2013 Retrospective: Week Four, Top Three

Things are changing around here, and I wanted to highlight the best of the blog during December, 2013. The first week is devoted to my favorite guest posts and posters. The second week is devoted to my three most engaging posts. The third and fourth weeks count down my top six most trafficked posts, truly, the best of the best. These overview posts will have links to each of the posts for the week.

Stay tuned to all of my posts for the rest of the week as I re-post the creme de la creme. It’s funny to see, as a blogger, which posts really take off and which ones don’t. I literally have no idea which it will be. It’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to my readers. Some posts you’ll research for hours and pour your heart and soul into and, nothing. Other ones you dash off under a deadline and–BAM–it’s the best post you’ve ever written. But that’s not always the case, either. Sometimes you really craft something good and people keep reading it. And sharing it. And visiting it, again and again. And that’s what these three are. Finely researched, wonderful crafted (if I do say so myself), and ultimately the best I’ve published according to you guys.

So, without further delay, the top three:

First up, number three. Viral videos are coup de grace these days. And with some money and creativity, even a local emergency management agency can do it. But, what does that success mean for the rest of our work?
Secondly, number two. Ugh, Bank of America and an automated Twitter account. It’s really amazing how creative protesters can be, and how mortifying it can look from the outside.
Finally, the top banana. Facebook is dying. Well, maybe not dying, but it’s certainly not as useful as it once was. And for agencies who are just now getting into social media, understanding how less useful is a key component of setting their expectations.

2013 Retrospective: Week Four, Top Three

2013 Retrospective: The Inflection Point

I loved this post. I wrote it on my phone. Twenty-five plus links, all pointing to mass media stories about how critical social media was in helping the public survive Post-Tropical Superstorm (nee Hurricane) Sandy. And if you’ve ever written a blog post on a phone, you’ll know how hard it is to link to things. (Suffice it to say I was proud of myself.) But this post is my official announcement to government agencies and responders that social media is HERE. Ignoring it after seeing what came out of lower Manhattan after a devastating storm flew through is tantamount to malfeasance. How dare you say you’ve got the public’s best interests in mind after the tsunami of proof that social media is how people communicate in an emergency–and then ignore it. After Sandy, and this point, there simply is no excuse anymore.

So, yeah, Post-Tropical Superstorm (nee Hurricane) Sandy. That happened. Mostly sucked. Got lots of lessons learned to share. But let’s start with the helicopter/10,000 foot overview.

For those of you who’ve taken communication theory classes (and those of you who have breathlessly read and memorized all of my posts), you’ll be familiar with the idea of diffusion of innovation.

Diffusion of Innovation S-Curve

See that point right above the words Take Off? Where the slope of the curve changes (and the artist who made this chart had to change Microsoft Paint curve-y line tools)? In our Diffussion of Innovation theory, that’s called the “inflection point.” It’s the point where growth in adoption starts to slow down, usually because most of the people who would adopt that innovation have already done so. The curve levels off when there is no more adoption (like your grandfather and electronica music, it just ain’t happening).

That inflection point? We’re there in terms of social media adoption by emergency response folks. That’s what Sandy taught me. Everyone that’s ahead of the curve, even just barely, has already accepted that social media is a great and growing part of emergency response and they’ve begun integrating it into their work. The rest of the people who could conceivably start using social media (the emergency managers who just wanted to see some return on investment first, or were just waiting for the go-ahead from the executive) will do so now. Those who refuse out-of-hand will be seen as ineffective and out of touch. And since they all report to some executive (read: person who has to stump for votes and answer to the public), I don’t think they’ll be around much longer.

Why, (I imagine) you say(ing)?

Well, there are a few stories of social media’s impact during and after the storm destroyed wide swaths of North Jersey and New York City.

(Yes, that’s 25 different links, most of them from national media sources, specifically about the social media aspect of the storm–all positive to some extent.)

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a trend.

I think, beyond the obvious implications of actually using social media in emergencies, this event has real consequences for us. You know, the folks that have made a certain number of bones being the social media evangelist in their fields (like me!). No longer can we trot out the same old anecdotes about how one day everyone will be using social media in crises.

