Category Archives: crisis technology

UCLA Emergency Manager's view on the need for multimode notifications

I was absolutely thrilled to come across this post by David Burns, CEM(r), Emergency Manager with UCLA. It shows the growing awareness of the limitations of SMS text messaging–it simply is not the panacea that so many in emergency management in universities seemed to think after Virginia Tech. Mr. Burn’s listing of the different modes of communication used today is more comprehensive than anything else I’ve seen.

Here are his comments as posted to the IAEM Discussion board:

People nowadays are connected to wide variety of technology to share and
gather information:

– they listen to the radio (AM and FM), including NOAA weather alerts;
– they listen to satellite radio (XM & Sirius;
– they use social networking sites (friend’s lists);
– they listen to podcasts;
– they use the Internet;
– they watch television (cable, over-the-air, and satellite);
– they text each other and receive text messages (SMS);
– they listen to amateur radio and public safety scanners;
– word of mouth, etc.

Our alert systems need to be just as diverse, flexible and adaptable to
the means by which people receive and exchange information.  With the
incidence of campus violence becoming a popular subject, college campus
administrators and campus emergency managers are looking to improve how
they communicate with their campus communities.   Because funding is
always an issue, especially in the surge of an economic slowdown, money
is the driving issue.

The solution in improving communication is money-based as in where do
you get the biggest bang for the buck?   In the year that has passed,
many SMS text-messaging vendors misrepresented the real-world
capabilities of text-messaging system to many of the folks who purchased
a product.   Now they have a resource, but with extreme limitations and
a broad definition of what successful delivery is? – from minutes to

Every resource we have in our mass notification arsenal all have
limitations.   Anyone who relies on just one single system is probably
foolish to believe that any one resource can be the “end-all, be all”
resource for a community as diverse as a college campus.   In fact, I
would suggest that you are actually increasing your risk and liability
for litigation by reliance on any single system.  Money drives this
logic, as people “settle” for what they can afford, knowing it will not
work, but are willing to roll the dice to have something tangible in
place, something to deflect potential criticism.

I spoke with a Virginia Tech administrator in June 2007, two months
after the massacre.  The one thing that I heard, and have listened to is
to “never settle for what you can’t afford.”   Their after-action report
was clear; many of their systems became overwhelmed because of the
tragedy as a result of geography (rural – limited capabilities), limited
systems, network and system bandwidth limitations, coupled with
worldwide demand for information is recipe to bring any local system(s)
crashing down.

SMS is only one resource.  It has severe limitations.   Use of SMS has
increased significantly over the past 5 years, especially in the past 14
months.  Technology advances make many systems obsolete within a couple
of years.  If everyone is using a system, increased use increases the
likelihood of failure in an emergency.

We currently use a SMS/text resource on our campus.   66% of the
students have refused to sign up despite regular marketing campaigns,
meaning that investment in such systems have limited success.   SMS
nationwide is rejected by the students themselves based on a 30% percent
sign-up average.   This issue alone makes the use of SMS limited in its
success by the sheer apathy of the student community itself.

We currently utilize 15 independent system resources to alert students,
faculty, and staff of an emergency on campus, and have yet to achieve
100% coverage because of the number of systems people are attached to or
not attached to on a daily basis.   We will continue to add resources to
increase our outreach.

Be well,

David S. Burns, CEM(r)
Emergency Manager

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor
General Services / Emergency Management Office

OK, a few thoughts about 2008

Like most, I can’t resist doing a little prognostication.

I won’t pretend to be nearly as insightful as some others who have clearly thought about this more than me. Here are Sally Falkow’s thoughts about trends to watch in 2008. 

I don’t look for anything startlingly new. But I do look for a whole lot more of the same and that is very significant. I remember Bill Gates saying a few years ago that when looking at the future in technology, next year won’t seem to change much but when you look back over five years, you see massive change. I think in 2008 the basic trends that are currently underway will deepen considerably, and those really add up to very significant facts of life for those involved in public relations and crisis communication.

Authenticity–last year I declared 2007 the year of authenticity, and we have seen many of the battles around reputation and crises relating to whether or not a person or organization can be trusted. In numerous conversations I had in 2007 with communicators it became clear to me that while communicators are struggling with this, their bosses, the senior execs of major organizations are not yet anywhere close to understanding what this instant news, everybody has a right to know everything all the time world we live in really means to them. I think many more will come to understand the basic rules of credibility, openness, honest and transparency in 2008 and that therefore this movement will accelerate. But, most will continue to pretend that the old ways and old rules apply. So, many if not most of the crisis communication challenges faced by professionals in 2008 will center around the resistance in their organizations to be authentic.

