1) Yes Virginia, There is a Use for Government Social Media in Emergencies
Social media—it’s an emergency manager’s ultimate foe or best friend. Pick a day, and see which way the pendulum swings.
Today, it might sway toward friend, thanks to a recent report from Queensland Police Services. Disaster Management and Social Media—A Case Study details the amazing results the QPS had using Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook for mass communication during Queensland’s 2010-2011 flooding.
Many response agencies have made tentative forays into social media, and the QPS was no different. The agency created several social media accounts in May 2010 and let them slowly grow without fanfare, according to the report. By November, about 8,000 people were tracking the agency’s Facebook page and it had about 1,000 Twitter followers.
That all changed when bout of extreme weather began in December 2010 and ran into January 2011. The QPS’s need to continuously communicate about the disaster led it to “instinctively [gravitate] towards the social media channels because they were clearly the fastest and best way to distribute important public safety information,” the report states.
During the emergency, the agency posted information updates to its Facebook and Twitter account, streamed media conferences on YouTube, and posted audio updates via several mediums. They also used the channels to coordinate resources and correct misinformation. These efforts were magnified by the mainstream media’s use of the new information sources.
“Within days, not only were the media relying on the QPS social media accounts as their key source of information but they were actively referring the public to our social media channels. QPS tweets would appear in national TV networks news tickers and would be read out by radio station announcers within moments of the media team publishing them,” the report states. “This almost instant crossover from ’new media’ to ‘old media’ allowed information published by the team to be distributed at a speed and to a sheer number of people not previously possible.”
Then, in just one day following a significant flash flood, the number of QPS Facebook users jumped from 17,000 to 100,000. It was soon clear that social media was the only way some people could access information, according to QPS Superintendent Greg Flint.
“In some areas where phone services were impeded or down … a lot of people were still using Facebook as a means to keep up to date,” Flint told ZDNet. “I suspect if we didn't have that forum … we would have been severely embarrassed in terms of our capacity to react.”
The Queensland floods were the perfect environment for QPS social media to gain momentum, but the QPS’ approach is what spurred things along. Social media streams rely on a consistent flow of useful information to retain their followers. Because the QPS allowed staff to update information streams without an elaborate chain of approval, they created a more sustainable use of the social media platforms.
“The QPS streamlined [established communication] processes during the disaster and the team organically turned to social media as the vehicle to reach the public and the media in the shortest timeframe,” the report states. “Given the majority of the information the QPS released was factual and in the interests of public safety it could be released immediately and without a clearance process.”
Whether government-run social media is vaunted or vilified, a cavalier attitude toward releasing official information is often cited as a concern. And while there are guides for governments on creating social media policy, many focus on the cover-your-assets aspects of implementation, rather than how to craft a successful venture.
Even with the ideal guide, sometimes you need to punt when interacting with the public, QPS Digital Media Officer James Kliemt told Intermedium. “There is no way known to write a policy that is going to be able to deal with all of the issues that come up on our Facebook page,” he said.
Instead of trying, the report recommends building a strong social media presence before disaster strikes, trusting your staff to share information, and becoming involved in your online community. There’s a tendency to devalue social media because it’s free, but an agency should think twice before squandering those resources, said Peter Alexander, a former Australian Government assistant finance secretary.
“The Queensland Police should be thinking, what would have happened if we didn’t have Facebook—if we had to build our own platform or even have people travelling around Queensland to get our information across?” Alexander told Intermedium. “How much would it have cost us?”
Let’s face it—rigorous East Coast earthquake drills are hard to come by. That’s why it’s a shame to see the one Mother Nature provided on Tuesday fall by the wayside.
The 5.8 magnitude quake, centered in Mineral, Virginia, lasted about 30 seconds and could be felt from Maine to Georgia and as far west as Pennsylvania, according to the New York Times. In the nation’s capital, people streamed into the streets, twittered breathlessly about the experience (or lack thereof), and jammed cell networks, presumably to check in with loved ones and learn what to do next.
