Tag Archives: emergency communication

NanoNews—understanding the new news environment

Struggling with what comes after “instant news,” I’ve tried to come up with a way of describing the dramatic change in real time information sharing that was powerfully demonstrated in the Boston manhunt. For better or worse, I’m using “NanoNews” to describe it.

I created a video in lieu of an in-person presentation I was invited to make at the National Capital Region’s Social Media in Emergencies conference. That presentation was just concluded so now I’m sharing this with you.

In 2001, when I wrote the first version of “Now Is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News” I used the term instant news to help communicate that news cycles were gone, that as fast as news helicopters could get overhead the news of your event or disaster would be live on the air. I was thinking of the ubiquitous breaking news as well as the already emerging trend of sharing information via the Internet—at that time primarily through email.

But compared to the “instant news” we have today, “breaking news” corresponds more to snail mail. It’s practically dead and gone, and not just through over-use. When millions are tuned into the police scanner chatter broadcast live through Ustream or converted into a Reddit thread using websites like Broadcastify or scanner apps like 5_0 Scan, it’s obvious that breaking news can’t keep pace. By the time even the fastest news crews get the information from such sources, and relay it, it will be minutes old—and minutes old is unacceptable when you could have real time information.

Nano News is almost certain to grow. Mobile smartphone use continues to grow. Over one billion worldwide and a hundred million in the US.  That number will grow. And though they are called “smartphones” telephone use is actually quite small and diminishing—this report shows how these devices are actually used.

In the video I suggest that this widespread use of mobile devices to access events of interest constitutes a form of teleportation. Your senses, your ability to experience, is transported to the scene through the ever increasing use of real time information sharing usually from the “crowd” or non-professional sources.

The implications for emergency and crisis communications are immense. I was quite surprised to see a new study from PwC, which according to a press release of August 8: “more than half of the respondents – 57 percent – do not officially use social media as a crisis management resource.  For companies that have begun integrating social media into their crisis management efforts – Facebook and Twitter cited the most often – not all are seeing improvement in their capabilities. Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents are modestly leveraging it as a tool, but not necessarily seeing improvements in their capabilities, whereas eight percent of respondents believe that social media has become an enabler for their organization to proactively identify and respond to crisis events. “

That is quite stunning to me—raises a question as to whom within the organization the questions are addressed—IT?

In the video I made several observations which generated some comment and discussion with the group gathered in DC. One is that today in crisis communication you can NOT be fast enough. Only if facts or details are completely hidden (almost impossible these days) can you really control what goes out and when. If you can’t provide the relevant information what can you do? You can make sure what is said and gets traction is correct. Rumor management is job one. And it requires great speed, which means that Twitter is the numero uno media management tool. It’s not the only tool to use to be sure. But if you want the media and most informed public to know the truth, you better know what is being said and be very quick in correcting false information.

It seems the biggest issue confronting communicators is approvals. We had some valuable discussion about that during the conference and I was quite pleased to see that the separation of incident/response facts from organizational messages seems to be taking hold. Not everything to be released needs the same level of approval. As one pointed out, it requires trust in the PIO—but also a clear understanding prior to the event about releasable facts vs. key messages requiring approval—and the vast gray area between.

The experiment in presenting and discussing with a crowd across the country through Hangout went very well I thought (I’ll have to hear from those who were there). I think this will be far more common in the future. As is the case with these events it was helpful for me to learn from those who are practicing this stuff every day. But the discussion only confirmed that NanoNews is a vital reality and it is one that progressive communicators and emergency management leaders are coming to grips with—and that is good news.

 

Valuable lessons learned from the I-5 bridge collapse PIO

So you are picking your kid up from a soccer match, driving down Interstate 5. Suddenly, the bridge you are about to drive over, like you’ve done a thousand times, falls into the river. There are cars and people in the river. But, you are a communicator, a member of the incident management team. You find the just-established command post, the Incident Commander recognizes you and suddenly you find yourself the official PIO for the biggest news story of the moment.

Something quite like this happened to Marcus Deyerin. I had high interest in this story because, as I explained in my posts on emergencymgmt.com, this is MY bridge–I only live five miles away and cross it nearly every day. Like 71,000 others. And I have known Marcus for several years as a communicator for a local government agency. So it was with strong interest I followed this story even though I was in California when the bridge went down.