We’re there.

We now need to concentrate on teaching how to do it right. How to work with the public, as opposed to just broadcasting to them. How to make #SMEM into an everyday conversation, a key, normal, regular part of what we do before an emergency.

2013 Retrospective: The Inflection Point

2013 Retrospective: Get On Social Media

The Boston Marathon bombings. No one who pays any attention to the news, be it traditional or social, wasn’t seriously affected by this event. The kickoff to an absolutely insane week. Honestly, from afar, it felt like 9/11 again. What could possible happen next? The two main differences between then and Boston was that it was a series of small, local events (not counting the insane-o ricin story, which is still open) and social media. And from the first minutes after the bombs went off until Reddit’s ill-fated attempt to crowd-source finding the suspects and the FBI’s website crashing spectacularly, social media was a critical component of the week.

The best description of the utility of social media has made it into every presentation I’ve given since that week. The following is audio from Boston Police in the minutes after the bombs went off, and how useful they found social media. And while I think my stories are pretty good, having real, live audio is just amazing. You can’t get closer to the source than this.

Sometimes I worry that I write too much about social media on this blog. With events like H7N9 and the atrocity in Boston earlier this week, should I be focused more on the job that government communicators are doing: media relations, crafted statements, subject matter experts usage, press releases? But then events like H7N9 and the bombing happen, and there are such amazing lessons to be learned about how social media is influencing and remaking government communicators’ jobs that I literally can’t help myself. This is what government communicators’ jobs will be.

Since the Boston bombings are so fresh on everyone’s mind, I want to start there.

I don’t want to talk about how I found the first pictures of the scene FIVE minutes after the first bomb went off and informed my chain of command, who at first didn’t believe me because it wasn’t on any news sources yet.

I don’t want to talk about how we utilized our newly updated emergency public information plan that requires us to review all scheduled social media posts and cancel any inappropriate ones.


Instead, I want to talk about sweeping streets for secondary devices. If you followed the events on Monday afternoon, you’ll remember the frantic search of every package, bag and box in most of metro Boston. The Explosive Ordnance Tech (EOD) teams wanted everyone off the streets so they could work quickly without putting the public in harm’s way. This one-minute snip of a call came over the EMS radio talkgroup:

In the middle of the biggest emergency to hit Boston in years, with lives hanging in the balance, it was decided the best way to get information–critical, life-protecting information–to the public, where they were at the moment, was to, “get on social media.” Not tell the media, not issue a press release; when seconds counted and thousands needed to be warned, social media was the right tool. In different situations, something else may have worked better, but in this emergency social media was right choice.

2013 Retrospective: Get On Social Media

2013 Retrospective: Communicating Risk Via Twitter

I love this post. This is one of my favorite stories because not only was it an absolute best practice in communicating risk, but I not only got to watch the City of Hoboken respond, but actually participated in the response. From Phoenix, Arizona. Way cool, and unfortunately, one of my stories that doesn’t get enough attention. This is my sixth most trafficked post, ever, and it’s a really good one.

I like to downplay the idea of a 24/7 newscycle. I think the term implies that you have lots of time to get involved in a situation because it’ll always be there. The media will always be beating down your door, so you’ve got time to craft an answer. Instead, I like to talk about the 10-second newscycle. In my mind, that term implies that you’ve got ten seconds in order to get your side of the story out; after that, you’re just part of the noise in someone else’s storyline.

My change in terminology leads, or should lead to, a re-examination of the tools we use to live and interact in that new newscycle. Press releases don’t really have the turnaround needed, and besides, they’re the worst position way to push out risk communication messages (e.g., do this, not that). Twitter, I like to think, works really well for a number of reasons. First, it’s direct: I, the communicator, am talking to you, the recipient. Second, it forces us to be short and direct: short messages have been shown to be more easily uptaken. Finally, it’s easily share-able: it’s easy to spread messages amongst target populations who’ve already set up information dissemination channels.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw one of the best examples of where social media, especially Twitter, could have been used to do real risk communication. The Hoboken, NJ water main breaks.

