About the role of blogs in a crisis and technology

At the risk of being circular, I want to point you to two interesting posts at a new emergency managment blog I just discovered (as a result of his comments on my blog). The blog is breakglass.wordpress.com.

First, interesting comments about the need for new and multiple modes of communication from the lessons learned at Virginia Tech. The post is “Technology is not a plan.”

The second is “Reports on the Demise of Blogging are Quite Exagerated.”

Now, I will add this blog to my blogroll.

Blogging still not taken seriously

Of the many lessons learned from participating in a large oil spill drill last week is that many of the world’s top communication professionals do not understand the blog world and do not appreciate its role in the public information environment. Before saying anything that might sound critical of these professionals, let me start by saying the immense respect I have for them and the outstanding professional job they do of open, transparent communication–particularly with the mainstream media.

But, it does seem clear that they continue to live and breathe in a world where the MSM dominates their thinking. There is not the stakeholder first strategy that is frequently discussed here. And there is little understanding of the growing role and importance of blogging in forming public opinion and determining reputation and trust. To wit: the drill exercise did not include any blogging activity as part of the simulation or “injects.” There was no reference to what bloggers might be doing or saying, no consideration of how the communication team would monitor or respond and no understanding of bloggers would be used by the MSM as part of their story development.

In this case, a large oil spill in one of the most pristine and notorious environments in the world, it is my feeling that likely at least 20 bloggers would be posting stories, photos, videos and comments on their blogs starting from the early hours of the event. This information, though understandably from questionable sources, would be used by the MSM to supplement or perhaps even drive their coverage. An oiled bird shown on a blog site could not be distinguished from this event or one that happened in the past. Nor oiled beaches. Information from observation about response activities, injuries and environmental impact could and would be reported by MSM referencing “witness on the scene.” There is no difference in credibility between a witness standing on the shore and one writing in his or her blog.

Yet, when asked about this some of the communicators were very dismissive of blogging. “No one pays any attentions to blogs.” “Everyone understands that blogs can’t be trusted.” “The reporters know better than to use blogs for their stories.” This is what was expressed to me when I questioned the approach. I think they are quite wrong. Bloggers would to a very considerable degree drive a story like this. The voice of the Joint Information Center representing the response team would only be one of many voices that reporters would use to prepare their stories. It is essential that those involved in these kinds of events be able to do real time blog monitoring and have communicators able and ready to review blogs, comment on them, respond quickly on their own websites and communication releases addressing false information, and be able to quickly correct any MSM stories that reflect the misinformation that may be found on blog sites. It is clear after this experience that even some of the world’s best communicators and communication organizations still have a ways to go in understanding just how much and how fast the world of public information is changing.

I'm back

I’ve been missing from these pages for a few days. Part of it my fault, part of it not. I spent most of the week in Valdez attending a very large scale oil spill drill which was fascinating and provided endless fodder for crisisblogger. Unfortunately, wifi and cell modem connections were not great so I gave up trying to fight that battle. The other problem had to do with my unnamed blog provider who for totally inexplicable and apparently capricious reasons decided I was to be taken off the air. If the purpose was to wake me up to their power over me and make me cautious of what is said here or on any blog, the point was well taken and therefore I will be very circumspect. I will leave it only by saying that having the world run and controlled by the very young, naive, inexperienced and audaciously arrogant new breed of technocrats is suddenly a very frightening thing. I suspect for this, I may get disconnected again.

Virginia Tech's webmaster speaks about his experience

Here is another fascinating real life interview with someone who has just been through the ringer–the webmaster for Virginia Tech.

The headline (once again I complain about the headline writer at Bulldog) suggests that Mr Dame doesn’t agree that the media played the blame game. That’s wrong–he says he doesn’t blame them for playing the blame game. Because, he notes, they are in the business of filling a humongous news hole and attracting audiences:

It’s not fair to go after the press for that. The media were doing their job. Having been in media for 20 years, I can say they were doing their jobs. If I was in that situation, I would have done the same. They were just trying to get to the facts. Assigning blame—that’s part of the culture of cable news today. As soon as something happens, the pundits want to assign blame or give credit before they get all facts. Cable news is a game—it’s all about ratings and keeping viewers glued to the channel. So they sensationalize to do that. We’re not the only group who has experienced that.

There is no doubt that Mr Dame and his team did a great job with their website. Nevertheless, there are some problems especially seen in light of what we are aware that many other companies and organizations have put in place:

– their site greatly slowed under the heavy traffic–having crisis sites served by crisis capable servers would help this problem

– their “dark site” consisted of a stripped down homepage removing Flash and other bandwidth hogs. That is good, but a fully prepared dark site would be loaded with rich information needed in the case of a major situation, therefore relieving considerable burden from those responding to media inquiries

– the ability to send info to students and other audiences was great–what was missed as is now commonly known, was their ability to send voice messages, text messages, and reach students via cell phone and social media sites

It is unfair to suggest that they did more wrong. Clearly, they did more right than wrong and should be congratulated on doing an outstanding job. But these situations provide the valuable learning experiences for everyone else. Thank you Mr. Dame, for sharing your very valuable and painfully gained knowledge.