EMForum Virtual Forum Presentation — October 27, 2010

Social Media During Crisis Response
A Group Discussion on General Lessons for Emergency Managers

Kim Stephens

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following has been prepared from a transcription of the recording.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Welcome once again to EMforum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator today. We are very glad you could join us. For our newcomers, we will be providing some instructions as we go along so you can relax and participate with us in today’s discussion.

We last visited the topic of using social media for disaster information just slightly over two years ago, and thought it was a good time to revisit to get an idea of how far we have come (or not) since that time.

The blog posting, "Social media during crisis response: Five general lessons for emergency managers" was our inspiration and we are very happy to have the author with us today.


Incidentally, one of the "divas" who works on the Idisaster 2.0 blog is a good friend and former Board member of the Forum, Claire Rubin. Now it is my pleasure to introduce the other "diva" and today’s guest, Kim Stephens.

Kim has over a decade of experience in the field of emergency management, both as a researcher and a practitioner. Her experience has spanned federal, local and non-governmental organizations: from the US Environmental Protection Agency, to the Tennessee Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management, and the American Red Cross.

Her special focus is the application of social media to the practice of emergency management in the public sector. Kim is currently developing social media training for the 2011 Readiness in Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grantees.

Welcome Kim and thank you for being with us today. I will turn the floor over to you to start us off please.

Kim Stephens: I was asked to participate based on this blog posting. I won’t read it to you, since you have it there in front of you, but in this blog posting I wanted to make some observations about lessons learned from recent deployments of social media in disasters. I think the overarching lesson, though, is that social engagement aided by technology is not going away. Although some popular platforms people might use, such as Facebook or Twitter, those platforms might be replaced by something else in the future.

However, I think that the concept of people sharing their experiences in real time through web enabled communications is something we’ll be dealing with for the long term. As Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said, and I quoted him in this blog posting, "we all as an emergency management community have to understand that there will never be again a major event in this country that won’t involve public participation, and the public participation will happen whether it is managed or not."

I think some of these lessons certainly point to that. The first lesson that I found is that certainly, if you are building social medial platforms for the public, you need to be aware that if you are building it during a time when there is no disaster, during planning and preparedness phase, you are probably not going to get a lot of traffic to those sites. You might have a pretty robust community involvement, but on the most part, your traffic is going to quadruple and grow exponentially during a disaster.

That shouldn’t be something that surprises you. Again, if you build it, they are going to come. During the oil spill, it was necessary to ramp up the number of people who deal with the social media communication. I quoted this report from Gerald Baron, "Unending Flow" which I think is an excellent report—everyone should have an opportunity to review.

They were receiving about 1,000 inquiries per day during the height of this disaster. Of course, this is a multi-state, multi-layered disaster with many different agencies participating. In your community you might not see 1,000 inquiries per day, but you need to be prepared for quite a few more inquiries than you normally get.

In addition, how do we—get that information coming to us, how we sort through the information and make sure we’re not just pushing information out, but we’re able to review what’s coming through to find that little note of actionable intelligence. Is there something that is coming to us that we can use in the response?

One thing they found during the oil spill is that if you are only wed to one type of technology—you’re only using your web or Facebook page, you might be surprised by other things the public actually demands. In this case, they were demanding live video feeds. They were able to supply that through widgets, etc., but I think it is important to look to what other agencies are doing during disasters and be prepared to possibly provide these types of tools if you have an event in your own community.

If you don’t build any social media platforms, and you don’t have the social media present, you shouldn’t be surprised when you have an event in your community and social media is used extensively anyway. Although I think the community in Colorado did have a Facebook page, the emergency management office did have a Facebook page, I think they were a little surprised by how much the community used in particular this "Amanda’s Map".

This is a good example because it is just an average citizen taking information and curating it onto a map and providing real time situational awareness for community members. She was able to list information coming directly, probably from the emergency management office, able to curate it onto this map so people could have a visualization of the events as they unfolded.

Also, people were providing information about donations, for example—if someone, for example, was giving out free sandwiches at a shop to emergency service personnel and people affected by the disaster—that might be an icon on the map. It’s all about how you can find information you can use as a citizen.