I happened to be in Phoenix at the time, presenting at the wonderful Arizona Partners in Preparedness conference when I found out about it on Twitter (social media monitoring for the win!). Because I work in public health, I’m always interested to see how large cities deal with boil water advisories, so I try to keep an eye on how things are going. The job that the City of Hoboken did was excellent starting with this:

Their next tweet was about the boil water advisory:

Notice the time? Less than ten minutes from their last tweet. Fast turnaround. Small, chunked information that’s easy to digest.

Then I got into things:

Eight minutes later, they replied directly to me, letting me know the process for how they’re looking to get more information:

In the meantime, the worked to combat rumors by posting informational updates:

Once United Water posted the full boil water advisory, @CityofHoboken updated their feed with the link.

They provided updates through out the day on the progress and even reposted the boil water advisory a few times to make sure that as many people could see it as possible. And finally, and in a stroke of trust-building genius, they took the time to thank folks who passed along their message and thanked the City’s account for the tweets:

To me, this is the best practice out there. Gold standard that should be emulated. I think that it’s not too hard to imagine how I’m rewriting my boil water advisory script and pre-approved messages this week.

This is what I want to see when I’m done with my next emergency:

2013 Retrospective: Communicating Risk Via Twitter

2013 Retrospective: Week Three, Top Six

Things are changing around here, and I wanted to highlight the best of the blog during December, 2013. The first week is devoted to my favorite guest posts and posters. The second week is devoted to my three most engaging posts. The third and fourth weeks count down my top six most trafficked posts, truly, the best of the best. These overview posts will have links to each of the posts for the week.

Stay tuned to all of my posts for the rest of the week as I start to re-post my top six, best trafficked posts. I still get stars in my eyes when something of mine gets seen by hundreds of people and these posts are the ones that really did well. Like a child, you spend time grooming, correcting, refocusing a post, and then you let it off in the world to succeed or fail. Failure brings a renewed sense of determination. Success? Well, these posts made me want to do it again. Seeing a successful post reminds you why you stay up too late and why you research too many things.

First up, number six. Hoboken, New Jersey. Water main breaks and near constant messaging via social media by the city government. Text. Book. Case. Best. Practice.
Secondly, number five. The Boston Marathon, and how Boston Police depended wholly on social media after the bombing–with audio!
Finally, number four. Hurricane Sandy was the inflection point for emergency managers and emergency management agencies realizing that social media is everywhere and is remaking how we respond to disasters.

2013 Retrospective: Week Three, Top Six

2013 Retrospective: Skagit Bridge Social Media

As if you couldn’t tell my excitement for being able to host PIO Marcus Deyerin’s recounting of his response to the I-5 Skagit River Bridge Collapse, I’m going to highlight another of his wonderful posts. This one is all about how he vital social media was to his response that evening and lessons that he learned from being on the ground of a major transportation accident. There are things that everyone can learn from seeing this happen in real life. This was not only the second most commented upon post that I’ve ever had!

Skagit Bridge Collapse Personal Lessons Learned
Marcus Deyerin
Northwest Washington Incident Management Team

Twitter, by far, was the most valuable tool for me to provide information to the public and media. Although I lost my ability to make calls and send SMS messages, I was able to send Twitter messages throughout. However, I was not able to successfully send tweets with a photo attached in those first two hours or so. After my second unsuccessful attempt to send a tweet with a photo, I gave up and decided to focus on text only tweets, since I figured the news helicopters were providing ample visual coverage of the scene.

It was only the next day that I was able to survey my “@ mentions” where I saw several media who were trying to contact me directly. They wanted me to either call them for an interview (which obviously I couldn’t during the first couple of hours), or to follow them on Twitter so they could direct message me. For a single PIO, this is a conundrum, because you want to be available to the media and Twitter isn’t a bad platform for that, but trying to monitor the huge volume of traffic directed toward you in those early moments is close to impossible. This is where a virtual operation support team (VOST) could really be useful. I’ll talk more about how I could/should have utilized VOST in a section below.