The media—faced with a dearth of death, damage, and other sobering destruction to report—did the best they could with on-camera evacuations, shaking web cams, and at least one ridiculously far off picture of a cracked spire on the Washington National Cathedral.
Considering the laughable news coverage, perhaps the jocularity that followed was inevitable. Earthquake humor began spanning the country before the first of the aftershocks rolled in. Despite the potential seriousness of the largest known quake in the region, the media was all too happy to compile lists of facetious blog posts and Twitter hilarity, with humor running the gamut from the political to the comedic. Most, however, focused on waggish nonevent references, perhaps best depicted by this iconic tribute. And at least one person found love.
Of course, an earthquake is no laughing matter, so there was the obligatory coverage of doomsday statements by zealots. Pat Robertson said it “means that we’re closer to the coming of the Lord,” according to the Washington Post, and DemocracyNow! featured a variety of extremists blaming lose morals and same-sex marriage for the shaking.
Given the breadth of the ballyhoo and the deficiency of disaster, it might seem as if every possible quake angle had been covered. But what’s been mostly missing so far is a meaningful conversation about earthquake preparedness.
With people jamming phone lines and running into the street (that drop, cover, and hold on isn’t just for Californians, you know), it would have been a great chance to remind the East Coast what to do in an earthquake.
Don’t be mistaken, plenty of emergency managers and preparedness pundits pointed people to safety resources on their Web sites and blogs, and so did some mainstream media sources. A Washington Post blog made a brief mention of earthquake preparedness while discussing other things people should do in disasters. And an Associated Press piece talked about how the earthquake highlighted the evacuation difficulties D.C. was likely to encounter in a larger event.
But as of Thursday morning, a Google news search for “earthquake preparedness in Washington, D.C.” revealed precious little attention from major news sources, with the exception of this buried gem from the Washington Post: D.C. police chief needs remedial quake training.
Luckily, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s praise of Washingtonians who did exactly the wrong thing when the quake struck inspired columnist Robert McCartney to write a column on the right thing.
And that’s good news, especially if Lanier’s attitude is indicative of others in D.C.—even after McCartney pointed out her faux pas, she had this to say:“Thousands of people did what their instinct told them to do, which is get out,” she told him. “No matter what we tell people, if I’m in a building like I was in yesterday, and it was shaking violently, I’m not getting under a desk. I’m leaving the building.”
Pioneering sociologist and disaster researcher William Anderson is the most recent star to shine in the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s Connections: Oral History Series. The series documents interviews with trailblazers in earthquake engineering and attempts to capture the history of the field.
Anderson, who is recently retired, has had an illustrious career that began as a researcher and professor, eventually leading to the position of field director at the Ohio State University Disaster Research Center (before the DRC’s move to the University of Delaware). Anderson had to overcome more than the typical obstacles of academia, notes Natural Hazards Center Director Kathleen Tierney in her introduction to the volume:
“His career was launched through the study not only of major disasters like the 1964 Alaska earthquake, but also through research on the civil unrest that swept U.S. cities, campus protests against the Vietnam war, and movements sparked by the demise of colonialism. Historically speaking, it was almost unheard of at the time for African Americans to become leading scholars at major research universities, much less full professors while still in their thirties. That wasn’t supposed to happen. That wasn’t the way the deck was stacked. But, fortunately for us and for the field of hazards studies, history and biography turned out to be drastically misaligned in Bill’s case.”
Anderson’s story includes stints at the World Bank, the National Academies, and more than twenty years at the National Science Foundation. He played key roles in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, the Enabling the Next Generation of Hazards Researchers program, and the Learning from Earthquakes program.Those that want to know more about Anderson’s long and now-storied life and career—including his favorite novels and penchant for rollerblading—can access the full text of the history on the EERI Web site.
Despite recent changes at the Public Entity Risk Institute, the PERISHIP Dissertation Fellowship Program is alive and well, and accepting applications. The fellowships support work in natural and human-made hazards, risk, and disasters in all disciplines.