Then I thought this was interesting—as people were helping themselves through social media and providing real time information to themselves—a real achievement—at the same time, they are also criticizing the government for not doing this as well. They are saying, "Why didn’t the government provide this information?" I think that is a lesson learned in the sense that we have to be able to keep up with the public—otherwise we might lose some credibility as an agency.

The second point is—with public information, sometimes we look at it with a little bit of suspicion. Because a citizen is putting this information together, it might not be correct. However, I think that is maybe a false way to look at it. We need to look at it in terms as how the public can help themselves and how we can help the public add information to the platforms that we have so that we can all find a better way for the community to be more resilient.

Information moves at lightning speed now with social media. When eyewitnesses witness something, an event, they are taking a picture of it, they are uploading that to their Twitt Pick and Twitter. They are uploading video to YouTube. How do emergency managers keep up with that speed of information, and how do we make sure that the information we are putting out isn’t already dated and it is put out five hours too late when everybody already is aware of that information? Again, maybe we are losing some credibility.

Go where the people are. This point is simply that a lot of folks now are on these social networks, especially younger people. A lot of younger people are looking at their government through a 3-inch screen on their cell phone. People are looking at you through their cell phones. Are you providing that information? Are you the ones that are able to reach your younger audience through Facebook, Twitter, and through these other social media platforms that they are relying on a day to day basis?

I think they found this in the Philippines. Most of their population used these tools to be able to use those effectively. At the local level, another new phenomenon that is happening is people are starting to show up to volunteer. We have always had spontaneous volunteers, but now we have a new form of volunteer. They are showing up and wanting to help curate this information from Twitter and Facebook, but they are also wanting to provide more technical skills, including GIS capabilities.

We saw this in the San Bruno fire, where people literally set up and said, "We can provide this for you. How can we be incorporated into your response effort?" For that lesson, it is a matter of being aware that that can happen and trying to reach out to those people before an event so you can use them effectively during a response.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Kim. Now, to proceed to our discussion. I will display each of our ten discussion questions with some possible responses, as an instant poll. These are only intended to stimulate our discussion – not to limit it. There are no right or wrong answers; instead we would just like to get some feedback on your experiences and share whatever insights you may have developed.

I will display each question and give you time to select a response. Kim may also have some additional comments while we are voting and preparing any additional comments you may have. We will take a look at the poll results for the question, and then we will proceed to your comments.

[Group Discussion]

Question 1: To what extent are you currently employing social media for disaster information?

  • None = 15 (29%)
  • One-way feeds = 14 (27%)
  • Two-way interaction = 11 (21%)
  • Monitoring external social media for situation awareness = 11 (21%)

Amy Sebring: Due to the limitations of this polling tool, you can only select one of these answers, so please think of these as a continuum progressing from the low end (none) to a higher end, and select the best answer.

Kim Stephens: I did a review a couple of months ago of Facebook presence of communities and counties, and I counted about 550 counties on Facebook, counting emergency management offices out of about 3,000 counties. What is that—about 18% had a Facebook presence, and that was back in March? I think that number has probably risen since then.

Question 2: What is an appropriate level of public expectation for government use of social media to disseminate disaster information that is realistically achievable?

  • Emergency alerts = 10 (17%)
  • Press releases = 1 (1%)
  • Situation reports = 10 (17%)
  • Frequent situation updates = 24 (42%)
  • Interactive features = 11 (19%)

Amy Sebring: As we mentioned above, there is no right answer and what is achievable for your community may not be the same as another one. Kim do you have any comment on public expectations?

Kim Stephens: Public expectations is an interesting problem. The Red Cross survey that I think a lot of people are aware of now—I’ve got a link to it on my blog [—but 69% of respondents thought that emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their website and social media so they can respond promptly to any requests for help posted there.

In other words, if you have a Twitter account as an emergency management office, and someone posts a plea for help on your Twitter account, 69% of respondents thought you should be regularly monitoring that and they also thought you should arrive within an hour after that. That’s a very high number of people with an incorrect perception of how emergency management community is using social media.

