Offering a solution to emergency managers who don't have the resources to deal with that "new social media thing: ...
One of the great things about the community on Twitter (which is a great platform for the sharing of info and best practices) is the willingness of people to put forward their ideas and own lessons learned for the benefits of others. So, I can say that the idea I'm about to detail has been "borrowed" from colleagues in the US and elsewhere.
Imagine you're dealing with an incident or ongoing emergency in your small community (or even a large one) ...you might not necessarily have all the resources you need to fully monitor social media, detect emerging issue and enhance your situational awareness. Now, what do you think you could achieve if you could "farm" that work out to a team of emergency managers, first responders and others, from areas outside your own? That's the concept behind the Virtual Operations Support Team or VOST.
The pioneers of this concept in the US (Jeff Philips, Cheryl Bledsoe, Scott Reuter and others) have already established a few teams. The rationale behind this concept is explained by my friend Kim Stephens:
The idea is that in a disaster, anyone trying to monitor and respond using social media will be quickly overwhelmed by the amount of data that needs to be examined and sorted into useful information. In a catastrophic disaster this need is only amplified and there will also probably be a need for a predetermined, trusted person or group to search, proritize and forward crisis data from outside of the disaster location if the internet is not functioning or bandwidth is limited, or again, if the on-site personnel are overwhelmed by the amount of crisis data incoming.
For a great presentation on the concept and recent trends ... this one comes from New Zealand where a VOST has been implemented
The concept was fleshed out by Jeff Phillips last year and has been refined ever since. Serous work by some very serious people (although they are a partying bunch too ...) has led to the creation of an umbrella group that shepperds the creation of new VOSTs. They meet regularly and help set the course which leads to empowerment for local emergency managers wherever they are. What's more, they have tested their concepts, both during exercises and in real-life ... and have shared their lessons learned.
So what do I see as the Canadian interpretation of the VOST? Well, building a coast-to-coast-to-coast networks of EM, first responders and volunteers that can help gather virtually and assist emergency management organizations, municipalities and agencies (such as the Red Cross, 2-1-1 and others) when disasters strike. Key functions (and many more could be added) could include:
- monitoring social media for reputational threats and enhanced situational awareness
- engaging on social networks on behalf of, and with the key messaging provided by, the activating agency/organization
- acting as liaison with the Volunteer Technical Communities who provide crowdsourcing and crisis mapping support during disasters or exercises (such as Standby Task Force, CrisisCommons and Crisis Mappers).