Marcus is sharing his very important lessons learned about being the initial PIO for this event in two blog posts on Jim Garrow’s terrific blog “The Face of the Matter.” (Here’s the link to the second post.)

If you are a communicator and could find yourself in this kind of situation where suddenly you are tapped to be the voice of a response a good part of the world is tuning in to, you may want to pay close attention to Marcus’ lessons learned.

A Fire Chief's advice for social media "newbies"

Bill Boyd, Fire Chief for Bellingham, WA, is becoming a well-known friend to crisisblogger readers. I’ve included several guest posts from him, particularly appreciating his perspective on crisis and emergency communications from an Incident Commander’s perspective. But Bill is eager to jump in and learn about the emerging communication technologies, if anyone who is a friend of his tweets will know. He considers himself a bit of a newbie on social media, but it’s not true. He’s pretty advanced in his use (puts me to shame, that’s for sure) but more than that, his insights into common sense approaches for public officials as well as private communicators are exceptionally valuable. I gratefully publish his thoughts:

“Newbie” Social Media tips for emergency response folks

Like many other of my middle aged emergency response colleagues, I am still trying to get a grip on how this whole social media (SM) thing works, and how to use it to communicate inside and outside my organization.  But, it is like trying to pick up a jellyfish with one hand.  It slips through your fingers and plops back down onto the beach coming to rest in a different shape.  Navigating the morass of evolving SM tools, self proclaimed experts (which I am clearly not!), skeptics and snake oil vendors can be pretty frustrating. My first emergency responder media blog posting generated a lot of interest and questions about how SM works and how it can enhance communications.  Truthfully, I am still trying to figure it out too.  But, I thought I would share a few things that may help others in the emergency response world take the first steps in enhancing their communications strategies.

Use today’s most popular SM sites. Twitter and Facebook seem to be the rage right now, and major news organizations have integrated them into their operations, exponentially increasing their visibility and reach.  But, stay agile.  It wasn’t too may years ago that MySpace was “it”. But, its popularity is plummeting like the glide path of a toolbox.  While I predict Facebook and Twitter will be around for quite a while, social media tools will come and go.  Don’t become entrenched.

Download a SM aggregator. A SM aggregator is program (typically free) that allows you to manage your various social media subscriptions, favorites, bookmarks, posts, etc..  This is important to do if you have more than one active SM account.  Although there are dozens of similar applications out there,  I use TweetDeck, a tool that allows me to set up columns of individual tweeters I follow. Each column tracks a tweeters message thread.  I can easily edit/comment and retweet to my followers.  HootSuite is another tool, which appears to have more organizational capabilities, and doesn’t require downloading client software onto your computer. But, given my unsophisticated and newbie status I have yet to try it out. Be careful if you use a SM aggregator to post messages.  If you set up your account to tap into a wide range of SM sites that mix business and social uses, your messages may be misunderstood, or worse, appear inappropriate for posting on the site you link to.  Allowing a post that says “Man, did I tie one on last night” on your LinkedIn profile as you are in the middle of job search will make you look like an idiot.

Don’t get sucked in. SM tools are great for enhancing gathering an dissemination of information during an emergency.  But, they should not be the focus of your information distribution.  You need to have a wide range of tools available, including web sites, 3rd party emergency notification systems that contact the public via phone, email lists, sirens, procedures for door to door “knock and blocks” and emergency alert system access.  SM is simply another way to get the message out.  The great thing about SM is it allows you to evaluate how well the message has been understood and if was effectively communicated and distributed.

Determine your SM identity.  I must admit, I am struggling with this one. SM gurus are preaching about the need to identify your “brand” before launching into the SM world.  I took the “ready, fire, aim” approach.  I am slowly migrating my messaging towards my main interests and personality traits; Connecting with the community I serve on a personal level, sharing important safety and incident information, promoting my college Alma mater, and disseminating crisis communications and fire service information. Determining your brand can be difficult, unless you already work for a company that has a defined brand and values system.  If you work for an organization that has mission/value statements or a defined strategic vision, evaluate these statements and how your personal interests and passion can help sustain your SM messaging efforts.

