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How Do You Stuff The Elephant Into The ICS Box?

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Over the past few days I’ve been talking  with fellow emergency response professionals about ways to “box in” social media within the Incident Command Structure (ICS). Our conversations included the Intelligence function, and where it fits in ICS, or doesn’t . I suspect lots of emergency response professionals with Twiiter/Facebook/YNI (You Name It) accounts are doing the same thing.  Currently, ICS allows this nebulous creature to reside in various levels within the ICS,  depending on the situation.  What other function within ICS  has this flexibility?  Can the Situation Unit serve as a Command Staff position?, a Unit under Operations?…ummm…no….. In my humble opinion, this “special” concept has created confusion, increasing the likelihood of less than effective application during someone’s worst day.  Add the new kid on the block – Social Media- and we now have even greater confusion potential.

I’m an outsider when it comes to formulating national ICS structure changes.  I have no clue if anyone within NWCG, FEMA, DHS, NIC, SNUD, GOMER, SWAG or any other acronym agency is working on this subject (and likely creating a Task Book for the “Social Media Specialist”)  But, what I do know from my interactions with colleagues in the SM world is that time is running short.  As a result of the SM time zone, changes need to occur at SMarp Speed.   This call to action was issued mid last year by Adam Crowe, from Johnson County Emergency Management.

http://www.bepress.com/jhsem/vol7/iss1/10/

In his paper, printed in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (Volume 7, Issue 1, 2010)   Mr. Crowe calls out NIMS’s already antiquated philosophy and procedures in gathering, analyzing, approving and distributing public information. Calling it the “Elephant In the JIC”, Crowe notes the cultural change in information dissemination during crisis as a result of the impact of SM.  Not only does he succinctly explain the challenges of engaging real-time reporting, he also comments on the shifting culture in relying on established “trusted” electronic and print news media –  “Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are fundamentally built on the foundation of trusted networks and community. Specifically, these social media outlets are established by being “friends” or “fans” of someone or something. As such, the social networks provide a local community an opportunity to validate additionally released messages about the emergency event. Secondly, social media sites allow for direct messaging to the impacted community by cutting out the traditional media and thus their interpretation and presentation. Although social media is not free of bias, one of its core principles is to be self-correcting. These two components are evidence to the potential effectiveness of using social media during an emergency event, at least in support of formalized communications (i.e., press releases).”

I like Crowe’s elephant analogy.  Elephants are extremely large, caring, intelligent, deceptively fast and can cause a ton of damage when they get a head of steam.   I for one have no interest in getting squished. Let’s shift the conversation from how great SM is for emergency response to best practices to integrating SM into the formal ICS structure.  I’m a simple ICS guy. Show me org. charts ideas and plans.  Once we have agreement on where it should go, we can figure out how we provide the qualified resources to make it work.

Comments - Add Yours

  • @g_r_e_g

    I think social media is but one part of the equation. People may tweet or post FB questions/comments but what about other sources of feedback like hotlines, 911, key department numbers, key email inboxes, etc.? I firmly believe all of these need to be integrated into an ICS response system that aids PIO in disseminating info quickly and proactively. While emails and phones are not as social and public it’s still key to see all the trends of questions, comments and concerns. Just a thought to use a fatter elephant beyond social media!

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Agreed, SM is just one piece of the elephant (but a really big one, and growing every day). Also, need to consider strategy in how/when info is disseminated. Traditional media is morphing into “real time” reporting. But, right now this is still slower than the amateur reporter on the street with a smartphone.

  • http://www.RamblingChief.com RamblingChief

    During the 2009 “Station Fire”, the unified command ICs used two “Social Media Technical Specialists” in the PIO shop (one fire, one law). Their duties were to:

    1. Provide timely updates via twitter & facebook, and update the incident websites, and

    2. Monitor social media for evolving issues and inaccurate info… ie: wrong info on evacuations.

    The system worked well for the most part, mainly because there were 20+ PIOs in the field feeding real-time info back into the ICP. It also worked well due to the willingness of the Agency Administrators to rapidly approve the release of info.

    • B2

      Ahead of your time as usual RC!

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.