I don’t think they are monitoring. I know from talking to quite a few of them they are not monitoring social media 24/7. At the most, they are using it during the 5-day work week, and that is pretty much it. Eighty-five percent of people 18-34 thought that if they posted they needed help, they should get help within an hour.

So, 18 to 34-year-olds had a higher response rate in terms of thinking it should take an hour. Still, 74% thought that it should take an hour out of all the respondents, all ages. I think there is definitely a public perception out there that the emergency management community is doing this. Whether that’s true or not is another story.


Patrice Cloutier: How do you monitor SM during a crisis? And then how do you decide to engage (or not) in conversations? Do you use a matrix such as the USAF one ?

Kim Stephens: I’m unsure about the matrix, but how you monitor social media—there are several different software tools you can use. You can either use software tools that you can purchase through various companies that provide that tool, or you can use tools that are free. For example, Twitter has something called—it’s not actually Twitter, but it’s Tweet Deck, which uses Twitter.

You can set up Tweet Deck to monitor certain hash tags. If, for example, you have a disaster in your town, and people start referring to the disaster as hash tag fire and the name of your town, then you can monitor everyone who posts about that fire. For example, you can also monitor, just through your Twitter account, people can post information to your Twitter account and send you direct messages.

The other way you can monitor is through keyword. You can also use computer-aided models to help you find those keywords. You can also monitor your own Facebook page. You can’t monitor other people’s Facebook pages because those are usually private and closed to you, but you can monitor your own page.

With regard to how you should answer questions—they have found definitely that if you do not answer people’s questions, they will come to not trust the platform. If you are providing a Facebook page and you are updating information and people are asking you questions through that page, you probably should respond to them within a day or so that people come to trust that platform and then will come and seek it out for information if that, indeed, is you intent.

Question 3: What is an appropriate level of monitoring external social media for situation awareness?

  • None = 0 (0%)
  • Monitoring for erroneous information/rumors = 15 (25%)
  • Monitoring for actionable intelligence = 37 (63%)
  • Monitoring for assistance requests = 6 (10%)

Amy Sebring: Again, your ability to do this may vary, but we are basically asking what your community expects. Kim, would you like to address monitoring?

Kim Stephens: There is one thing I wanted to add. I think it’s interesting if you look at some of the accounts of agencies that do monitor social media, sometimes they find that the public, because the public is the eyewitness, they are able to get that information quicker than they can through the regular press.

For example, that shooting at the Discovery office—people are posting information directly from the scene to Twitter or You Tube, and if you go and look for that information, you can see what is happening in that building from an eyewitness account. I think that is invaluable information. How do you pass that information out?

During a longer term disaster, and you have the disaster going on not just for a couple of hours but for weeks or maybe even a month, monitoring information to find out how people are doing—I think this has happened in the Haiti incident, for example, where people are posting information about what their needs are. That’s a different level of monitoring.

Certainly, in the initial event, when you have the ability to go to YouTube and see video of the event unfolding, it is absolutely an opportunity to get situational awareness in real time.


Trystyn Keia del Rosario: How do you dispel/sort through rumors or erroneous information from the public?

Kim Stephens: I think that a lot of times the idea that social media is only putting rumors out there is a little bit incorrect. In a disaster, you have to weigh what is the intent. If someone is putting erroneous information out there because they want to get more resources for themselves, for example—if you have a flood and someone feels like they need sand bags, they might say, "I need sand bags—I’m going to be flooded", when in fact they are on a hill and don’t need sand bags at all.

Would they be posting information that would try to game the system a little so they could get more resources for themselves—so you might look at the intent. The second thing about social media, particularly on Twitter, they’ve found that it is a very self-correcting environment. If someone posts information that is incorrect, then others will correct them. They’ll say, "That’s not right—this is what’s happening."

Some people who post information provide hyperlinks to credible sources, like news organizations, so you’re able to look at who is posting information to see if it is credible, and I also think that the rumor portion of it—the communities themselves dispel those rumors as quickly as possible.