Don’t be afraid to steal followers.  By this I mean find someone interesting on a SM site, then take a look at the profiles of those who are linked to the same person.  Chances are they share similar interests, professional contacts and information links.  Start linking and following those folks too.  It’s a great way to quickly build your list of contacts.  Also, share their posts if they have something interesting to say.  They, and others who learn from the post will appreciate it.

Don’t type stupid stuff. As soon as you hit send, your message is out there and can be spread around the world in a heartbeat.  Public officials (me included) must be strategic and careful in how we share our emotions, opinions and perspectives.  SM messaging is almost too easy.  At times I have wished they had a pop up “nag box” that would remind me – “Hey Dim Bulb! Do you really want to say that?”  Some no-brainer topics to avoid;  slamming your employers-including the citizens you serve, sexual/ discriminatory statements or jokes, confidential business information (including information that can be tracked back to help identify a medical patient).

Let them know you are human.  Some of the largest Twitter accounts belong to individuals who not only share important and relevant business information, but also provide insight into their personal lives; their family triumphs, tragedies, milestones and personal interests. Along with fire and emergency services related content,  I sprinkle in my feelings and activities unrelated to my work.  Followers seem to enjoy the levity and insight, and it often results in two way exchanges about life in general.

I will continue to share my lessons learned in this ever changing environment.  Given what I have learned so far, I do not ever think I will be a SM expert.  But, I’m going to have a heck of a lot of fun trying to get there!

What YouTube Direct means for the post-media world

The movement toward a true post-mainstream media world took another big leap forward with the announcement last week of YouTube Direct. There’s been lots of talk, including on this blog, about how the 300 million plus people walking around with smartphones are the electronic newsgathering network of today. And how the news outlets such as CNN and CBS and trying increasingly hard to tap into this network of citizen journalists. YouTube brilliantly just made it a lot easier. While I confess I haven’t looked at it in detail it looks a bit like combining YouTube downloading capability with some HARO (Help a Reporter Out) functionality. So someone with a cell video camera can capture something stunning like Tom Cruise jumping on a couch over his new love or houses floating by on a flooded river and immediately post that to YouTube, where it can the be easily accessed by media, bloggers or anyone else to share. Also, those looking for video on specific topics can request it or search and those with them can submit directly. That seems to be the idea as I understand it.

What this means of course is more access by anyone who is interested to the videos and information they want.  The implications for crisis and emergency management professionals is significant. Now more than ever when you respond, the story will be told already. The chances of getting the first word in are remote–unless you completely control the exposure, such as if you are David Letterman and decide you will reveal the sordid facts and not leave it to someone else. If you don’t control the first hint of what is going on, then by the time you can respond, the world–at least those most interested–will be already receiving a stream of relevant info. The real question for crisis managers and emergency responders is how do you manage an event when everyone who cares very well knows more than you do? That to me is the big question that we will be struggling with in the coming years.

Can social media help in a crisis? Hospital shows how in Fort Hood shooting.

Since I talk a lot about social media and crisis communication these days, I’m often asked for specific examples of how social media works in a major crisis. Here’s a great example, thanks to Kitty Allen at Harris County Hospital District I was pointed to how Scott and White hospital, the closest Level 1 trauma center to Killeen, TX and Fort Hood, used social media during this event.

I hope you read the article but those skimmers, here are a few key lessons learned:

– the hospital launched its Twitter account on September 11 (one of more than 300 hospitals now using Twitter). The fact that it was launched before they really needed it and had 225 followers before the shooting occurred was very helpful in making it useful during the event.

– the first thing Aaron Hughling, the hospital web guy behind this, did was to look at Twitter to see what people were saying. Smart. Listen–because you will find out the issues and how you need to fit in and participate. He found that blood donation was a big deal.

– he posted 43 tweets in three days–jumping his followers to 400. But I’m guessing some of those followers were pretty significant–media, gov offices, maybe White House, etc. It’s not necessarily the numbers–it’s who is following that is important.

– he used his tweets to drive people to additional info: He then sent three tweets within 30 minutes with a link to a statement from the hospital, a phone number for the media, and a note that the ER was closed to all but patients from Fort Hood. That is very smart. 140 characters lets you tell the minimum but tell where else to go. This guy was also managing several websites and two blogs–very busy guy but it shows if you have your act together one communicator with the right tools can do an awful lot.

– he used more than Twitter. Hughling had set up several social media outlets including YouTube, Facebook, etc. (the article provides details) and posting videos such as this one to YouTube helped carry the message.

