If you are an agency who is not actively considering how to implement social media within your emergency management program, you should at least consider how you might be able to determine what is happening online.


The possibilities are pretty easy really:

  • Either your community and news media are really pleased with how the emergency is being handled, or
  • Your community may have some questions or desire some clarification of a few issues, or
  • They have no idea what you are doing or how they can help and they are coming up with their own perceived solutions to evident community need.


In all 3 cases, I suspect you might want to know more…..but putting your eyes and ears on the internet requires some resource investment.  Either you grow the ability to monitor the internet within your emergency response organization or you seek to use digital volunteers who can monitor and filter the messages down to a manageable read.

Across the world, a number of organizations are beginning to develop Virtual Operation Support Teams (VOST).  At current count, at least 26 teams are active or in development in 5 countries (United States, New Zealand, Canada, England, and Spain).

There are 2 primary methods of coordination that are active across the teams:


  • There is an “All Things VOS” Skype Chat Room that people can join to chat with other VOST developers to discuss various topics or ask questions.  If you are interested in joining the Skype room, contact Jeff Phillips via email jphillips@losranchosnm.gov or on Twitter (@_jsphillips)


  • Monthly, a VOST Leadership Coalition group meets for a conference call on the last Friday of each month to discuss recent VOST activations and team development issues.  The agendas & summaries are made available to participants on Google Docs so that agendas and information can be shared collaboratively with others.  In addition to the conference calls, a weekly or bi-weekly update is emailed to participants with any VOST news or developments.  If you are interested in joining the VOST Leadership Coalition, contact Cheryl Bledsoe at cheryl.bledsoe@clark.wa.gov or on Twitter (@cherylble)


This past Friday, the VOST Leadership Coalition met for our 5th conference call and several exciting benchmarks were shared:


  • We completed our first notification exercise of Team Leaders & Administrators which will allow us to more easily contact each other urgently if we need to make a request for more VOST team members or are in need of additional support from other teams,



These two benchmarks add to the following resources which have been created by other VOST supporters which include:


  • The VOST website which is http://vosg.us which was developed and is maintained by Joanna Lane (@joannalane) who has listed many of the active teams and resources as they develop their capabilities.
  • Scott Reuter’s website at www.thinkdisaster.com which has a number of posts about the VOST development.
  • Canada VOST website at http://www.ptsc-online.ca/canvost which has a great wiki page with a number of articles that have been written about VOST and similar concepts.


VOST teams have made some significant strides in the past 6 months. Teams have participated in activations for tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfire and law enforcement missions.  While I think we’d all agree that there is still much work to do, it is encouraging to see the growth of this collaborative over the past 6 months.

It’s all about getting relationships in place with trusted agents when it comes to determining the strength and validity of what you are “hearing” and “seeing” online. Do you have yours?

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