This session is NOT an introduction. This is not Twitter 101, or why your agency should use Facebook. It is not intended to screw up your agency’s courage so you can finally pitch social media to your executive. The lessons we’re going to talk about today are for agencies that have social media accounts, and want to know how to use them better and more effectively. How to integrate best practices and emerging new tools into their existing efforts. If this doesn’t sound like it applies to you, I think you’ll still learn something, but some of the language we use might be above your head. If all you hope to get out of this session is, “what is the tweeter and how do I InstaMySpace?” I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. BUT, you will learn some pretty cool stuff, so don’t leave just yet.
What we’d like to start off with is telling you some stories. I hate when people get up here and tell you what you should do, especially in social media where there are almost no academically-validated processes. It’s really just us responding and trying things out. So that’s what I want to talk to you about: how response agencies—not all public health—used social media in their biggest disasters. Some of them absolutely won’t work for you. Some of them might cause you to think of some new way to do things. Some of them might cause you to realize exactly where your weak point is.
One of the big concerns that everyone here is worried about it, yes, you. What if I go away, to a conference like this one, and something happens at home? How can I respond? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can. Provided social media is part of your response.
Does anyone remember this scene? It’s taken from Philadelphia, my hometown, from last June. It was a horrific accident, where a four story brick wall collapsed onto an active Salvation Army store. Six people ended up dying, and more than a dozen were injured. You can see from the picture the HUGE response that Philly was able to put together. The response time was some ridiculous sub-two minute timeframe. Really yeoman’s work by the Fire and Police Departments.
I was not there. I was nowhere near there. I was in Raleigh, North Carolina, on my way to the airport after presenting at a conference much like this one. So, worst fear? Realized.
I had just gotten to the airport when I got an email from our Communications Director asking for me to help our local EMA, Police and Fire Departments online. Basically retweet their messages and all. So I hurried over to an airport bar, plopped in front of a TV that had CNN on it, asked the bartender to plug my phone in and turn up the TV. I checked our Twitter feed and saw—nothing. The EMA was posting auto-generated tweets about road-closures, but nothing on the event. Nothing from police or fire, either. They were, y’know, busy responding to a mass casualty incident. But seemingly the whole world—all the national press—was focused on this story, and there was nothing coming from the City of Philadelphia. So I started tweeting pictures, on-camera quotes from fire officials, someone somewhere draw a diagram that explained what happened—it was right, so I retweeted that. When the Mayor held a press conference, I livetweeted that. And then they called my flight. And the City of Philadelphia stopped social media messaging about the collapse. For two hours, while I was in the air. By the time I landed, most of what was going to happen had happened, and there was less of a need for me to tweet. So I checked the trends. And even after I landed, our Twitter handle was the second-highest trending term in the city. Above all of the news stations handles, above things like collapse and rubble. From a smartphone. Eleven billionty miles away.
Another big concern is how to message to folks who are in your jurisdiction, but only there for a little while. We’ve all got plans for reaching out to our local media and using community-based partners. But the only people who know about those avenues for information are folks that are already in our community. Visitors just kind of aimlessly wander and get information second-hand. And when seconds count, that’s a huge problem.
To find out how one agency dealt with this, we looked to the Boston Police Department. While we all know the story of the day, the really amazing part is found in the details. Social media was a KEY part of the response in the minutes after the bombs went off at the finish line.
And we know this, because we have an audio recording from bomb squad members from that day. <<PLAY CLIP>> Did you catch that? Before the bomb squad had even requested to open up mailboxes on the route—potential bomb sites!—they told command to get on social media. That’s the only way they could get access to all of the people who were hidden, but might potentially put themselves back into danger by coming out onto the street. They knew that every person in that vicinity was on their phone, at that moment, reaching out to home and trying to find out more information. Now imagine how you’ll talk to all of the visitors in your community when they’re scared and looking for information.
This is a tough one. Because almost every response agency that has a social media account has somewhere listed on there the following, “In case of emergency, call 911. This account is not monitored.” Or something similar. There are all kinds of reasons for that, with the best being that there is simply no interface between social media and a dispatch system. 911 is automatically connected; Twitter is not.
But there are situations, like Hurricane Sandy, extraordinary situations, that might cause us to rethink how we interact with the public. How we dispatch and support them. Tell Emily Rahimi story.
So even though we’ve talked about a lot of things that will draw you out of your comfort zone, is this the scariest? How many people here have used—depended upon—the public to help an active response? Not volunteers, not off-duty. Jane-On-The-Street. Right, exactly. And that’s worrisome, because they can be SUCH a resource. Not always, but in that rare case, that extraordinary case, they might offer more benefit than you could conceive.
And to talk about that, we turn to the Williams’ ladies, who live just south of Joplin, Missouri. On that fateful night, when an EF-5 tornado tore Joplin apart, they were at home, with no power. Most of the region didn’t have power, and were glued to their radios and phones, scrounging for information on the storm. And they, by and large, found it. The Red Cross was offering updates on shelters, the Salvation Army was giving updates, local EMAs and Joplin City. Websites, social media accounts, radio reports, you name it, there was info—live-saving info—being published in the aftermath of the tornado. The problem was that it was everywhere. There was no one place to see the full scope of what was happening. We’ve gotten so good at distributing information that each response agency now has a fully robust communications strategy that depends on no one else. Great for you, not so great for the public. So the Williams’ ladies, on an iPhone 3G on the EDGE network (How many people understand the implications of what I just said? Basically, SLOW, like dial-up days.), they made a Facebook Page, JoplinTornadoInfo, and posted every bit of official response information they could find. They worked throughout the night, posting and updating and posting. And when the sun rose the next day, 40,000 people had liked their page. They worked with other members of the community to manage the page while they slept. They posted for days and days. At one point, the City of Joplin approached them and asked if they could use the JTI page to post official government messages. The idea behind it was, they could post them on the City’s page, but JTI had magnitudes of more followers. When it mattered, they knew that getting information out was the most important, they got over their ego, tossed aside the plans, and worked with whoever could help them most. The Williams’ ladies.
Y’know, I brought up an interesting point there in that last section. What do we do when the plan fails? When our communications plan is just not cutting it? No, really, I’m asking. Because so many of us have communications plans are only one level deep. Not the people, but the technology.
Which brings us to Calgary, Edmonton. Under water. It didn’t make the US news too much, but they had, well, you can see what they had. Their entire downtown was under water. The floods, incidentally, also swamped their communications channels. The city’s website was under such a stress from the public looking for information, it crashed. So they turned to Twitter to disseminate official information. And when the police department’s account got thrown into “twitter jail” they used a local constable’s account. Calgary continued to message and disseminate information throughout the disaster come hell or high water.
Using Social Media Effectively in Disasters: Practical Considerations for Local and State Public Health Agencies
Using Social Media
Effectively in Disasters:
Practical Considerations for
Local and State Public