Guest blog post: Kristin Hoskin – A conversation on Christchurch

It’s been a bumpy few months in Christchurch. I never would have thought six months ago that my summer would be dominated by three earthquake responses. But it has.
Working with a variety of government entities I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to see first hand how communications has, and sometimes, hasn’t worked. As well as being involved in the response effort regarding building assessment, and then the review of other facets of response (education and infrastructure), I’ve been one of those on the receiving end of public information too.
Only this weekend I became very excited (as did some of my friends) when a chemical toilet arrived at my front door. And the highlight of last week was being able to turn the lights on throughout my house. I can hardly wait until the day when I don’t have to boil water before drinking it or brushing my teeth. As for going back to the gym, or being able to bus to work, that remains a distant dream.
When I was first invited to speak at the EMPA conference I was going to talk about all the great lessons learned and applied in September, but five months and two more noteworthy shakes later, the personal experiences associated with living with earthquakes offers a more pertinent message for those tasked with providing relevant public information to an affected community.
It isn’t the dramatic building collapses that people want to know about, it’s how to get the kids to school safely, when their workplace will likely be able to be accessed, and what supermarkets are open. People living in an affected area aren’t concerned with the statistics regarding how much of the city is damaged, they want to know when their neighbourhood is likely to be restored and whether they should leave town or tough it out for a few more days.
Overall Christchurch’s earthquake responses have been handled very well, with the media being an active partner in spreading information. Even so, there are still opportunities to build a greater and more needs-driven role for the media following emergencies – truly making the media a partner in community recovery, and not just an observer.

– Kristin Hoskin, @kristinhoskin, Linkedin, Kestrel New Zealand

Kristen Hoskin  will deliver a keynote at EMPA on her experiences with response and recovery for the Christchurch earthquakes.

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Watching Japan

Quite apart from the devastating impacts on the communities, the commentary now seems to be about the lack of reliable information coming from authorities. Scenes of Tokyo looking deserted must be a reflection of wider economic impacts.

Post-disaster (an indeed ongoing threat) information flow has far wider impacts than just community spirit, morale and safety warnings. People are being told to leave the country due to an unclear picture of the scope of the nuclear threat.

Effective and timely warnings can lessen economic impacts. AUSAID, are you listening?

Well done NSWFB for sending Ian K.

Peter Rekers – Crisis Ready

Guest blog post: Denis Muller

As someone who worked for half a lifetime as a journalist and then specialised in media ethics, I watched the coverage of the Black Saturday bushfires with a mixture of admiration and dismay: admiration for its breadth, the vividness of some of the images and the excellence of some of the writing; dismay for the instances of gross intrusion and obvious exploitation, and for lapses of judgment about what to publish.

Michael Gawenda, Director of the newly established Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne, agreed to fund a research project in which we would ask media professionals who covered the fires to talk with us about the ethical dilemmas they faced, and how they resolved them.

We interviewed 28 media professionals from a wide range of media organisations. The result was a conference at which we presented our report, and a book published in February 2011 by Melbourne University Press, which can be found only through the MUP e-store.

We realised, however, that this was only half the story. The other half was, what was the effect of media treatment on the people whom the media covered?

The Centre for Advanced Journalism, with financial support from a range of organisations, including EMPA, then commissioned what has become, in effect, part two of the research project.

In this part, we are interviewing up to 30 people who were the subject of media coverage in the aftermath of the fires. We are looking in particular at issues of consent, emotional effect, privacy, grief, and trauma, as well as at the long-term effect on them and their families of their having been exposed to the media.

We are also looking at issues concerning media access to the fire ground and to private property, and issues concerning exposure of survivors to the media in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. This includes the role of emergency services in facilitating or blocking media access to survivors.

It is the findings from this work that will be presented at the EMPA conference in April.

-Denis Muller

Guest Bloggers: EMPA Conference Speakers

There’s just a month to go to the 2011 Emergency Media and Public Affairs Conference in Canberra.

To preview some of the great speakers who’ll be presenting at EMPA, we’ve asked all speakers to contribute a short entry about their topic to our blog. It’ll be interesting to see who jumps at the chance to get into the blogosphere. We hope it gets you even more interested in what they have to say.