Wired–I just got an iphone. For one reason, the technology that we provide can largely be run by this kind of mobile device, and what can’t be, we will address. The point is that the wireless world we live in further accelerates the need for speed and the opportunity that speed brings. So, the instant news world continues to accelerate and the ability that communicators have to deal with also increases. If you are not getting yourself thoroughly mobilized, you may find yourself bogged down in a too little too late world.

Media madness–Falkow’s post includes an interesting article by Jeff Jarvis on the continuing decline of mainstream media ad base. This will accelerate without yet any clear answer to how the giants with billions invested can remain vital in a world based on smallness, directness, and minimal cost. Many won’t. Yet I think new models of journalism, information processing, credibility proving will emerge. Because as mainstream media gets more and more crazy with their coverage in efforts to build and hold declining audiences, the need for people to find those sources they can trust will also accelerate.

Video–again, a trend well underway. Virtually everyone in communications has a long way to go to really adopt video as a key component of almost all communications. But it will happen. I think in 2008 we will see huge growth in the use of video and major new technologies to make it easier and ubiquitous.

Collaboration–not a new trend, but a much greater deepening of a trend already underway. “Plays well with others” has become essential in technology these days. Software has to collaborate with other software as it follows the need for dispersed people, teams, groups to work together. We are more and more involved with something called “interagency interoperability” because of the work we do in local, state and federal government emergency communication. This means that people from different agencies who are used to throwing stones at each other are being forced to cooperate and collaborate. The technology they use needs to support that collaboration, but more than that, the way they are trained, the expectations built, the common processes and procedures, and personal attitudes all need to support this collaboration.

Communication technology–OK, this is close to home since I am in the business of supplying web-based communication management technology. But it is now well known that communicators tend to be technophobes–at least us older ones. That can no longer work. Message development, strategy, etc., now need to go hand in hand with how those messages are delivered. Part of this is the growing realization that we live in a post media world. I’ve been saying this for eight years now, and I continue to be amazed at how the thinking at even the top levels of government and large organizations demonstrates that this idea is yet to be adopted and understood. Communication today is about fast delivery of information to audiences as directly as possible and that is about technology. Communication today is more and more about interaction–one on one, groups to groups, many to many–all of which depends on technology. So, if you are one who puts your keyboard up on top of your desktop so you can make room for real work, be prepared to be trampled. The world of communication is more and more the world of communication technology.

The Vancouver BC taser death–cell phone video vs. the police

I commented the other day about the use of cell phone videos in news. Suddenly there are millions of reporters out there. Now, another news story shows how these reporting devices are impacting the new and communications. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police tasered a man at the Vancouver BC airport after he got out of control. He died. The police said they tasered him twice. But, the news program I just watched showed an airport patron with a cellphone video who said the police tasered him four times. Oops. Now, I’m not ready to say the person with the cell video is right and the RCMP is wrong. But let’s say they are. Oops. Credibility? Lost. And that is something you can never afford to lose.

So, warning to communicators. Make sure what you say is true. Because there are a million–no, hundreds of millions of eyes out there. They know how to get their videos on tv and a whole lot of them know how to get them on YouTube too. The battle for who is to be believed has never changed since the days of Aristotle. But the technology to dispute or prove has never been so ubiquitous. The age of transparency.

News is not only fast, it is instantly changing

Cameron in my office just sent me a link to a news story about the shooting of a University of Memphis football player. Since we are closely involved with university communication and notification, the story was interesting to both of us. Included in the story was this quotation: “After the shooting, students complained the Tiger Text emergency alert text messaging service did not immediately notify them of the shooting. A message sent just after 4:00 a.m. Monday morning informed students classes were canceled Monday.”

This is interesting because we try to communicate to those in the university community about the limitations of notification technologies following the frenzy relating to the Virginia Tech tragedy.

But when I went back to the link Cameron provided, the quotation was gone. I asked Cameron what happened. Well, what happened was the story was changed and the link, of course, remained. It was edited. Understandable, of course. He didn’t hit print and get a record of it as it was originally with the above quote, so it is gone (except, of course, I captured it here for you from his email.)