A couple people have observed and questioned the wisdom in regards to me tweeting in an official capacity from my personal account – most notable among them Gerald Baron. I am in total agreement with Gerald that this was not ideal, and it’s not something I would want to do again. Here’s why it happened… the Twitter account (@NWIMT) for the regional incident management team I’m on is what I should have used. Unfortunately, my day-job home agency transitioned to a new email system last week, which subsequently required reconfiguring my mobile device (which wiped my Twitter account info). That occurred on Tuesday – and I simply hadn’t re-added the NWIMT account to my phone’s Twitter client. When I attempted to re-add it at the scene, I couldn’t remember the account password, so I just had to go with what I had – which was my personal Twitter account.

I offer the above not as an excuse, but rather explanation. The obvious lesson here is if you rely on a particularly critical tool for something, you can’t wait even a “few days” to get it back in place. Having said that, we all live in the real world, and that kind of thing is just going to happen. My personal account is the tool I had available to me, and again – while not ideal – it served the purpose of getting the information out during the critical period when timeliness was everything. In a crisis situation, flexibility and adaptability are key; and good now is better than perfect later.

Personal lessons learned:

  • Twitter reigned as the superior tool for getting information out rapidly to a broad audience. [Note to Twitter – please, please don’t do anything vis-a-vis your API or business model to mess this up for those of us in the emergency management field.]
  • Twitter worked when phone and SMS didn’t. That won’t be true in every situation, but it was interesting nevertheless.
  • Photos attached to tweets are great – but may not always work in a constrained data flow environment
  • Once the media calls started coming in, I was no longer able to tweet. If I need to do this again, I’ll direct media calls to a different phone I have, so I can take calls on one phone and use the other phone for tweets / social media
  • If you’re sending tweets with time-sensitive info, add your own time stamp (e.g. 1015hrs). I remembered the value of this about half-way through my own efforts
  • The public doesn’t care about “official” titles – they value the quality of the information being provided. That’s not to suggest we in official roles shouldn’t care about which account we use; but we do need to understand that the audience will go where the best information is coming from – so if you want to be the official and best source – then you better be providing the best information.

I had a couple of emergency management colleagues contact me through Twitter to see if there was anything they could do to help from afar. I want to extend my appreciation to those folks (you know who you are).

This concept of “digital support” enabled by technology is increasingly being utilized around the county and the world, and is known as a Virtual Operations Support Team. It’s already been explained and highlighted elsewhere by others far better than I ever could [<– Jim – maybe link to other blog posts about this?]. When that support was offered to me, I didn't have the wherewithal to know what kind of assistance to request. But now with the benefit of retrospect, here's what I should have asked for:

  • Monitor my Twitter @ mentions for media contact requests. I simply didn’t have time to check @ mentions, and then subsequently filter out media requests / questions from the overall stream of retweets. The VOST could compile and forward the relevant ones to me via email, which I could then either respond to directly, or forward to the appropriate agency specific PIO.
  • Monitor overall social media and traditional media coverage. What questions do people have that aren’t being effectively answered? Are there rumors or mis-information we need to address?
  • Establish and populate an incident specific website. In a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional response, this is perhaps the single biggest need during the early hours of the incident, but also the biggest challenge. It’s easy enough to populate the content quickly, but you have to have an existing website place (or dark site ready to go), and on a server robust enough to handle the surge of traffic you’re likely to receive.
  • Help build a media cheat-sheet. On Friday morning my second task was to put together an Agency Point of Contact sheet for the media. I noticed a lot of reporters were asking the right questions of the wrong people, if for no other reason than because they weren’t entirely sure which agency had purview over a given subject. I listed every stakeholder agency involved, the POC and contact info, and the topics or issues for which that agency was the most qualified to answer. After the 12:30pm briefing on Friday, I handed this out to media and they seemed to really appreciate it. It would have been really helpful to have this at least started the night before.
  • I know there’s more a VOST could have probably helped with, but these are the things that stick out in my rearview mirror. While there are a number of excellent established VOST organizations out there, this is definitely a capability we’ll be looking to develop further within the IMT I serve on.


    Tomorrow we’ll have Marcus back for an overview of his dealing with the media and coordinating with other agency PIOs. Stay tuned!