Les Holtzblatt: How do you evaluate the trustworthiness of the information that is being provided?

Kim Stephens: Again, if you get information from someone directed to your agency, and you don’t think it’s correct—for example, a tornado has come through your area and you have several areas that are impacted and people are reporting that they have been impacted by this tornado. Then, you have someone reporting from another state about information and you know that they have reported it from another state—there are software platforms that can tell you where the information is coming from.

Then you would probably say that you don’t know how that person would have first-hand intelligence on this information because he is not even there. Also, you can look at information overlays. If people are reporting something that is also verified by another source, then you can start to trust that information.

If someone is saying they were impacted by that tornado, and you know the path of that tornado, then you can probably trust the information that is coming from them. That is a small example, but I think there are many ways to cross tabulate the information so you can see whether or not it is verifiable.

Amy Goodwin: Sometimes the eyewitness information can put your staff or institution in danger - posting photos of the swat team and where they are located on your building. Would you recommend asking the public to keep the safety of staff in mind when they are releasing info?

Kim Stephens: Absolutely, and I think they saw it happen in the Mumbai attacks in India where people were posting information and the terrorists were using that information to know where the SWAT teams were, for example. I think that is something the public should be aware of. How you control that is a little like controlling smoke, though. It’s very difficult to control.

I know that in school situations they will shut down the cable so that if a shooter is inside a school building, he can’t turn on CNN and watch the events unfolding outside the building. It’s a little more difficult to do that when you have Twitter and people on their own personal devices.

Tom DeSorcy: How much does the traditional media monitor social media for their own reporting purposes?

Kim Stephens: I’m not 100% sure about that question, but I know that is increasing as well. CNN has something called iReporter. They actually ask people to send in information, and then they post that with the caveat that it has come from the citizens. Absolutely, they are using social media.

I know one reporter said that when a tornado happens, he doesn’t call the sheriff anymore. He sends a tweet out and says that if you’re in the area, send me a picture. Someone responds with a picture from the impacted area. They are absolutely using social media to get an idea of what has happened in the impacted zone.

Thomas Fahy: I appreciate your statement that communications now happen at lightning speed. However, wireless cellular networks have limitations to handle mass SMS text messaging during an emergency that could result in a mass overload that potentially could collapse a cell network. This is documented in the research of Dr. Patrick Trainor from Georgia Tech. While not a disaster, the massive texting during the Obama Inauguration shut down cell service in the National Capitol Region. Please define "realistic and achievable" uses for an EMO to disseminate disaster info via social media and not endanger distribution networks

Kim Stephens: Actually, I understand his question has to do with bandwidth. Quite a few people in disasters pick up the cell phone and call someone. It immediately shuts down the network. That’s my understanding. However, with a text message, you are taking up much less of the bandwidth.

If I send out a text or Facebook message, I post to my Facebook that I’m in the impacted area but I’m okay, I have reached 150 people. That is 150 calls I don’t have to make. Of course, I’m not calling every college friend that I’m okay, but I have made contact with my network that I am okay. That is far less impact on that network than if I had to make 5 or 6 phone calls. I think that is one actual benefit versus a problem of using text messaging and Twitter and Facebook through your cell device versus traditional phone calls through your cell device.

Question 4: What is the relative importance of using social media vs. using more traditional methods such as press briefings, telephone banks, call down systems, etc.

  • Not important = 0 (0%)
  • Less important = 6 (12%)
  • Equally important = 42 (84%)
  • More important = 2 (4%)

Kim Stephens: I don’t think social media should replace all of this stuff, in my opinion. I think that obviously you need layers. You are not going to reach everyone with social media. You are only going to reach a segment of your population that is engaged in social media. Certainly, you need to add it as one of your tools in your tool box.


Amy Sebring: Do you have any findings in terms of—let’s say my son is engaged in social media, and I am not—does it have a ripple effect that might inform me what is going on?

