Social Media 4 Emergency Management

Connect, Collaborate, Contribute

DC Tweetup?

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About a week from now, a number of #SMEM folks will be converging on Washington D.C. to attend the White House Innovation for Disaster Response & Recovery Day on Tuesday, July 29th.

And, if you’ve ever met me, you know that I love to meet folks that I’ve only chatted with on Twitter or other social media platforms.  Because, while chatting over Twitter is great, it’s only the beginning of our potential friendship. There are connections, memories and just plain awesome things that happen when you’re able to share a hug over your favorite beverage.

So, we can’t let this opportunity go by without aiming to connect as many #SMEM folks as possible. If you are heading to Washington D.C. or you live close enough to visit us “tourists,” fill out the following form so that I can get a headcount of who all might be available to get together.  It’s also tremendously important for making restaurant reservations since group dining in D.C. can be a little bit tricky.

Once I have some reservations in place, I’ll jet an email to everyone who has RSVP’ed. Of course, if you don’t RSVP, you can likely catch up with us on Twitter on the 28th or 29th, but it might be standing room only for you.

Hope to see you there!  If not, I’m sure you can watch us all tweeting under whatever hashtag organically comes to be. I know I’ll have #GirlInTheCity going and I suspect #WHsmem or something else will get cross-tweeted to the #SMEM tag so y’all can join the fun from wherever you are.

Thanks!

Cheryl Bledsoe (@cherylble)

 

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Everyday Jacks

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This is not the post I woke up to write today.

But early this morning, I learned that my sister-in-law’s brother, Andrew Barnes, had been killed last night in a tragic motorcycle accident.

Andrew was 26 years old. But he was so much more than that…..a military veteran, a husband, a father to two young children, a son, a friend, and yes, even an emergency preparedness geek like me.

You all should know by now that I’m passionate about the words “whole community” because emergency preparedness must engage every single one of us. Sometimes, I think we relegate emergency services to “emergency service professionals” but if we do, we fail truly as a community because disaster knows no profession and strikes near and far to where our “hired” resources exist.

Andrew was inspirational to me because he truly was an “everyday Jack.” With his brother, Stephen, they managed the website www.EverydayJacks.com which aims to share the whole community message and illustrates one of his passions to ensure that his community was more ready to face the unthinkable.  Andrew’s brother, Stephen, wrote this tribute to his “master-at-arms” earlier today.

We can all honor Andrew’s memory by being our own everyday “Jacks” and “Jills” when we take seriously our role in our local communities, aim to prepare our neighbors and focus on the fact that being ready is EVERYONE’s responsibility.

My heart hurts today, but I am thankful for the conversations that Andrew & I had over the years about emergency preparedness. And, in his honor, I will continue to be passionate about wildly, diverse engagement in emergency management.

Rest in Peace, Andrew. Your life touched so many, including mine.

If you are interested in honoring this special family with a small financial contribution to support Andrew’s surviving spouse and young children, there is a link on the front page at www.EverydayJacks.com available.

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Ready for Something New?

something-new

You may have already read about my dream to start a whole new type of Emergency Management Association.

Yes, we have state-level associations (of which I’ve served in leadership for several years).

Yes, we have national associations (both the International Association of Emergency Managers and the National Emergency Management Association).

But, it’s time to establish a Virtual Emergency Management Association which strives to model the use of truly collaborative technologies to solve emergency management problems.

Social media has leveled the playing field and offers everyone the opportunity to be part of the “whole community” solution…..and yet, none of our current associations meets the challenge of providing a home to students, researchers, professionals, technology advocates, non-profits and volunteers.  If we are truly “all in this together,” we need to expand the discussions, think outside the box and identify areas of collaboration and progress that to-date have not largely been tapped.

It’s time to turn the tables on “traditional” emergency management.

Emergencies are everyone’s problems, and emergencies need everyone to properly prepare, respond and recover.

When I initially put out the call for people to help, I was tremendously humbled by the 66 people that stepped forward and joined me in this endeavor.  And thanks to several operational committees, we’re on the cusp of formalizing this organization.

