Everyday Jacks

Posted in personal

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

But early this morning, I learned that my sister-in-laws 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 Im 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. Andrews brother, Stephen, wrote this tribute to his master-at-arms earlier today.

We can all honor Andrews 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 EVERYONEs 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 Andrews surviving spouse and young children, there is a link on the front page at www.EverydayJacks.com available.

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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 Ive 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, its 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.

Its time to turn the tables on traditional emergency management.

Emergencies are everyones 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, were 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

Posted in community

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, Im 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, Ive 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 its 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. Dont 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 cant find the information because its buried among 50 million other messages, it isnt 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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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 cant 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 agencys 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 youre slipping into one-to-one communication. Its easy to reply to individuals, but youre 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

Posted in community

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, Im 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 150150 size.

If your agency logo is too busy or only looks great on a large poster, its 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. Lets be honest, most average people still dont know what our whole profession does, right? This becomes a much bigger branding problem that anyone is willing to talk about.

But I dont want to engage that conversation fully tonight..lets 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 todays 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)
  • Im going to watch you, but I dont 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 dont reveal anything about me)
  • I may lack confidence in being seen (as often evidenced by avatars of my pets)
  • Im creative (because I figured out how to make a cartoon like avatar that actually does look like me)

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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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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 isnt how you are made, said the Skin Horse. Its 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 dont mind being hurt.

It doesnt happen all at once, said the Skin Horse. You become. It takes a long time. Thats why it doesnt 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 dont matter at all, because once you are Real you cant be ugly, except to people who dont understand. But once you are Real you cant 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.

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Career Transitions

Posted in community

In the past 20 years, Ive 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. Its funny to receive email from folks who make it sound like Im dying or moving. Sorry to disappoint, but many of you will likely see me just as much as you always have. Im not disappearing.

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Training Thoughts

Posted in community training

For the past 5 years, Ive 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 isnt 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, youll 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 doesnt mean that they will be a great educator of its use.

  • Dont 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 dont 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 isnt 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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The Birthday Kids

Posted in community

When you have a blog, you have a voice.

And today, my voice will be used to say a special happy birthday to two of my favorite #SMEM friends.

Earlier this week, many of you lit up the Twitter-sphere with birthday well wishes to Kim Stephens (@kim26stephens). If you dont know Kim, you should.

Not only does Kim author the iDisaster blog, but she is a bright, funny and caring planning contractor in the Maryland area who has been involved in social media for a number of years now.


Kim Stephens (on the right)

I have had the true privilege of enjoying time with Kim in person and often, on the phone, as we chat about trends, activities and issues in disaster-related communications. Kim has a bubbly personality and it always brightens my day to share a conversation with her.

And then, today happens to be Jeff Phillips birthday.yes, @_jsphillips. And I think hes trying to be way too low-key about it. Or at least the secret has been safe on Twitter.

Fortunately, Facebook doesnt keep too many secrets (another reason, for which I am sure, hell say he hates Facebook.)

Jeff was one of the first emergency managers that I ever chatted with on Twitter. Hidden under the handle, @losranchosem, initially, Jeff and I had a number of fun conversations, debating the efficacy of the Incident Command System (you may still occasionally see #doctrineTweets fly between us) and the differences in perspective between a state and local emergency managers.

But through it all, I have a deep love & respect for Jeff. Even when we dont see eye-to-eye on a particular topic, we both respect each other always. And through our friendship, we know more about each other than just our day jobs. From enjoying soccer matches to sharing music randomly on a Friday night, this friendship independently illustrates how social media can be used to meet others, who before its existence, may never have crossed your path.


Hey, at least I didnt share the Gov Tech picture that you hate!

So, while I have the floor, let me just say this: if you are engaged in conversations in social media, you likely have friends who are as special to you as Jeff & Kim are to me.

And if you arent chatting with colleagues on social media, youre missing out.I assure you.

Happy Birthday to ya, Kim & Jeff from me & Bono.

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