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 dont 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, Id 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.
Youre lucky if you have access to volunteers who can support your VOST capability, but its time to understand that youre limiting your team if you aim to sustain this capacity solely on the backs of your supportive volunteers.