2013 Retrospective: Skagit Bridge Social Media

2013 Retrospective: Livetweeting at Conferences

If you’ve ever seen my Twitter account when I’m at a conference, you most assuredly knew about. I tweet about everything I learn. I see it as my responsibility to shout what I learn as loud as I can so everyone else gets the opportunity to learn. I’ve been known to kind-of take over conference hashtags. And yet, I still get the stinkeye from folks who think that I’m messing around on my phone. So I wanted to post on it and see what this community thought about it. And the response was amazing! I got the most comments ever to one of my posts! Check it out below and be sure to join the conversation!

textiingI’m very lucky to get the opportunity to attend a number of conferences, both because of my speaking engagements and because I work in an active region that regularly holds opportunities for learning for members of the emergency response community. And I know that I’m lucky, so I take every opportunity to attend these conferences and trainings and do my best to share what I’ve learned as widely as I can because I know that not everyone is as lucky as I am, but they still have the need to learn about these topics.

And sometimes that can be problematic. You see, after the conference or training, I have to go back to work and back to blogging and back to my family and life. I don’t have the time repackage and redistribute this information. So I do it in real time via Twitter. And that’s problematic because I’m usually staring at my phone or tablet and typing furiously.

Think of the last time you were in a conference and saw someone pounding away at their BlackBerry. What did you think they were doing? Did you roll your eyes and wonder why they even came to the conference? Yep, that was me livetweeting.

Livetweeting. Hearing what’s being presented, digesting it, repackaging it to Twitter length, typing it up on a tiny phone screen, adding a hashtag (sometimes adding pictures) and posting it. And doing it quickly enough that I can accurately represent what’s being said and being sure to get all of the really good parts. So not only am I not not paying attention, I’m probably paying more attention than many of the glassy-eyed folks who gets the the benefit of the doubt with regards to “paying attention.”

And I’m not the only one that does this, in fact, the younger your audience the more likely they’ll be devoting time during presentations to digital devices. So what does that mean for, in each of the three roles you fulfill around presentations: as speaker, as a member of the audience, as someone who is not even at the conference.

First, as someone in the audience, this should be easy to deal with. The person sitting next to you tweeting away has identified themselves as someone who is a) taking lots of notes and b) very happy to share it. Say hi. Give them your card. Ask where you can find their notes and if you can download them. (And if they’ve just been playing Plants vs. Zombies for the last hour, they’ll totally be shamed into paying attention during the next session.) Voilà! Instant notes and a new colleague.

As a speaker, here you might need make some changes, but all of them are positive. First, every recommendation about how to improve presentations you’ll find talks about presenting less information on slides and focusing the content. This helps your livetweeters get the gist of the slide more quickly, but it will also helps your non-tweeting audience digest and integrate your presentation. One idea per slide. Plain language. Descriptive images. Your livetweeters will love you, your audience will love you and you’ll be a better presenter.

The second great reason speakers should embrace social media is all for them, they’ve got the opportunity to get real, free, unfiltered immediate feedback on their presentation. Sure it’s difficult to see it while you’re presenting (even I haven’t mastered that–yet), but if your audience all used a hashtag (maybe one that you recommended to them) think of how easy it would be to collect all of those notes into one place. What a great repository of real-time feedback on your performance, kudos you’ve received and a contact list of folks who were interested in your topic enough to come and listen to you.

As an outside observer, people using social media conferences is simply the bee’s knees. You’ve got the world at your fingertips, all you need to do is follow along. Look for the announced hashtag for the conference you find most interesting and check it out to see if anyone is tweeting during the conference! If you’re stuck for topics to follow, check out the Healthcare Hashtag Project, where folks register conference hashtags and help get a transcription of them.

The reason I bring this topic up is because of a conference I recently attended. The conference was actively advertising their hashtag and having their staff livetweet vociferously. And yet there were still complaints from folks in the audience deriding those on their phones. Which I think is a shame, for all of the potential good reasons above. What do you think about livetweeting and using social media during conferences? (And I’d love to know if you hate it!)

EDIT: someone did an academic research study on this! (PDF)

2013 Retrospective: Livetweeting at Conferences