This Friday, July 11th, there will be a 60-90 minute conference call at 11:00 a.m. PDT / 2:00 p.m. EDT that you are welcome to join.

The agenda for this call is located at this link —> https://docs.google.com/document/d/1slSfJ5_qbHNEQcuHvkRcIMUv07vwqI-ALgFdDWC10nQ/edit?usp=sharing

Sound like fun?

Join us!

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Website Messages

website

Websites say a lot about your agency.

Whether you are a private sector company or a public entity, your web presence can say positive things like “we know our key messages and what we offer to others” or they can stand as confused, multi-message, full of information sites that say virtually nothing at all.

Now, before I go any further, I’m going to be working on www.sm4em.org in the very near future so that it is cleaner and more exciting, but first things first, let me share and then remind myself to “get to work.” And, truth be told, I’ve been working recently on a couple of other web design projects that you should see soon.

I attended a class recently that encouraged students to consider who our website audience is.  And the first lesson is this…..it CANNOT BE EVERYONE.  Now, as a public servant, I had a hard time with this lesson because of course, we serve everyone, right?

While this is true, not everyone clicks on our websites.  And it’s important to consider who is visiting your site.

In fact, there are two things that you need to know as you evaluate your website.

  1. Who is visiting your website?….. AND
  2. What is their journey?  Where are your website visitors going when they visit your website.

If you know where your visitors are going, you can be sure that the information you need to share is more accessible and easy to reach.

Of equal importance is your “ask” of your website visitors…..what are you TRULY asking them to do to engage with your agency?

Many websites miss this altogether.  They offer information, often copious amounts of information, and never direct people to take any action.

The types of asks you could be making include….

  • Signing up for regular newsletters,
  • Signing up for emergency alerts or updates,
  • Connecting on other social platforms,
  • Volunteering, or
  • Any other action which would help your agency.

If you are not asking your website visitors to take action, you may never see them again on your site or in person.

We often have a tendency to put way too much information on websites, as public agencies.  Don’t be afraid to minimize the information and clarify your call to action.  Be sure that the information actually on your website is useful and working for you.  Because, if you visitors can’t find the information because it’s buried among 50 million other messages, it isn’t working for you.

You must walk through your website as if you were an outsider to your agency.  If you feel like you have too much information on your site, you probably do.  Combing through websites to reduce information is something you (and I) should do regularly.

If you work in an agency with a website, take time today to truly evaluate how useful it is from your residents’ perspective.

 

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Social Means “One-To-Many”

OneToMany

The beauty of social media is its ability to provide one message to many people at once.

This is particularly important during times of crisis when time is of the essence and you simply can’t get the word out fast enough to the people craving the information.

And yet, I still see people communicating one-by-one instead of one-to-many.

How is this possible?

  • You reply to a question by email where someone has responded to an email blast of information with a specific question;
  • You reply on Twitter by using an @mention at the front of the Tweet which excludes the view to the individual you are tweeting and those who follow both you AND the person who asked the question;
  • You reply on Facebook to people who post on your agency’s wall or within a thread where others may not get notifications of new information.

All of these forms of communication are one-to-one communication which is intended to answer only the person who has initially asked the question.

And while it is wonderful to be able to answer people individually, you should know that if one person asks the question, there are likely at least 10 others who were afraid to ask.  This means that you should consciously consider how to be talking, during crisis, to everyone possible.

Some easy ways to do this include:

  • Keeping a ‘Frequently Asked Questions” page active on your website, blog or incident-specific website. Use questions asked on email and social media to populate this page and refer to it regularly in your email & social media posts.
  • If you rely on email blasts to provide situational updates, be sure that the many questions you are asked, along with answers, are included in your timely updates;
  • Reply to questions on Twitter by resharing the original question as an edited “retweet” or RT and placing the answer at the start of the tweet.
  • Simply use a “.” at the start of your answer tweet on Twitter so that everyone who follows you sees your information.
  • Consistent use of the incident hashtag(s) in all of your answers.  This allows people, following the hashtag, to see the answers as well.