Recovery….why is it always forgotten?

An interesting item from the ABC over the weekend reminding us of the importance of recovery planning.

Peter Rekers – Crisis Ready

Interesting articles – Today’s roundup

A couple of good emergency management-related articles from today’s Online Opinion:

1.  Flood management: a 12-point plan for Australia by Chas Keys, a Queensland-based flood management researcher who’s part of the natural hazards research unit at Macquarie University.  He says, “We need to better communicate information and advice to those about to experience flooding.”

2.  Social capital (from the floods) – up close and personal by Geoffrey Woolcock, who researches child-friendly communities at Griffith University’s Urban Research Program. There’s a good discussion of resilience and volunteerism here: “We were overwhelmed with the support that came from near and far, friends and strangers, family and acquaintances.” Seems that sites like FloodAid are indicative of a larger trend offline.

3.  What a difference a day makes: Katrina to Cairns by Edward Blakely, who I’ve heard speak a few times now. Ed’s the Professor of Urban Policy at the United States Studies Centre, Sydney University, and was the head of recovery after Hurricane Katrina in the US.  One of his ‘to-do’s’: “Have a communications system in place to reach all community members before, during and after the crisis. All the modern tools need to be put in place ranging from mobile phone messaging to radio, television and social media.”

Twitter: @dizzydeep

Is your Blackberry on 24/7 and glued to your hip?

This week the Australian School of Business at UNSW released an article entitled The Smart Phone Turn Off: When the Boss’s Call is a Barbeque-stopper. It describes the psychological and business impacts of having smart phones and being ‘always on’ – something everyone in emergency management & media acutely understands.

We all know that phone and email access are vital for every emergency communicator, but is there a smarter way to manage this technology? Is it efficient to always be on call? How does an organisation find a balance between meeting its objectives and supporting its employees?

 According to the article, constant use of a smart phone can interrupt your thinking and  lead to burn-out:

“Hard cognitive work requires a fine focus. Younger workers may have grown up with constant distractions and could be better at handling the interruptions that technology delivers. But Andrew May (who’s written a book on skill-sets required for the digital age) argues ‘if you’re getting distracted every couple of minutes, there is just no way you can reach your potential.’ However, a balance is required because leaders can’t cocoon themselves away all day to focus on high-end tasks either – part of leadership is being available at all times.”

We’ve all seen that the media is generally unforgiving of leaders who are not available 24/7, and we’ve always known those types of roles require significant personal sacrifice. But this research suggests there is also a professional issue to be addressed as well – the effect on our thinking, and consequently, how that impacts upon decision-making and our ability to see the big picture. 

“Without time for recovery, human beings burn out. ‘If we’re always on, we don’t have time to refresh or to recover and that has implications for our capacity to think and act strategically. Our focus is narrowed because we’re no longer looking at a lot of the other elements in our work context and our wider work environment.’ A physiological aspect of working all the time is that it puts the body into a stress response, Judi MacCormick, a researchers at the Australian School of Business points out.”

The article goes on to suggest there should be clear agreement between individuals and organisations as to the expectations for being on-call which carefully acknowledge and respect the work-life balance everyone needs.

I think some of the bigger implications of this idea touch on how decision-making in emergency management is impacted by rostering schedules, and how media teams are created, managed, maintained and supported. Seems to be that it’s pretty important to get your team’s arrangements right, communicate them clearly, and make sure employees retain a measure of control. 

One of many thing to consider between emergencies, as we all review our operations and plan for the future.

Twitter: @dizzydeep

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How we use social media during emergencies

 Here is a great little article and infographic from on how we use social media during emergencies. The data is from a US Red Cross survey taken last year, but Victoria’s CFA get a mention! Follow them on Twitter: @CFA_Updates and @CFA_Connect.


Twitter: @nathanmaddock

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#qldfloods and #vicfloods

Craig Thomler is a federal public servant who works within the Department of Health and Aging. He has worked in various roles within the online industry since 1995, and as such has a wealth of knowledge on his blog. I heard him speak about gov2.0 late last year, and while he was preaching to the converted, he was a captivating speaker, offering various insights on web2.0 generally, as well as govt2.0 and social media communications. Well worth reading his blog and following him on Twitter.

