly realized that many of our members, who are
government employees, are blocked from social media on their
government issued computers and mobile devices. We quickly
redeveloped our strategy and shifted our focus to the general public
and educating them on what the public health labs do by providing
news, resources, stories from the field, etc. There are a lot of
reasons why the public should be aware of who the public health labs
are and what they do. Primarily, we want the public to understand
that there are people who are working hard every day to identify,
track, and stop the spread of dangerous diseases.

We recognize that more often the public is turning to social media for
instant news. Scott mentioned that he went to Twitter first when he
heard about the recent shooting at Virginia Tech. We all went to
social media during the earthquake last summer. It is much more
effective than news sites because it is instant – it is up to the
second accounts of the event. For APHL’s purposes, social media
enables us to sent short bursts of information in a flash to relevant
partners (first responders, emergency managers, partner organizations,
the press and the public) across jurisdictions.

Since we launched, there has not been a major public health crisis
(luckily) but there have been incidents—various foodborne illness
outbreaks, the BP oil spill, the tsunami in Japan, and vaccine
preventable disease outbreaks to name a few. Public health events are
typically widely covered in the media; they are scary especially
without accurate and timely information. We want to provide
information and help the public to understand the labs’ role in making
sure they are safe. Social media allows us to reach a huge number of
people more effectively than by using traditional media and marketing
alone; by providing information during a public health event or crisis
we can quell or even prevent panic before it starts.

Social media is the key channel for reporting of laboratory activities
in response those public health events. (Side note: I just read a post
that said the term ‘real-time’ should be eliminated from our daily
language because it is so widely expected that it is unnecessary to
clarify something as being ‘in real-time.’ These days, what isn’t?)
It is important to let people know, for example, what the labs are
doing to identify the source of a foodborne illness outbreak and what
products to avoid and when the outbreak has ended and the foods are
safe again.

Next steps – For APHL, we will focus on video and podcasts as a means
of getting our members voices into the public. Through interviews,
virtual tours, and video trainings we can expose the work of the labs
in a positive way—we want the labs’ work to be accessible (there
are, of course, some security issues with certain aspects of their
work). It continues to be our opinion that the most effective way to
explain what public health labs do is to tell stories. When a crisis
strikes—or even just a public health event—we will tell the story
of what is being done or what was done to address the situation. That
type of information is easy to understand, plus it highlights the work
of our members, the unsung heroes of public health. Then when the
next crisis hits, people will know that the public health labs are
working hard as part of a large network to get things under control.

Much like with the earthquake last summer, we want people to go to
social media during a public health crisis and find information not
just panicked tweets and Facebook posts. Along with our partners at
CDC and the other federal and nonprofit agencies we work closely with,
we want to be a provider of information that helps people and shows
the important work of the public health labs. That’s the bottom line.

There is no better way to do that—no more effective tool—than
social media.

Briefly Noted: Politics Inside, Ignore as Necessary

I don’t do politics, you guys know that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t
keep an eye on it. But it’s the weekend (I’m off the clock?) and
there’s something coming down the pike that I hope all of my American
friends know about and understand:
SOPA. Dubbing
the Stop Online Piracy Act, this legislation grants super-citizen,
super-government rights to creative rights-holders. Super as in no
other citizen or government entity has the same abilities as would be
granted. (My thoughts about corporate citizenship aside.)

Thing is, I love the internet. In (almost) every way, shape and form.
I love the complete and utter freedom it provides. It is, at the same
time, the most dangerous and liberating… thing?… the world has
ever seen. Anything that’s affected the world in the last 7 or 8 years
has been influenced in some way by the unfettered communication that
happens on the ‘net. Everything. And that influence will only grow.
Our jobs as PIOs will be completely different in two years than they
were two years ago; no, than they are now. Because of the internet and
social media. And that’s a good thing (if more work for us, the PIO
Full Employment Act?).

Do people break the rules online sometimes? Of course. And sometimes
that’s a good thing
. But
when it’s not a good thing, those bad things are generally covered by
existing laws. This legislation seeks to upend this balance by
assuming that all of the communication is bad until proven otherwise.

(I can’t believe I’m really going to post this.)

There’s a joke blog here in Philly about the Phillies baseball team,
ZooWithRoy. It is, without a doubt, one
of the most puerile sites that I regularly read. MS Paint drawings and
made up words, the whole nine. Yesterday, for the first time that I’ve
seen, the author has given his soapbox over to someone to post on a
serious subject. And it’s the most plain, if long-winded, description
of the effects of SOPA that I’ve found. So, if you’ve got a few
minutes take a gander at the post
(And don’t worry if you don’t get all of the ridiculous inside jokes.)
(And if you’re a Mets fan, hold your nose and read it anyway.)

Regular, on topic, posting with restart on Monday. Thanks for allowing
this digression.

Know Your Reputation

The events of December 8th are
. No
two ways about it. The campus of Virginia Tech was shut down as a
killer was loose on campus. The entire incident, though luckily much
less widespread, echoed the events of April 16,
, when
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 25 others on a march
through campus.

As news of the shooting and subsequent manhunt filtered through social
media channels, interest in the events skyrocketed. Which, I think, we
can all imagine would happen. Shooting at Virginia Tech? Trainwreck,
quick everyone watch. And watch they did. Constant updates on Twitter,
livestreamed press conference, the whole nine.

And about that press conference. I didn’t see it at the time, but the
comments from the Twitterati were not entirely supportive. Many feel
that questions that should have been answered were not. That the
spokesperson was evasive. Basically, the cluckers felt that if we’d
been doing the presser, it would’ve been much more enlightening. And
frankly, I don’t know nor care about the quality of the press
conference. In an insane setting, with terrible parallels being drawn
all over the place, I’m sure they did the best they could.

All of this second guessing, though, made me think about the
situation. Imagine you’re a PIO on the hunt for a new job. And the
Communications Director at Virginia Tech opens up. Before you take
that job, don’t you think you should think through each and every step
of what happens and should happen during an active shooter incident
and investigation? Like the back of your hand, I say.

Similarly if you work in a place that had a walkway collapse leading
to death and destruction, don’t you think you should learn everything
about the newly constructed walkway and existing infrastructure of the

And I say this not because you’re more likely to experience those
events again, but simply because if they do happen again, the media
and social media interest will be sky-high and more than you can
adequately deal with.

PIOs, know what you’re known for. Prepare accordingly.