Kim Stephens: Absolutely. That came up through the Red Cross social media summit. Heather Blanchard of CrisisCommons was talking about that—the Six Degrees of Separation. For example, a leader in a community—someone in a church situation—had access to social media, but the congregation did not. He could provide them information. He could also provide information to emergency responders about how his congregation is faring.

If your son or someone has access to that technology and you do not, they can include you in the information and help provide your story to emergency management as well, if that is necessary.

Patrice Cloutier: An immediate benefit of SM is to allow you to communicate directly with your audiences -- not through the (traditional) media lens.

Kim Stephens: That is an excellent point. That is true. You don’t have that filter. You are no longer waiting for them to do a press release at 6:00. You are getting that information out immediately.

Question 5: Does your local jurisdiction have the resources in terms of technology, manpower, and technical expertise to fully engage social media?

  • Yes = 18 (36%)
  • No = 23 (46%)
  • Don’t know = 8 (16%)

Kim Stephens: How do you pull in enough people? How do you train enough people to help you with social media and all these new tools you’re going to need to be using during the heat of crisis?


Rob Dale: I think they have the capabilities; it's just that they aren't willing to commit the time to actually use them.

Kim Stephens: Maybe he means that the capability is there—it is not difficult stuff to post to Facebook, but maybe they are not using that capability. Maybe that’s probably not necessarily correct because you really do need to have plans, policies and procedures in place before you jump on Facebook and Twitter. You need to understand what impact it is going to have during the heat of an event—how it is going to be perceived, what kind of staffing you’re going to have to have during an event.

If you’re using it during a preparedness phase and you’re not thinking about how you’re going to have to use it during an actual disaster and putting those plans and procedures in place—maybe you’re hesitant to use it during the preparedness phase because of that. Maybe you know that it is going to blow up, if you will, during a disaster and would rather not go there.

I don’t know if that’s a correct perception or not, but it is certainly some of the problems I’ve heard some people voice.

Amy Goodwin: For situation updates, yes. But not enough staff when you get into monitoring and quickly adding different tools like live feeds, etc.

Kim Stephens: I read something recently I thought was interesting. We have memorandums of understanding with other jurisdictions for aiding our organizations for other things. What about MOUs to aid with social media—for monitoring and disseminating information through social media? Could, for example, San Francisco have a mutual aid agreement with Los Angeles, so if something were to happen in San Francisco, then Los Angeles could come onboard to monitor what is going on in social media—because it is all done virtually.

I thought that was an interesting suggestion.

Patrice Cloutier: Most obstacles are policy and not technology, either emergency managers or the political level.

Kim Stephens: I think that is exactly right.

Mark Basnight: The Charlotte Fire Department Office of Public Affairs is fully engaged, staffed, and has the technical expertise. We would need more staff in the event of a natural disaster or catastrophic event.

Kim Stephens: I think that is an interesting concept—the mutual aid concept. I think we’re going to talk a little bit about using volunteers later, so I won’t get into that. I certainly think—if your county is impacted by a tornado, but other counties aren’t as impacted as you were, or by flood, could you pull in staff from other counties to help you with the social media aspect?

They wouldn’t even have to leave their offices necessarily. They could help you from their own offices.

Michelle Raymond: Not yet fully engaged, but strong tools for changing "English alerts" to other main languages in the Minnesota area.

Chris Hall: In Cupertino we use social media savvy volunteers to monitor social media and feed info to the intelligence function in the EOC.

Kim Stephens: That’s great.

Question 6: Does your public information annex address the use of social media specifically, including procedures for reporting situational awareness information to management?

  • Yes = 8 (17%)
  • No = 31 (67%)
  • Don’t know = 7 (15%)

Kim Stephens: How are you taking the information and then are able to put it back into the response organization to make sure they are able to act on it?

Amy Sebring: This goes to preparedness. If you have your strategy laid out and it addresses policy issues ahead of time, you would probably be in better shape.

Kim Stephens: I think that is something that people should look at. I think the police are pretty good at this. When you have a person who needs to be apprehended, you send out pictures of that person and then people say they saw him—they send in reports that they saw that person—and then you act on it.