In a roundabout way, that brings me to the purpose of this post, the Queensland floods, social media and particularly the Queensland Police Media Twitter account, @QPSmedia and their Facebook page. So much has been written about their efforts throughout #qldfloods, so visit Craig’s blog for his post on how Queensland Police demonstrated best practice emergency communications via social media. There are some links in there to some great articles about Queensland Police and their social media use in there too.

Sandeep (@DizzyDeep) remarked to me today that the Queensland floods will go down as the way to conduct emergency communications via social media, and I think he is right.

Victorian also suffered record flooding over January 2011, and Victoria Police also showed us another best practice example of how to engage in emergency communications via social media, with their Twitter account @VictoriaPolice providing updates and advice throughout the floods.

Twitter: @nathanmaddock

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Crowdsourcing information – the way forward?

Crisis and emergency mapping could be the way forward in emergency media and community information. In my experience it is a great way to give an overview of specific information relating to an emergency by placing data on a map. For example, if the emergency was a bushfire, information that could be displayed could include where the bushfire was sighted (flames), where smoke can be seen from, where spot fires are occurring, wind direction at specific locations, where firefighters are and where residents are leaving properties. This is by no means an extensive list; there could be many more details that could be included. By placing all this information on a map, the users has the ability to get a general overview of the situation, or focus on any specific area they’re interested in to gain more information.

Why is this the way forward? This information comes from the community on the ground. Perhaps the leading example of crisis data mapping currently is using the Ushahidi platform.

Ushahidi isn’t exactly new, it’s been around since the beginning of 2008, and was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout. A short, basic, rundown of it is as follows.

The platform can be downloaded onto your computer, and deployed from there. Reports are integrated into your platform from sources such as SMS, Twitter, email, submitting to a website or using a smartphone app. In a large scale emergency, teams of volunteers can be used to validate information that is posted on the map (they can call/email/SMS back to those who submit asking for more information if required). Posts appear on the map as either ‘verified’ or ‘unverified’.

But knowledge of what Ushahidi is, what it can do and how it can help in an emergency is growing, both here in Australia and overseas.

It has been utilised for many emergencies around the world, including, but not limited to, the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill, snow storms in Washington, New York and Boston in 2010, the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and the Pakistan floods in 2010. Most recently, the violence in Egypt has been mapped, although it currently doesn’t appear to be live, which could be for a number of reasons.

Here in Australia, there have been a couple Ushahidi deployments in recent times. The ABC set up a flood crisis map for the Queensland floods. The map has now closed, but you are able to view all the information posted up to 31 January 2011. Over a thousand pieces of information from the public have been posted, ranging from reports of road closures, property damage, where evacuations are/have taken place, where the electricity is/was off and where volunteers are needed. This is all community information, from people on the ground, in the know, going out to the world, effectively saying ‘this is what’s going on’.

What are the implications of this on emergency services agencies in Australia? To them, I suspect Ushahidi is a whole new (and scary) way of information coming in. Here is a fantastic opportunity to grasp community to community and community to agency information and use it to inform the emergency response.

Ushahidi say ABC’s deployment of the platform was “one of the biggest Ushahidi deployments to date, both in terms of popularity” and how many different Ushahidi apps the ABC utilised. This shows the community in Australia has a thirst for on the ground information they can use. This has the potential to grow exponentially if a number of factors align, including but not limited to: emergency services recognising this as an avenue for information and providing appropriate resources, the community finding this information useful, volunteers and those with the appropriate knowledge to maintain the platform 24/7 during a deployment and Internet and phone coverage stability during an emergency. I’m sure there are more issues that would need resolving.

It’s important to remember crisis mapping is by no means a replacement, or the same as calling 000 to report an emergency. Nothing can replace this at the present moment.

I mentioned above that there has been a couple of Ushahidi deployments in Australia, and got carried away with the ABC’s Queensland floods. Whoops. There is also Bushfire Connect, run by a not-for-profit, which went live on 7 February 2011. More on that next time.

Twitter: @nathanmaddock

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