As Public Information Officers using social media, remind yourself regularly to evaluate whether you are really communicating in a one-to-many format or whether you’re slipping into one-to-one communication.  It’s easy to reply to individuals, but you’re wasting valuable time, particularly in crisis, if you make this the primary way you communicate.

When time is critical, use your resources in the most effective way possible so that your information can be shared, reshared and used to help others.

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Your Tiny Image

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If you have any social media accounts, you hopefully have heard the word “avatar” or “thumbnail” image. These are the tiny images that serve as your profile pictures.

And while I usually talk to agencies on this blog, today, I’m going to talk about us all as individuals.

Because, if you are representing an agency, your avatar should be pretty easy.

Most likely, you use the logo from the business you represent. The only question for your business is whether people can rapidly identify your logo at its 150×150 size.

If your agency logo is too busy or only looks great on a large poster, it’s time to revisit and ask yourself “what does this logo say to the masses at this extremely reduced size?”

This is an important question for many emergency management agencies because frankly, we have logos that are WAY TOO BUSY. Many try to incorporate words like “emergency management” or the 4 cycles of emergency management and no one really gets it. Let’s be honest, most average people still don’t know what our whole profession does, right? This becomes a much bigger branding problem that anyone is willing to talk about.

But I don’t want to engage that conversation fully tonight…..let’s talk about ourselves as individuals.

As much as I love to rat out “boring” in government, many of us in social media also need a makeover.

Your profile picture is today’s business card and it speaks volumes about you.

The messages I often see are…..

  • I am brand new to social media (because I still use the “egg” picture as my avatar)
  • I’m going to watch you, but I don’t trust you enough to let you see me (via my use of clip art avatars or non-facial pictures)
  • I prefer to lurk (because I use dark avatars that don’t reveal anything about me)
  • I may lack confidence in being seen (as often evidenced by avatars of my pets)
  • I’m creative (because I figured out how to make a cartoon like avatar that actually does look like me)

I get it…..I hate seeing myself in pictures. As a larger woman with introverted tendencies, I cringe every time I’m near a camera.

But I also want to be well-represented.   I want my online persona to display my core values of openness, transparency and willingness to engage.

You may not think it matters very much, but I firmly believe that a person’s ability to trust another individual is prefaced on a combination of initial impression along with the series of follow-up interactions.

It’s perfectly okay to use anything as your avatar, but you really want to consider the messages that you might be sending to others who are engaging with you.  And if you’re generating some meta-messages of distrust or lacking confidence, you’ll have to work a little harder to overcome those first impressions.

And, if you don’t like almost every picture of yourself, take the time to find a professional photographer who will work with you to ensure that your best side shines through that thumbnail image.  Because you only have one chance at that first impression.

Be thoughtful about the messages you choose to convey.  And be mindful that they might be working against you.

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The “V” Word

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You may have read another great article this past week in Emergency Management Magazine about the Virtual Operation Support Team concept and its implementation at Florida State University.

I loved reading about how FSU is harnessing the power of students to monitor social media, but I want to talk, for a moment about the “V” in VOST.

VOST stands for “Virtual Operations Support Team” though often the V is misunderstood to mean “volunteer.”

And although many of the present VOST team members across the world are doing so in a “volunteer” capacity, it is important to note that this type of resource may or may not necessarily engage volunteers.

Having worked within the VOST community over the past 2 years, here is what I have observed:

  • VOST Teams can be comprised of folks from a variety of backgrounds including intel analysts, public information officers, emergency managers, college students and social media savvy & interested community supporters,
  • If you have a solid presence and ties in social media, it will be easier to find VOST members who will support your missions,
  • Nearly every after-action report for VOST teams identifies the need to recruit and train more members for VOST teams, and
  • VOST Missions that require more than 1-2 people AND exceeds 2-3 days may struggle to find volunteer commitment (because many prospective volunteers have other full-time jobs and/or commitments)

VOST teams are very similar in nature to deployable Communication Unit Leaders but in a virtual context.  Nationally, we don’t aim to recruit COM-L staff from only volunteer ranks.  In fact, most COM-L positions are cross-trained from within 9-1-1 communications and our public safety communities.