Great job, Aaron and for those of you looking for case studies on the new crisis management, look at Scott and White.

 

Internet traffic–Jackson tests the limits

One question that ought to be always on the minds of crisis managers is how much traffic can your website take? As it becomes more clear the critical role that the internet plays in emergency public information (such as Hurricane Ike), understanding the traffic limits on the internet is of great importance to emergency response planners. So, how much can it take and how can we know?

The Michael Jackson death will serve as a benchmark for some time to come, as 9/11 did for some time after that event. According to the article in the July 6 NYT, traffic on news websites at around 6 pm (ET) hit around 4.2 million per minute. Yes, per minute. If that traffic were sustained, that would be 250 million hits per hour. I was conducting training with a group of PIER users at our offices in Bellingham and when the first hint came out (someone was checking email during training of course) immediately everyone hit TMZ and whatever news sites we could find. It was fascinating for this group of senior communication managers to watch the events unfold (Twitter Breaking News On beat the LA Times by half an hour with the news of his death). But we were a roomful of people crowding the news sites with our smart phones and laptops.

The impact of this kind of traffic was substantial. Wikipedia broke the record for visits to a single article in a one hour period (one million, plus the quarter million who went to the misspelled entry “Micheal Jackson.”

AIM went down for 40 minutes according to the NYT article and a number of sites experienced significant slowing. Some search terms on Google News were significantly slowed.

This kind of internet traffic reminds me a little of a greeting card I saw this weekend while strolling the streets of Anacortes, Washington. It had a picture of a cruise ship on its side with the caption something like: “The captain knew it was a mistake when the cruise director announced a sighting of Elvis Presley off the starboard side.” What will it take to capsize the ship of the internet. The overall message is, it will take a lot. The resilience of the internet as a communications channel is truly remarkable owing ultimately to its fundamental design as a spider web of connections. Still, it has its limits. Almost every site has its limits, every application, every web service. Knowing those limits, preparing to deal with them–even while building capacity needs to be the concern of everyone in crisis communication or emergency response planning. While some may think the passing of a pop star is the biggest, most important thing to ever happen, I can think of a few more items that could bring even this resilient means of communication to its knees.

The biggest gap in emergency response communication

I’ve been at this game of crisis management and emergency response communications for over ten years now–at least where that has been a primary focus. There is one problem that keeps coming up over and over and over. And the rapid changes in the last couple of years have only made this problem greater and the damage caused by it more significant.

The gap is simple: It is what Incident Commanders and emergency response leaders don’t know and understand about the public information environment.

Ultimately, they are the ones who make the decisions during a crisis or emergency response. They have many many important decisions to make and precious little time to make them. When lives are on the line, when minutes count in a response, it is little wonder they tend to have little patience for getting into a discussion about the pros and cons of web content and whether or not to set up a Twitter feed for the Joint Information Center.

I have to admit to being very frustrated with this problem–particularly because it is nigh unto impossible to get Incident Commanders or Crisis Team Leader or CEOs to pay any attention to this gap in advance of an incident. Participate in training? No way. And I was quite surprised and disappointed that my effort to address this topic at a major conference on oil spill management was rejected. If conference managers and presentation review panels don’t understand how important it is to help Incident Commanders understand their operating environment better, then how can the ICs be expected to pay attention.

There seems to be only one proven method of changing this–experience. Unfortunately, going through a major event and learning from that what the media, stakeholders and internal audiences expect and demand from the response leadership seems to be the only way to close that gap. As one experienced crisis communicator told me, he can tell immediately whether or not an incident commander has been through a real event. The difference in their understanding of and the need for fast, direct, transparent communication is profound.

And now here's proof: Internet info most "valuable" for emergency communication

Thanks to Jimmy Jazz, a frequent crisisblogger visitor and commenter, I can point you to proof of what I have been suggesting. The mainstream media is no longer the leading or dominant way in which the public gets its information about major emergencies–particularly as it relates to the value of the information. This study from Pew about the virus (H1N1 or swine flu–you choose) outbreak provides some pretty surprising and compelling evidence of the rapid shift in dependence on the internet for disaster and emergency communications.