Up to six grants will be awarded in 2012 to support doctoral student dissertation work. Grants can be used for data collection, travel, software purchase, data entry assistance, statistical analysis services, or similar purposes. Eligible candidates must be “all but dissertation” and have an approved dissertation proposal at a U.S. educational institution by the application deadline. Non-U.S. citizens may apply if their degree will be granted by a U.S. institution.
For complete information and application instructions, visit the PERISHIP Web site.
Call for Proposals
Disaster Management Training for the Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories
United Nations Development Programme
Deadline: August 31, 2011
The United Nations Development Programme Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States are accepting proposals from educational institutions to strengthen disaster preparedness and response operations and risk mitigation capacity in Dutch and British overseas territories. The institution should be able to provide training and assessment in hazard-resilient construction, business continuity, and emergency shelter management. Full details, including how to apply, are available on the UNDP Barbados Web site.
Call for Comments
Framework to Measure Return on Preparedness Investments
International Association of Emergency Managers
Deadline: September 2, 2011
The International Association of Emergency Managers-USA is inviting comments on a newly created framework that uses emergency management principles as the basis for evaluating preparedness investments. The document will contribute to legislative and professional discussions on how to best assess preparedness. The full text of the framework and form to submit comments are available on the IAEM-USA Web site.
Call for Proposals
Dam Safety Technical Seminars
Association of State Dam Safety Officials
Deadline: September 9, 2011
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials is accepting proposals to conduct dam safety technical seminars. Qualified consultants, researchers, and academics should submit their qualifications, a detailed course outline, and a budget. Full details, including a sample course outline and list of project deliverables, are available online.
[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/.]
Equity in Emergency Response
If addressing the health needs of vulnerable populations in emergencies sometimes seems like a daunting task, never fear. Public Health—Seattle and King County has put together a powerful toolkit that can help local health departments learn to work with groups serving vulnerable communities, include at-risk people in planning, and increase preparedness. Document templates, case studies, training exercises, and a variety of other tested resources will help public health professionals get a handle on helping the entire community.
Communicating Without English in an Emergency
Emergency communication is difficult enough without grappling with language barriers, but what happens in communities with limited English skills? This webinar not only helps local leaders and nonprofits plan for this scenario, but also has a companion planning guide and template to help them put their newly found knowledge on paper. The webinar is available for download at the Emergency and Community Health Outreach (ECHO) Minnesota Web site, along with a plethora of other great resources for bringing preparedness to immigrant communities.
If your not feeling the chemistry between you and your plan to deal with chemical emergencies, CHEMM is the place to go. The Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management site was created by the Department of Health and Human Services to help first responders deal with chemical incidents. With numerous downloadable planning, response, and training resources for all types of responders and healthcare providers, you’re certain to feel the love for this useful site.
Disaster and Failure Events Data Repository
From the rubble of collapsed buildings, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has built a new Web site aimed at creating stronger structures and building codes. NIST, which has collected years of data on structural failures caused by disasters, is making its knowledge public and searchable. Now in the first phase, the repository contains six years of information gleaned from the World Trade Center site. More NIST data and that of other organizations are on the way.
The March 11, 2011, Great East Japan (Tohoku) Earthquake and Tsunami: Societal Dimensions
It’s difficult to underestimate the challenges faced by Japan after an earthquake and tsunami leveled large swaths of its coast and spawned a high-level nuclear emergency. Nearly 100 days after the disaster, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute sent an 11-person Learning from Earthquakes reconnaissance team to examine the impacts. The report details what they learned about emergency management, casualties, emergency shelter and housing, economic impacts, debris management, and recovery planning.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Correction: In DR 571, we mistakenly announced that the American Bar Association Disaster Initiative was offering a series of free teleconferences looking at legal issues that stem from disasters. The teleconferences aren’t free; they cost $125 for general attendees.
[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]
September 16, 2011
Eighth Annual Emergency Preparedness Conference
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Cost and Registration: $60, open until filled
This conference will help hospitals and emergency medicine departments prepare for large-scale incidents, learn how to assess hazard impacts, and develop policies to handle demand surge and other impacts of mass casualty events. Topics include weapons of mass destruction incidents, specialized EMS operations in large-scale incidents, mass casualty trauma operations, and radiation exposure.