If you are interested in establishing a VOST team for your local community, I’d encourage you to recruit team members from a number of positions that have a relationship to social media, public information and situational awareness.

Someday, social media monitoring will be as natural as using our email on a daily basis.  But until that day exists, agencies that aim to utilize VOST teams to monitor and engage in the social sphere need to remember that V means VIRTUAL and not necessary VOLUNTEER.

You’re lucky if you have access to volunteers who can support your VOST capability, but it’s time to understand that you’re limiting your team if you aim to sustain this capacity solely on the backs of your supportive volunteers.

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Be The Velveteen Rabbit

velveteen rabbit

“What is REAL?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

—————————————————————————

One of the funniest comments that I often hear when I talk with people for the first time on the phone or in person, after meeting them on social media, is “Wow, you are really real!”

And my gut reaction is to always wonder what they thought they would find.

  • A robot?
  • An ominous voice?
  • Something like the Great Oz when Dorothy and gang run into the Emerald City?

I laugh. I talk with animation in my voice. I am just as passionate about social media use in emergency management as I seem to be online. And I will listen to those who call and aim to help where I can.

I am not a celebrity though it always makes me laugh when people use that word.  I am simply a girl who tweets and, over the past 5-6 years, I have garnered a following of people who read what I write, react sometimes hilariously, disagree rather vehemently and discuss topics that are important to this profession we call “emergency services.”

Last night I enjoyed a brief, but fun conversation, with a new connection on Twitter and Skype.

We chatted about our work, our kids and the concern of how my new friend fits into the SMEM Community.  But there are so many folks who are just like my new friend.  They are not necessarily “professional emergency managers” but they bring with them a unique perspective and will have talents to offer when their next local disaster strikes.  His special comment to me last night was that he feels like he is able to contribute because of how real and approachable some of us “old-timers” have been in conversations with him.

The beauty of social media is that it breaks down the silos and the walls that exist between experiences.  We have the unique opportunity to see people for how they engage and how real or unreal they interact and transact within communities.

If you are willing to engage in real conversations, you will find people and communities of folks who will add depth and perspective to your life in so many unique ways.

Nearly 17 years ago, the maid of honor at my wedding read the above passage from the Velveteen Rabbit as part of her toast.  To this day, this passage brings tears to my eyes as it continues to serve as the inspiration for how I engage with folks day by day.

Be real.
Be willing to be vulnerable.
Be willing to help others.
Be willing to be loved.

While I write most often about the #SMEM Community, it isn’t the only one active on social media.  And, in fact, my friends in other communities report very similar experiences to mine which serves simply to illustrate that people can find those niche communities that interest them.

Find Yours Today.

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Career Transitions

career-changeIn the past 20 years, I’ve had 2 very distinct careers in juvenile justice, working in a lock-up facility and in a county juvenile department as a Juvenile Counselor and as a local emergency manager in 2 county-based programs.  And I have loved each of these careers for different reasons.

And in year 21, I will embark on my 3rd career as a Technology & Accreditation Manager in a local county-based 9-1-1 program.

This career transition has resulted in a number of questions from my colleagues and friends in both emergency management and social media.

So, let me tackle some of the most frequently asked questions:

