vost Archive

Messages for D.C.

Posted in challenges vost

This past week was pretty incredible.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know already that I was in Washington D.C. with a host of other friends and folks for the White House Innovation Day. You should read my friend, Kevin Surs post about this rather incredible experience. Another post from Kyle Richardson is available at this link.


@maryjofly & @cherylble

Rather than recount similarly, I thought Id blog today on the messages both shared and observed throughout this trip of a lifetime.

The purpose of our visit was clear: To identify and evaluate the existing challenges surround the use of collaborative technologies and big data in emergency response.

Simply? Why arent every day first responders using social media and data to inform key decisions?

And, over the course of 36 hours, I was able to sit in meetings at the White House, FEMA, Senate, House of Representatives and at our #DC Tweetup that was attended by #SMEM friends, contractors and tech agencies who were discussing these same issues in-depth, resulting in these key messages:

Whole Community Needs Refinement:

While Ill be the first to tell you that I firmly believe in the notion of whole community because I believe that it is everyones responsibility to engage in emergency response, public agencies still struggle with how to incorporate the voice of its residents and digital technology providers. We still see many technology providers aiming to fit their products into the disaster services sphere without the direct involvement of emergency service providers. And, while often, we can see some decent applications of technology, it occurs more by happenstance and not by direct intentional engagement. In order to be effective, the idea of whole community needs to be defined such that it provides quality roles for public safety agencies, other government entities, students, volunteers, private sector, and NGOs.

Rather than Creating Technology Solutions, Government Should Develop Trust & Meaningful Engagement with Tech Developers

Emergency responders should not be making technology and conversely, technology providers should not be leading the emergency response. For years, we have seen public agencies recreate the technical wheels of ideas that were often first birthed in the private sector. For example, government has attempted versions of social networks and damage reporting tools that look similar to both Facebook and Instagram, but few of the public apps have ever caught on in the public sphere like the ones more widely accepted. We have to develop trust and meaningful engagement between both groups so that people can lend their expert perspective into the development of technology and so that we are truly solving problems in a meaningful way.


Resistance to Social Media is Primarily Cultural & Resource-Based

While we still encounter people who are simply opposed to social media, the primary reluctance is often a deficit in the time & space to learn how to use collaborative technologies. And while those of us who use social media know that it allows us to become situationally aware more quickly, to the emergency manager who doesnt yet use social media, the perception still exists that it is one more thing to learn or manage. And, perceptually, this remains a barrier.

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The V Word

Posted in community vost

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.

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