This afternoon, the HELP Foundation, a non-profit disaster planning and management volunteer organization posted an intriguing Twitter question to one of my #SMEM colleagues, Jeff Phillips
My knee-jerk response is….wait for it…a toilet plunger.
Yep, you read me right. Now, you are likely wondering “what the heck?” Stay with me a minute while I explain.
Everyone has had to deal with a plugged toilet at one time or another. As a father of three, I was really good at fixing them. Maybe I ‘m just warped, but the analogy of a plugged toilet and the efforts to integrate SM into the ICS process seem too obvious to me. How so?
- Typically, toilets get plugged for one or more of the following reasons;
- Not enough available water,
- Too much material,
- Trying to flush stuff that doesn’t belong
- Broken flushing mechanism
- Inadequate training
Now, what really sucks is when you encounter this situation after you have innocently “gone about your business”. You flush, and “oh, oh” up comes the water, overflowing the bowl and making a mess that spreads everywhere. If you are lucky, the bowl won’t overflow allowing you the opportunity to make a silent getaway for someone else to discover and deal with (don’t tell me you haven’t done it either!) Now, do you see where I am going with this?
I submit to you that there are a bunch of plugged ICS toilets out there. First, many agencies do not have the internal resources, motivation and/or political will (the water) to embrace SM in ways the public now demands. We need to continue to help others “fill their tanks”, gaining the knowledge to realize the importance of using these tools in crisis response. Craig Fugate, the head FEMA guy, continues to champion the use of SM in all phases of emergency management. He is keeping the SM “tank” full as it relates to emergency management activities. But, I have not seen a parallel champion in the ICS realm at the federal level . Maybe Craig can do both. But, if so, he needs to push harder on the ICS handle.
Second, an overwhelming amount of information and resources are floating around that can cause the unenlightened to simply block efforts to engage. Blockage also occurs from bureaucracy – outdated, bloated and rigid policies, procedures and technological “plugs”, delaying or prohibiting SM advocates from engaging.
Third, SM is not the answer for everything. and we can’t dump it alone into the bowl. In our efforts to champion SM for use in the ICS and the related planning process we must frame our strategy and tactics to include using ALL appropriate tools and tactics to deliver the message as intended. There may be times where the use of SM tools and related technologies won’t be appropriate or effective, especially in the information dissemination arena. Incident Commanders and PIO’s must be even more strategic these days in deciding how best to deliver a message, and even more importantly listen to what people think of the delivered message.
Fourth, you can’t deliver effective messages if your ICS mechanism is broken. In other words, the Incident Commander and Public Information Officer MUST clearly understand the “new normal” as it relates to communicating with the public through the media, and the importance of listening and public engagement. Most importantly, they must accept and adopt tactics that enable FAST information sharing and rumor management during the heat of battle.
Finally, one of the biggest blockages in the ICS SM information toilet is lack of training. FEMA is supporting creation of new courses designed to enlighten and introduce ICS types to SM concepts and tools that could-and should – be integrated into emergency response plans and in-house training efforts. A recent pilot course on use of social media tools in natural disaster response was conducted by the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center/University of Hawai’i in Astoria, Oregon. Judging by the amount of Twitter traffic originating in the class, I hope this pilot will be finalized and offered again soon. We desperately need it.
OK, getting back to the Help Foundation’s original question, I suspect they are simply chumming for ideas to help them build the perfect platform, strategies and tools to improve the integration of SM into ICS. But, I’m not cerebral enough to come up with a really esoteric answer.
Gotta run, natures calling….