  • Why?  I thought you loved being an emergency manager?  Yes, I have always loved being an emergency manager and this move should not be interpreted as any insult to my current profession.  I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in a program at the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) in which Emergency Management sits in residence with 9-1-1 Services.  This has always be a very fortuitous relationship because my EM office could work very directly with our 9-1-1 program.  There are a number of programs out west where these services do reside together and personally, I believe this model provides some very direct community benefits for both EM and 9-1-1.  But, in order to broaden my experiences, I have been interested in obtaining some additional 9-1-1 experiences to complement my already decent resume of emergency management life.
  • What will you be doing?  I will be leading the Technology division in implementing a number of tech-based projects for Clackamas County 9-1-1 Communications.  Their upcoming project list includes upgrading their Computer Aided Dispatch, telephone and radio systems.  Additionally, as we embark on what “next generation 911 services” are, I look forward to being involved in lots of exciting decisions and ways in which I will have opportunity to apply my existing SMEM understanding.
  • Will you move or commute?  The commute will be longer than what I face now, but the answer is commute!  I love my community and will continue to contribute to it as I am able.  It’s funny to receive email from folks who make it sound like I’m dying or moving. Sorry to disappoint, but many of you will likely see me just as much as you always have.  I’m not disappearing.
  • Will you take any of your initiatives with you?  Yes. Although not everything is sorted out yet, I am planning to take the VOST Leadership Coalition and the Virtual Emergency Management Association (VirtualEMA) into my “after-hours” world.  In addition, I will keep contributing to this blog on a weekly basis as I have over the past 5 years.  There are still some discussions to be had about #30days30ways and I can’t tell you right now where that will land at this writing.
  • What about #SMEM speaking engagements?  I’m going to finish out the dates that are already booked on my calendar through early June and then, I’m going to be non-committal for at least 6 months.  This will give me time to focus on the needs of my new position.  This isn’t to say I’ll say “no” to everything, but I will be incredibly choosy in order to be sure that the opportunity makes sense for all involved.  I’m still happy to give referrals to a number of great SMEM speakers who I know personally if I think they would be a good fit for your event.
  • Will you still engage on social media?  This question has given me the greatest laugh because if you know me, you know I can’t really stay away.  Social media has played a significant role in opening up my world to some amazing opportunities and colleagues that likely won’t even really notice the change in my professional address.  The only change I anticipate is a slight shift in what I read, monitor and in some of the national conversations I’ll be having about 9-1-1 services.

If you have ever seen me speak on social media’s influence on emergency management, you’ve probably heard me describe the 2 trains that have left their stations.  One is social media involving the community and the other is public safety communications (which must wrestle with how best to be responsive in this new world of communications).  These two trains are on a collision course with each other and I will now have a front row seat in affecting and implementing the outcomes.

It’s exciting, isn’t it?

I will forever be thankful for my 8.5 years at the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA).  I expect to continue to see great things come out of this program for many years to come.

 

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Training Thoughts

training

For the past 5 years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a number of fun social media classes.

And while the audiences have varied over time from farmers to medical examiners, there are some observations that you may also find useful in your quest to find good social media training.

At this writing, there isn’t necessarily a list of good social media trainers. Many of the active folks on the #SMEM hashtag on Twitter have seen a variety of speakers over time at a number of conferences and can make personal recommendations from what they have seen.

I will say that there are often differences between “general social media” and “social media in emergency management” trainers. While I have learned a lot from general social media users and trainers, if you are a public agency, it is important for your trainer to understand issues of public disclosure and records retention if you are seeking guidance on an agency-based social media implementation.

If you understand that no single person is going to teach you “all you need to know” in social media, you’ll understand that you can glean a lot of great information from a variety of speakers.

Consider what you wish to learn when seeking a social media instructor. There are some basic decision points that, if you consider these, will help you narrow down the type of instruction you are seeking.

  • Small audience or large audience?
  • Do you want a “hands-on” instruction course or a conversational course?
  • Will attendees have access to technology and can participate in demonstrations or exercises?
  • Would you like your training course to focus on platforms & specific tools or how to communicate, using the tools?
  • Are your audience members all from the same agency or a variety of agencies that may be in different places in their permissions or use of social media?
  • What would you like your audience members to know or understand by the end of the training?  Drafting a policy? Creating Content? How to Monitor Social Media?

Just because someone uses social media doesn’t mean that they will be a great educator of its use.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions of trainers.  Find out about their training experiences.
  • Seek out a reference or see if they have any presentations online.  And don’t be scared to ask for recommendations on social media.

The more you know about what you want, the easier it will be for a prospective trainer to tell you if they are a good match for your request.  I field requests to present training classes all the time.  I will tell you that when someone calls me and isn’t sure what they want in a training, I will regularly say “no” because it takes too much of my time to determine what you want.

Think about your needs and you will receive a much better outcome.  Be focused!

 

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