I talk incessantly about instant news–about how fast the news story starts. What I don’t talk about enough and this demonstrates is “instant news change.” That moment by moment the story evolves and changes. From a communication standpoint it means several important things:

– the bad news may go away quickly if it is replaced with something else (more bad news or some change in the original)

– good news, ditto

– sending a press release out every day or even every few hours doesn’t cut it–today’s crisis communications means a virtual constant flow of fresh information. Because if it isn’t coming from you it will be coming from someone else.

– real time, constant and consistent monitoring of all forms including blogs and online sites is absolutely essential. You need to know not just that your story is being covered and how it is being covered, but how it is changing moment by moment

– hit the print button if you want to capture a story as it is right now–or, capture the clip in the clip book and then monitor again.

Social media sites as crisis communication sites?

I’ve seen more and more suggestions in the past while about using social media site building tools (such as WordPress, the one I am using here) to build crisis websites. Here’s a new post suggesting using Facebook for that purpose.

Since we more or less pioneered the concept 7 years ago of using highly interactive webtools for crisis communication, I very much welcome the realization of what is needed to be prepared to communicate. And, on a pretty simple level WordPress, Facebook and other website building and managing tools can work pretty darn well. But, for most, not nearly well enough. There is a lot to managing the communication during a major event. It involves a high level of coordination and collaboration, it involves internal review and approvals, it involves not just a website (pull communications) but pushing information out to multiple pre-staged stakeholders groups in multiple modes including telephone and SMS messaging. And it involves a high degree of interactivity. One thing really cool about these sites is they are built on interactivity through the comment function. But using this function during a crisis exposes those coming to the crisis site for information also to the full vitriol, politicized and agenda-driven comments of many of those who come to the site. Either that, or an obvious editing process which undermines the credibility.

By all means, some kinds of companies or organizations with crisis exposure ought to look at these as a low cost partial solution. But for those who are serious, are who operate in larger, more complex organizations, the danger is greater than the reward.

Exploring the dimensions of trust

Two days of discussions, planning, analyzing by our company’s senior leadership group have resulted in confirmation and recommitment to the focus on trust. That is helping our clients build and maintain trust. Which is leading me to want to dig deeper into this issue to understand more what trust is, what it is not, why it happens and how it is lost.

So you will likely see more ramblings and random thoughts about this topic in this blog. As I continue to look at what is happening in the world of crisis management, emergency response, reputation and issue management, I will focus more on the topic of trust as it is in my mind the end game of all the efforts of communicators.

Still, there seems to be a gap that is critically important. Is trust what companies and organizations are all about? Is it what they put on the top of the list of goals and aspirations? I kind of think not. When CEOs or Executive Directors lay their heads on their pillows, I think they tend to think more about what the balance sheet is looking like and the impact of their strategies and decisions on share price, return on investment, and other metrics of financial performance. Where is trust in this?

I think they think of trust as a nice thing to have but not intimately connected to what the numbers are.

If you are a communicator or communications leader in your company or organization, you face the same dilemma we do as a company. How can we get the senior leadership (our clients, your bosses) to connect the dots? To see that building trust is the essential path to financial performance? The trust that customers have in a brand is directly related to brand value. And smart CEOs know how to translate brand value into financial value. Attracting and holding key employees is clearly a matter of trust. Trust in the goodwill, values of management as well as trust in their ability to lead the company forward in an uncertain and competitive world. Trust, increasingly, is related to a company’s ability to operate in a regulated world. Because it is not just government regulators who set the rules, it is the public. I should say, the public as influenced by the media, by online media, by reputation, by events that bear on the feelings and opinions they have about the company. If this is lost, all else is lost–including the ability to translate assets such as brand, equipment, people into economic return.

But the gap exists, and that is why we (and you) need to work on closing that gap. When senior leaders understand the critical role of trust in their organization’s future, you as a communication leader will have a premier seat at the table. And they may just listen to advisors like us who try to help prepare them to take the actions necessary to build and maintain that vital commodity.

Anne Klein on "fighting fire with fire" in crisis management, Eric Holdeman on emergency mgt

Anne Klein is a respected PR professional from the Philadelphia area. Her article, titled “Crisis Management: Fighting Fire with Fire,” was published in the Boards and Directors newsletter.

It is an excellent review of the role of technology in today’s crisis management including a helpful glossary.

Full disclosure: the technology she refers to, including the examples provided, is the system sold by the company I lead.

The second article I refer you to is an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times written by former King County Dept of Emergency Management head Eric Holdeman. Eric, a valuable resource for the entire region, is now principal at IFCI, a consultancy, specializing in homeland security and emergency management consulting.