This past Friday, we conducted a little situational awareness drill on Twitter entitled #SMEMWatch which asked participants to gather as much information as they could about the current state of the Occupy Movement across the world.  The following questions were asked:

  • How many Occupy groups are actively camping in public places?
  • How many Occupy groups are gathering and planning events, but not camping?
  • What hashtags are in use?
  • What social media platforms are being used to plan?
  • What are the goals of the various Occupy movements?

Yes, this was the impossible task to complete in 2 hours, but it illustrates, like any emergency situation, that data will be readily available to those searching.  Unfortunately, the data will often conflict, be wrong and will require verification.  The challenge that quickly develops is: how much time do you have to validate information before decisions have to be made?

In the heat of any emergency, we can never seek a perfect answer to the “what” or “why” questions before the “how we respond” kicks into high gear.  Where we will have to get to, as an emergency management community, is how quickly we can evaluate and curate the data so that we can truly make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our communities.

Here are some key tips & tricks for monitoring social media:

  • Don’t neglect the simple search engines at www.Google.com and www.Bing.com (searching key terms in both search engines may yield different results)
  • Start with broad terms which will provide some hints about how to narrow down.  (For example, in this case, starting with searches on Occupy or Occupy Wall Street should have led to a number of crowd-sourced spreadsheets as a good starting point for this exercise.)
  • Test hashtags to determine whether or not they truly are active.  You can do this at www.monitter.com or www.tweetgrid.com.  In this case, I was able to run many of the occupy hashtags and determine how old they were.
  • Don’t work alone.  Find several partners, friends, trusted agents, other emergency managers and share the workload.  Working with a large amount of data will give you a headache within just a few hours.  To truly be sure that you’re getting solid information, the more eyes, the merrier so that you can work together to get actionable results.

In this case, I was able to determine that there are approximately 34 Occupy Groups that were actively camping across the world and over 450 Occupy groups that are continuing to meet on a regular basis for planned activities.  The person who came closest to these results was Tony Lambreth of the @HELPFoundation.

Congratulations to all of the players in this exercise.  I am proud of every one of you who participated in this drill.  Your willingness to take on the impossible is truly noteworthy and should be applauded.  They are:

  • Tony @HELPFoundation
  • Cindy @getmeoutnews
  • Bill @EmrgncyTraffic
  • Jared @cfeaap
  • Caroline @mm4marketing
  • Pete @petehartmann
  • Darrell @darrellruby
  • Amanda @pioresearcher
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