It’s a little bit obviously different from a disaster, but it is sort of the same concept. How do you take information from the public and use it effectively?

Question 7: Are current vetting/approval processes for "official" government information too cumbersome and slow to keep pace with social media?

  • Yes = 40 (76%)
  • No = 4 (7%)
  • Don’t know = 8 (15%)

Kim Stephens: I think when you have a situation that it just your county, I think the approval process is fairly straightforward. But when you have several counties, then the state is involved, and now you have a joint information center and the federal government is involved—with every new layer comes another layer of bureaucracy and it slows down the ability to report information quickly. I think they found that during the oil spill.

How do you compete? It’s almost like a competition with social media and the bloggers, and people who are getting information out there quickly. How do you compete with that? If you are putting information out there that is stale—that everyone is already aware of—then you somewhat lose your credibility as an information officer, as a response.

They are thinking that the government is really behind on this and they don’t understand why you don’t put the information out quicker. Sometimes it has to do with a responsible party, the ones that wordsmith that information so that when it is put out, it has all the correct political and marketing—all those things that go into it—they want to make sure that it sounds just right. Once you make it sound just right, it might be too late. It might be outdated information by the time you get it out there.

Amy Sebring: Don’t you have an anecdote about taking 12 hours or so to formulate a press release to respond to a blog?

Kim Stephens: That’s exactly right. It happened during the oil spill. The cap was slipping—you know they had capped the well and it had slipped off. A blogger, because they had it available through a live video stream, noticed that and reported it in the morning. By the time they were able to get that information out through the joint information center, it had to be approved, and it was 8:00 that night. The blogger had posted it at 8:00 that morning.

They had completely lost their credibility in terms of a communications effort because it took them too long to get the information out.


Patrice Cloutier: Goes to IMS/ICS doctrine itself that says that any communications product needs to be approved by incident command. Too slow for SM. Need some degree of delegation.

Kim Stephens: I still think the command still needs to know what you are putting out, but is there a way to make that process go a little more smoothly?

Chris Hall: Stale information was widespread in the San Bruno Fire/Explosion in California. "Official" info was quickly distrusted.

Kim Stephens: I think that’s the problem—distrust. We talk about not trusting the information that is in the social media world—how do you know that is verified and correct information? The same thing is happening with "official" information. Because it is stale and coming out late, people are no longer trusting it, which is a really unfortunate turn of events.

Bob Kelly: There is always the issue of legal exposure.

Kim Stephens: I agree. If you put something out that is incorrect, what does that do for you organization? You do need to make sure it is correct information. That is why it almost like an unfair fight. People are putting out information through social media, and citizens don’t have to be concerned about that. They can put the information out there and if it’s wrong, they might lose a little credibility, but they are just an average citizen or blogger.

If the government puts out incorrect credibility, it can impact their credibility as well. It is kind of like a lose/lose situation in a way.

Tom Malley: Even if there is a quick vetting process, emergency managers will never win the race to get information out first. The value in the information from emergency management is in the accuracy and authority of the information.

Kim Stephens: I agree you’re not going to get it out first, but you need to be a little quicker than 12 hours. It needs to be as quickly as possible so you’re viewed as a reliable source.

Hal Grieb: If the IC designates a PIO their message is then approved. SM is no different than a PIO on a live satellite feed.

Monyett Ellington: ICS in general bogs down at PIO and some studies I saw presented at the All Hazards Workshop seemed to show that PIO position quickly gets overwhelmed and seen as the point of contact and authority, even for internal communications.

Kim Stephens: I think that is probably definitely true. I think they found that to be true during the oil spill.

Question 8: Do you use software applications/platforms that are designed to aid public information officers in the distribution of information through social media?

  • Yes = 16 (36%)
  • No = 22 (50%)
  • Don’t know = 6 (13%)

Kim Stephens: For example, Virginia has the VIPER platform—Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response. It has been online for a couple of years, I believe. Now they have come up with Virtual USA which is similar to the VIPER platform. These platforms are web-based that provide a common operating picture for first responders. These are not platforms that the public has access to.

