The other night an impromptu Twitter chat erupted among a few of us #SMEM stalwarts. The subject; credentialing social media volunteers who assist during disasters. Conventional emergency management practice requires people register with their local emergency management (EM) agency before they can volunteer during an emergency. We do this to for liability protection and to build a database of response resources we can quickly mobilize.
In the past “real world” of emergency management and response, this approach worked well. But, when it comes to supporting crisis response today, we need to think virtually and globally. Today, our volunteer responder pool stretches across the 24 time zones. We can now tap technology experts in the field of social media, GIS and communications from around the world to assist in our response. Shoot, we don’t even have to ask, they just start doing it on their own. ValerieLucas-McKewen excellent piece on the new wave of technology volunteers outlines the benefits of leveraging these assets and a couple of ways used in recent global events. A great article by Scott Reuter describes the concept of virtual operations support (VOS) and related teams (VOST), and how these can be used in gaining/maintaining situational awareness and disseminating information. I suspect there are VOST’s working around the world already. They just are not defined as such.
In the Incident Command world, credentialing is a hot topic, especially as it relates to figuring out qualifications and vetting processes for FEMA all-hazards Type 3 incident management teams (IMTs). FEMA created a qualifications guide in 2010. But, it only provides guidance. As far as I know, the “gold standard” for IMT credentialing, qualification and training (in the US) still resides with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG).
BUT, the NWCG has been evaluating their training and qualification standards. Why? Because their pool of experienced ICS personnel is quickly drying up due to retirements and the ungodly onerous training and qualification process. As a result, they recently completed a review of their qualification/credentialing system, and made dozens of recommendations designed to bolster team succession planning and sustainability. It will take years to fully implement these changes.
So, I have to ask. If FEMA and the NWCG are struggling with coming up with realistic and sustainable training and qualification standards for incident management teams in the U.S. , how the heck can we create and implement a global credentialing process for those who provide technical disaster assistance? The world of social media in crisis is highly dynamic. Instead of trying to make this world fit into our tidy world of emergency management and incident command, why don’t we stay messy for a while longer?
I have a better idea (at least for now). Let’s focus on continuing to leverage spontaneous volunteers who pop up, champion the efforts of current volunteer technology in crisis organizations like Crisis Mappers and Ushahidi, and use their experience to identify the desired knowledge, skills and abilities for those we want to provide virtual operational support during crisis. I’m afraid putting effort into credentialing at this point is simply an exercise in “Driving to Abilene”.