Incident Command System set up in response to wildland fires in 1970’s because too many chiefs all wanting control. Adopted by US govt as standard for response post-9/11. Command staff does strategic thinking about overall response, while General staff does operational thinking and implementation.
Public information officers are the ones that issue press statements, get subject matter experts ready for interviews, and write press releases and other public information products.
Given the heavy burden placed on PIOs, the concept of a JIS has arisen. The JIS (or JIC, if co-located) allows the PIO to delegate a number of responsibilities that others can handle. Focus on Information Gathering, (creating) Information Products and Information Dissemination.
Most people, because of the abject poverty and absolute lack of infrastructure in Haiti, would think that social media would play a big role in emergency response post-earthquake, but they’d be wrong.
Ushahidi is a crisismapping tool that was developed in response to election violence in East Africa, and called for people to anonymously witness, or testify about that violence. Volunteers in the US and abroad stood up a Ushahidi instance in response to the earthquake and got the word out to have people text information on the disaster and response on their mobile phones.
Each of those text automatically populated an open-source map showing the places where help was most needed. Volunteers from around the globe worked to standardize the incoming information (multiple texts about the same thing can provide a significant amount of information) and forward that information to response organizations in the field.
Patrick Meier, the head of Ushahidi, found that the very best in the world found the work these volunteers were doing was making a difference, and at times, found the Ushahidi maps to be the most effective triage tool they had.
This is the timeline for reporting on the crash-landing of Flight 1549. Two minutes after the plane touched down, there was a mention of it on Twitter. Three minutes later, the first image of the crash (on the previous slide) was posted. In the same minute, FDNY launched their first response vehicle, a boat to assist with passengers. Three minutes later, the iconic photo above was posted to Flickr. After that, the mass media began to report on the crash. The FlightStats website, which purports to show where planes are in their flight paths, didn’t update until more than an hour post-crash, showing the plane somewhere over southern Virginia. Google Trends, a supposedly real-time search tool, didn’t have a single mention of the crash, which was dominating mass and social media until after 5pm, an hour and a half post-crash.
H1N1 was the first time that the federal government really embraced social media as a huge piece of it’s public information campaigns, especially around a health topic. The Twitter account, BirdFluGov, was the primary (as in first, not most important) way breaking news was disseminated. But the really cool thing was the use of YouTube by the CDC. They posted videos of every press conference, every interview. They posted videos with talking heads (like this one) about the virus, about prevention, about care. They posted videos on the correct way to don and doff an N95 mask.
Ushahidi was also used for the earthquake in Japan. You can see the difference in the huge number of reports, compared to the Haiti response, presumably because of the much better connected populace. The middle chart demonstrates the insane amount of posts on the earthquake. The darker shaded area, right at the spike, is the earthquake. While it was happening, 12% of all tweets in the world were coming from Japan, presumably about the earthquake. Communications were so affected in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and meltdown that the State Department was reduced to communicating with US citizens in Japan via social media and other tech tools.
See second movie on http://blog.twitter.com/2011/06/global-pulse.html
The very definition of how information flows in an emergency has fundamentally changed. No longer does something blow up and we, as responders, craft a response then tell the media about it for distribution to the public. Now, the first people who learn of a disaster is the public. They tell us about it. And the media and each other. Generally at the same time. It is impossible for us to control any disaster story anymore. By the time we’ve found out that something has happened, the media is already crafting a story, based upon how the public is talking about it.
A growing number of emergency managers are realizing that social media can be a significant impediment to our response efforts. They understand that we control what happens inside of that red circle, but everything else outside keeps spinning. People video the disaster and response, they create conventional wisdom and circulate it to their friends and families, all outside of our control. But if we could monitor those conversations, keep tabs on what’s happening, without adding to the burden our poor PIO already has, we could help to correct that conventional wisdom, drive stories and stop problems before they get out of control.
The first test of this concept was conducted at the 2011 National Emergency Managers Association Mid-year Conference. This group of emergency managers organized a one-day event that was all about introducing social media to the emergency managers at the Conference. To support the effort, both technologically (making sure that the Skype and other live-streaming video and audio stayed up throughout) and in terms of monitoring the online conversation around the world.
More about barcamps, crowd-driven, etc.
But the big test of VOST came last summer, when a wildland fire started up by Shadow Lake, on Mount Washington, in Oregon. While the fire was of little danger of affecting the public, it rapidly grew out of control. The federal Incident Management Team’s PIO wanted to keep an eye on social media, so she activated the nascent VOST to support the official response. 15 emergency managers from around the world conducted targeted searches and monitoring around the Shadow Lake wildland fire and reported back to the PIO on what the internet was saying, providing situational awareness to the Incident Commander.
At one point, the VOST found a tiny little blog had posted a blog post on the ORFire teams using a tiny little bridge to get to an area to stage resources. The blogger snapped some photos of the trucks, and complained that, while the truckers were placing themselves in danger from using this historical, rickety bridge, they risked damaging a key thoroughfare that the local used. In hours, the VOST identified the blogger, and connected them with the IMT PIO, who coordinated with the Operations and Planning Sections to ensure that no more trucks used that bridge. While this situation may have stopped at this tiny, completely unheard of blog, the complaints may very well have gone viral and generated significant public outcry directed at the response for their tone-deafness and heavy-handed approach. Being forced to deal with this outcry would have undoubtedly taken the IC and PIO away from their primary goal, fighting the fire.
When you can’t handle the crushing overwhelmingness of social media in a disaster, you succeed by activating VOST.
This is the newly minted PDPH joint information system. You’ll notice here that fulfilling the Information Gathering role is the PMRC-VOST team. Once constituted, they will provide all media monitoring for the official response, and report directly to the JIS. The designated Team Leader will function as the Assistant PIO.
Philadelphia Medical Reserve CorpsVirtual Operations Support Team James Garrow Philadelphia Department of Public Health
Shadow Lake Wildland Fire "One of those trucks went across the bridge!" she told me."Wow. Even the school bus doesnt cross that bridge. Its not designed for large trucks. When we saw them going up that road, we wanted to run out and wave our hands, yelling wrong way, wrong way!“ -hinessight.blogs.com
Virtual Operations Support TeamP M R C -V O S T
Operations• Check in on Google Doc – Virtual Status Board• Work with Team Leader to divide up work – Identify keywords – Identify social networks – Identify “super-sharers”• Monitor, track and respond – As appropriate – ONLY with approved facts
Tools• Depends on skillset and comfort of activated• Maintain expertise between activations• Start with the big guys – Twitter – Facebook – Picfog – Topsy – YouTube – Ustream
Forms• VOST-modified ICS Form 205A – Communications List – How to keep track of everyone• VOST-modified ICS Form 214 – Activity Log – How to keep track of everything you’ve done