I encourage you to read this study (Thanks Jimmy for pointing this out) as it contains much valuable information about demographics and the forms of information they choose, exposure to info vs. value of the information, perceptions of the job the media is doing on this issue, percentage of newshole filled by this story, and how worried the public is by the reports.

Two more additions to this post, thanks to my friend and respected JIC expert Chuck Wolf of Media Consultants in Houston:

An article from USA Today about the outbreak and use of social media, particularly by the CDC.

An article from Calgary Herald about the outbreak and a very important question for crisis communicators. If there ever was an argument for coordinated communication management among government agencies, this article provides it. It absolutely shows the need for short, key messages ala Dr. Vincent Covello. The problem is, in a rapidly changing situation that is hard to gauge, how can this be done. It also shows that the most important role that agencies can play in a major event like this is rumor management–someone needs to be available with the facts to counter all the inevitable misinformation out there. So an agency’s website becomes a snopes.com site around that issue.

Leaving heads in the dust–one impact of Twitter and Social Media on public information

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to San Francisco and Atlanta, speaking to and working with Public Information Officers (PIO) from federal agencies to small town fire departments.  There is widespread recognition among many (but not nearly all) communicators of the tremendous change in public information management caused by increased use of social media and particularly Twitter. I am surprised and encouraged by the number of agencies who are already adopting and using Twitter and other forms of social media. But there is one universal obstacle and problem: the chiefs, the heads of agencies, the old guys at the top (hey, I’m an old guy so I can say that).

For the most part they continue to live in a world where they see the job of the PIO as sending out a press release to local media and answering a few questions. If it is a big enough event, the PIOs job is to organize a press conference so the head of the agency can stand on the courthouse steps and tell the world that he/she is in complete control.

While many in public information management are still struggling with how to adapt to the rapid changes themselves, they are quite honestly completely lost when it comes to bringing their superiors into this brave new world of light speed public information.

I don’t know how to solve it for them. I know people like me have to be speaking to the heads of agencies directly rather than expecting the PIOs to carry the message. But since we don’t often get invited to speak to the heads of agencies, PIOs and public affairs managers have to carry the water on this.

Here are key message points:

– Communicate fast or what you say won’t matter.

– The press release is dead and gone forever.

– Short, continuous bursts of information have replaced the well-crafted press release as the most vital form of public information.

– The website may be a far more important source of information than the press conference.

– Direct communication with key audiences is rapidly replacing messages sent through media “partners”

– The public will know about an event through Twitter and through the media (who use Twitter as a scanner) perhaps faster than the agency heads themselves

– Rumor management is becoming perhaps the primary job of the PIO and Joint Information Center rather than the initial or primary source of information

– Incident commanders, agency heads, elected officials who have their heads in the sand will probably only wake up after they have been through a major event in which they discover all these important points themselves.

Here’s my plea: take this list into your supervisor, your agency head, your incident commander and sit down right now and talk with him or her about this list. See if they agree or disagree. If they disagree, hash it out. If they agree, make sure you are putting the plans and steps in place to meet their expectations for speed from you.

Communicating about Gustav

Gustav has blown by for the most part and most are breathing a sigh of relief–even as we look warily at Hannah, Ike and beyond. Even though I write this safely ensconsed in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest, these storms affect all of us at PIER very much because of the large number of clients we have who rely on PIER for communication–the bulk of our clients are in Houston and Atlanta areas.

A couple of quick comments:

– all the agencies came across as ready and prepared–FEMA made a strong point of demonstrating they were on the job and would not get caught like they were in Katrina.

– how do we avoid the inevitable cycle–this time the story was on how much preparation. The media reports almost had a tinge of disappointment that with all the evacuations and preparations, the actual event was a bit of a let down. How soon will it be before citizens start complaining and media reports start focusing on the inconvenience, cost and wastage of the agencies over-reacting to a threatening storm. Then we will again be lulled, and then another will hit without evacuations and sufficient preparation and the cycle will start again.

– If urgency is applied to preparing, there is less urgency in the response. By that I mean we have several clients who were just not pushing the deployment of their systems with sufficient energy and urgency. Then, when the storm comes, they realize they are not ready for prime time and quickly fall back on what is comfortable and familiar. We have to learn to put urgency into the preparation efforts but everyone who faces these now very predictable situations needs to get their ducks in a row first so when it hits, they are not caught from behind and unable to use the very tools needed to make their lives easier when it counts.