September 19-20, 2011
Natural Disaster Health Workforce National Conference
National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference is meant to inform the NCDMP Report on Health Professions Workforce by discussing workforce supply, volunteers, challenges, and case studies. Topics include natural disasters such as the Joplin tornado, how federal response can assist local officials, and the future of the health workforce. Breakout groups will discuss cross-cutting issues and case study methods.
October 11-13, 2011
Emergency Management Expo and Conference
International Association of Emergency Managers Europa
Cost and Registration: $620, open until filled
This conference and expo will provide opportunities for networking, learning about emergency management trends, and seeing the latest technology and resources. Topics include disaster-ready airports, social media for emergency managers, corporate infrastructure resilience, teaching business continuity, and disaster medicine.
October 13, 2011
Buildings at Risk: Earthquake Loss Reduction Summit
Structural Engineers Association of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Cost and Registration: $95, open until filled
This conference will increase seismic risk awareness, teach about earthquake risk mitigation, and highlight the role of structural engineers in earthquake-safe housing. Topics include earthquake forecasting and decision making in a low probability environment, the results of mitigation in earthquake recovery, tall building mitigation, and earthquake loss reduction policies.
November 17-18, 2011
Spaces and Flows Conference
Cost and Registration: $450, open until filled
This conference will examine the forces that create cities, suburbs, and rural areas through the lenses of geography, sociology, technology, and the environment. Using a mix of plenary and concurrent sessions, as well as a “talking circle” concept, attendees will discuss topics that include sustainable cities, community vitality, migration flow, and urban recovery after natural disasters.
December 6-9, 2011
River Engineering and Urban Drainage Research Centre
Cost and Registration: $500, closes October 1
This conference will examine the effect of climate change on the world’s rivers and attempt to formulate sustainable solutions for flooding and water scarcity. Topics include innovations in urban drainage, floodplain and river rehabilitation, land use planning for watersheds, water-related hazards and disasters, and flood forecasting.
[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Salary: $ 47,448 to $61,678
Closing Date: August 29, 2011
This position will edit training materials for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, review camera-ready copy, and fact check final documents. At least one year of experience at the GS-8 level, specialized experience editing training material, familiarity with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and knowledge of Adobe products are required.
Senior Continuity Planning Specialist, GS-13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Salary: $89,033 to $136,771
Closing Date: August 31, 2011
This position will serve as FEMA’s continuity liaison to the White House, represent FEMA in steering groups, and provide continuity policy guidance to federal agencies and departments as needed. At least one year of experience at the GS-12 level and specialized experienced with continuity of operations and continuity of government programs, contingency planning, and government program coordination are required.
EMT Technical Instructor
Fort McCoy, Wisconsin
Salary: Not Listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position is responsible for on- and off-site instruction of healthcare specialists in clinical labs and using medical simulators. Duties include evaluating equipment training, preparing technical reports, and assisting with the development and maintenance of training materials. An associate’s degree or higher is required. EMT certification and five years of experience in the U.S. military are preferred.
Associate Project Manager, Wildland Fire Operations
National Fire Protection Association
Salary: $50,100 to $65,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position coordinates projects, manages programs, and reports on the Firewise program and related Wildland Fire Operations Division initiatives. Responsibilities include writing technical and educational material, making presentations, and representing NFPA at conferences and meetings. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in fire protection, science, forestry, planning, or engineering and the ability to travel 35 percent of the time are required.
Deputy Commissioner for Operations
New York City Office of Emergency Management
New York, New York
Salary: $117,000 to $145,500
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position oversees the Office of Emergency Management’s field operations and emergency communications. Duties include advising the commissioner of emergency incidents, working with state, federal, and nonprofit response personnel during emergencies, and representing the agency at press conferences or public meetings. A graduate degree in emergency management, public health, or urban planning; at least five years of experience managing an emergency response or similar agency; and in-depth understanding of emergency management principles, policies, and practices are preferred.
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