These are platforms that have layers of data. For VIPER, for example, they have about 250 data feeds that go into it so that you’re able to sort information and everyone has a common operating picture. I think the problem with some of those platforms, however, is that although they do include information from social media, the public doesn’t have access to some of that information.

J.R. Jones:( Referring to last question) The stronger the "chain of command" system, and the more important/severe the incident, then the higher the message must go to be vetted and approved and therefore, the longer it takes to get it published. Everyone is afraid of 'viral' incorrect rumors.

Kim Stephens: That’s all true.

Laura Southard: A public version of VIPER is being developed

Kim Stephens: I think Virtual USA is also looking at trying to include a public version of Virtual USA—a way to not only include public information—information coming from social media—information aggregated by the public, but then also make it available to the public. I don’t know when that is going to be available. I know they are working on it.

Question 9: Is there a need for more guidance and training on the use of social media for emergency information?

  • Yes = 52 (96%)
  • No = 1 (1%)
  • Don’t know = 1 (1%)

Kim Stephens: Certainly, I am providing some training for K-12 through the REMS program (Readiness for Emergency Management in Schools) and they have contracted me to provide training to the grantees through 2011. That training is basically a PowerPoint presentation that takes them through the who-why-where of social media. I think definitely more is needed.

I found one very good resource that just came online this month. The International Association of Chiefs of Police now has a Center for Social Media. I will post it to my blog so that people can easily find it. It is an amazing resource. I really wish the emergency management community had a similar resource. It is in partnership with the Bureau of Justice, and in the Office of the Department of Justice. [http://www.iacpsocialmedia.org/GettingStarted.aspx]

It has a clearinghouse of information which is designed to build successful law enforcement to use social media and web 2.0 technologies. They have resources by platform. For example, if you want to use Twitter, it has resources on how to do that—resources on how to use Facebook—all different kinds of platforms.

Case law, case studies—in the case studies for example, they will show best uses of social media through other law enforcement agencies—frequently asked questions, fact sheets, tools and tutorials. I cannot say enough about this website. It is an amazing website. It is definitely focused toward law enforcement, though—it has very little information about the emergency management realm. Certainly, I think trying to mimic something like that is something the emergency management community can and should do.


Rob Dale: I would love to see a brief PowerPoint and/or manual that puts everything in an easy-to-discuss format that I can present to the EM community at large.

Kim Stephens: I think I may have something like that for the training for the schools. I’ll post it to my disaster blog and we are trying to collect that information on my blog in particular. Some of that information is out there, but I definitely think it is a need. Obviously, people think it is a need.

Hal Grieb: First Responders Communities of Practice is a DHS site specific for social media and first responders. https://communities.firstresponder.gov

Chris Hall: Ed Neitzel from Show Low Fire (National PIO) also has an All-hazards Social Media Guide.

Question 10: Are you comfortable with the idea of using either local or virtual volunteers to assist your Public Information Officer with managing social media information?

  • Yes = 36 (78%)
  • No = 7 (15%)
  • Don’t know = 3 (6%)

Kim Stephens: I think that the CERT team members are a natural place to look for volunteers to start doing different things that are normally required under the CERT program. I don’t know if that group of volunteers are the ones who are necessarily interested in doing social media, so you might be able to bring in a different kind of population—maybe a younger, college age population that want to help during a disaster that don’t necessarily want to do the things that normally CERT volunteers are called on to do.

You could treat it like a part of the CERT program where you have a relationship with these people, you know them in advance, you are able to train them in what you want them to do, use them in exercises, and then you’d be much more comfortable with them coming in to help.

If they just show up on your door and you don’t have a relationship with them at all, that’s when the discomfort sets in. How do I use something like that? I don’t know them, and now they are going through information that is coming through social media that might have some personal information in it. I think discomfort sets in at that point.

Again, I think training and exercising is always key and if you’re able to train with these folks then certainly that is a huge benefit. However, there are always going to be people who show up. You always have spontaneous volunteers, for sure. How do you put them to work?


Michelle Raymond: Yes, volunteers could be pre-vetted through a program like CERT or Infragard.

Amy Goodwin: With pre-disaster screening.

Patrice Cloutier: That's the point behind the whole CrisisCommons/CrisisCamp movement ... a very large group of competent and dedicated individuals who want to play a positive role during disasters. [http://crisiscommons.org/]

Kim Stephens: CrisisCommons is a group of people that have been working in the international humanitarian arena and they have people who come in and they are able to do exactly what we’re talking about. They go through tweets and help to aggregate that information so that people on the ground have a better situational awareness of what is happening. They also do some things like "hacks of kindness" where they create technologies on the fly.

For example, in Haiti, they needed translators for Creole. Someone in a "hacks of kindness" through a CrisisCommons camp actually created an application that could be downloaded to a smart phone so that people in the field could then translate through that application from Creole to English.

They are not just looking through text messages and that sort of thing, they are doing other things the response community requires and didn’t know they required. For example, if you needed a widget developed and you wanted to supply your community with a video feed and you wanted a widget developed where that could done through blogs, and you didn’t have the technical power to do that, someone from CrisisCommons who has already been working through the CrisisCommons camp might be called upon to do that for you, or they might do that for you through a camp project.

You’re not alone, in other words. You have a lot of people in the technical community and the humanitarian relief community that work in the international arena that I think will show up if there is a large event in the United States and say, "We’ve been doing this—what can we do to help?" Obviously they are volunteering, so you’re getting a widget or app for free, essentially.

Bonnie Hirsch: I am a volunteer with Washington EM and got into volunteering with a local fire department. I began as a college student for internship credit.

Monyett Ellington: Here in Colorado, there is resistance to using CERT in any way; plus, with recent events, just now starting to use the Volunteer Coordination System to manage Spontaneous Volunteers.

Mark Basnight: They would have to have a VERY defined role.

Kim Stephens: I think that’s the way a lot of the emergency management community looks at it—to define a specific role as not to impinge on the emergency response effort. I think in the international arena, the roles are not defined so they are able to be very creative and come up with new ways to collaborate and help. Because of that open environment there has been a lot of innovation.

Tommy Hipper: I realize that this question isn't a perfect fit (sorry!), but I was wondering if you see Social Media as an effective resource in the area of mental health. If so, does this have potential for first responders’ mental health as well?

Kim Stephens: I can’t address mental health per se, but I think social media helps in the recovery phase. We found that through the Colorado event. People were able to come together online. When you’ve experienced an event, and someone else has experienced an event, being able to share those experiences and being able to communicate your feelings, etc., I think definitely goes a long way towards recovery. In terms of pure mental health issues, I am not an expert in that area.

Laura Southard: I think the fear about rumors proliferating is moot and outdated, because social media does correct itself -- and we can correct it, too, as public information officers. The idea of misinformation spreading and somehow affecting effective response and reputation may have been more viable when people did NOT have access to so many information channels.

Kim Stephens: I think that is exactly right. If you see misinformation occurring, you are able to correct it quickly. There was a fire chief who was talking about where he went to a building that had essentially blown up and he heard people in the crowd were talking about why. He could see on his Twitter feed they were posting that someone had died in the building.

Because he was watching that Twitter feed, he was able to post that no one had died, and why the building had blown up. There was misinformation about why is had occurred. There was a rumor that the insurance company or owner had blown it up to get insurance money because it was a dilapidated building.

I think it goes back to the importance of monitoring that information. Are you able to correct it quickly before it takes root in the mind of the citizenry? Once you put out that information, other people pick it up, if someone continues to spread the wrong information, the population does correct it for them and say, "No, you are incorrect, and this is the right information".

Tom Malley: Here is a link for a good slide show on social media. It is from Center for Public Policy & Administration: http://www.cppa.utah.edu/socialmedia/soc_media_government.htm


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much Kim for an excellent job today and we look forward to your future blog postings at Idisaster 2.0. Please say hello to Claire for us. Please stand by just a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements.

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Thanks to everyone for the great participation today and all your great comments. Until next time, we stand adjourned.