Feedback Needed on House Bill Proposing Social Media Research Project with Red Cross

Feedback Needed on House Bill Proposing Social Media Research Project with Red Cross

Representative Thompson from Mississippi introduced a bill to the House of Representatives for the American Red Cross (ARC) to conduct a pilot research project to better leverage social media in disasters. The language in the bill is fairly vague, but I gather they want the ARC to implement something tangible and then evaluate its usefulness and performance. 

A study like this could be very useful to the wider social media in emergency management (SMEM) community. I particularly like how the bill incorporates the use of social media to help deliver response supplies to affected areas, a form of operational intelligence. And social media for operations and intelligence is the next frontier of social media research that will enable disaster decision makers to make better decisions faster and more accurately.  

I will be providing feedback on this bill and am curious about others' thoughts. What other components of SMEM should be researched? Will this be useful to you? How so?

You can track the bill here. Here are the quick and dirty details of the bill: 

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NEW FEMA Social Media Jobs

FEMA has just taken yet another giant leap forward in progressing its social media presence.  In the coming month, FEMA will be hiring 9 new public affairs specialists to focus solely on social media.   (Thank you Kim Stephens for the lead!) These are brand new positions and will have a huge role in shaping the future of social media at FEMA.  In fact, this a trait that is desired.  Jason Lindsmithe, Social Media & Mobile Lead at FEMA states:

We’re looking for people willing to push the envelope, be creative, and set the gold standard for digital engagement before/during/after disasters.

They will work on disaster-related projects and priorities, so they’ll be fast-paced and work on highly visible initiatives.

The positions have 2-year terms, with the possibility for renewal following the two years, depending on available funding & need.

The positions below will expire on USAJobs on Tuesday, November 14.

  1. Public Affairs Specialist Social Content (CORE) GS-1035-9/11 (Link)
  2. Public Affairs Specialist Digital Engagement Mobile Platform (CORE) GS-1035-9/11 (Link)
  3. Digital Engagement Training Specialist (CORE) GS-1089-11/12 (Link)
  4. Public Affairs Specialist Digital Engagement-Multilingual (CORE) GS-7-9 (Link)
  5. Writer (CORE) GS-1089-9/11 (Link)

Other positions coming soon:

IT Specialist (CORE) Digital Engagement Programmer GS-2210-11

The incumbent is charged with enhancing functionality of the agency’s existing and new digital engagement channels to better reach those impacted by a disaster or emergency.

Public Affairs Specialist Digital Engagement Web Designer (CORE) GS-1035-9/11

The incumbent is charged with creating visually appealing digital products and websites as an important part of telling FEMA’s story, communicating critical safety and recovery information, and quickly impacting people who may be in the midst of an emergency.

Public Affairs Specialist Digital Engagement Web Content (CORE) GS-1035-9/11

The incumbent is charged with developing, implementing and evaluating digital communication plans and tools that contribute to improving FEMA communications operations and objectives through the effective use web tools and platforms.

Public Affairs Specialist Digital Engagement Social Listening (CORE) GS-1035-11/12

The incumbent is charged with effectively listening through social media channels to provide improved situational awareness during disasters, result in better messaging from ESF 15 during crises, and increase information sharing among FEMA its disaster response partners.

What Should Researchers Know About First Responders?

I have been invited to speak next Thursday on a panel at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Academic Research Symposium.  The title of the panel is "Social Media Research for First Responders and Analysts" and it's goal is " help researchers understand what operational capability gaps need to be filled."

In hopes of informing my panel talk, I want to ask you what should researchers know about the operational needs of first responders?  Especially as it relates to social media!

I am excited about this workshop because it starts to put practitioners with academics in hopes of aligning the priorities of both worlds.  In fact, a new term is emerging called the "pracademic."  The pracademic has experience as both a practitioner and an academic and chooses to work to align the worlds so that academic research can be as applicable as possible.  Patrick Meier captures this well as "scholar-practioner" in Advice to Future PhDs from 2 Unusual Graduating PhDs.

Some prior practioner-based gap analysis work has already been done on this by DHS's Virtual Social Media Working Group (of which I am a member).  In June of this year, the VSMWG released Lessons Learned: Social Media and Hurricane Sandy.  The report highlighted many of the success and learning points regarding social media.  On page 29, it highlights a number of technology, process, and policy gaps requiring further attention.  The major themes included:

  • Big Data
  • Compliance and Requirements
  • Funding
  • Standards, Training, and Guidance
  • Policy and Process
  • Partnerships
  • Technology, Tools, and Features

I will undoubtedly speak to these gaps, but other feedback and thoughts would be helpful and greatly appreciated!

To PhD, or Not to PhD...What Do You Think?

A couple weeks ago I found out I was accepted to the George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science PhD program in Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Management. This is an amazing opportunity I am grateful for, but realize there are some drawbacks as well.  Rather than contemplate these decisions by myself, my close contacts and my PhD advisor (who I believe will be awesome and supportive of my pursuits), I thought I would ask my fellow followers to add their thoughts, opinions, and experiences to help inform our decision (this is joint decision with my girlfriend).  Below are my top pros/cons:

Intellectual Curiosity

Diagram of the gown, hood and bonnet used in g...The biggest thing driving me to pursue a PhD is the intellectual curiosity I have, especially with so many unique and amazing things taking place in the industry.  Social media has taken the industry by storm and technology is changing the way disasters are managed.  As a result, there are so many unanswered questions, especially empirically.  Patrick Meier and others are already doing great work in this area, especially with big data and analytics.  They are pushing the bounds of what is possible and I look forward to addressing the challenges of implementing these cutting edge solutions.

The chief questions I have are:  How is social media and technology transforming the way we operate?  What is the best way to organize and respond given these enabling tools?  Essentially, I want to help define how we as emergency managers, communities, citizens, organizations, governments, etc. respond well in a "Networked Age."  It is no longer sufficient to attack problems uni-dimensionally; we must attack them holistically, empirically, and multi-dimensionally in order to thrive in this increasing complex world.  Ultimately, I hope to look at the issues from an organizational design perspective.

This is an exciting time and I think the time is now to go for it, except....

Financial Concerns

Money Woes

I am thankful that I will be receiving free tuition and a stipend in exchange for my half-time work conducting research.  However, this stipend is small and forces me to work on a tight budget.  In addition, I have not earned any significant income for the past two years while pursuing my MPA from NYU Wagner and have incurred significant student loan debt.  I am feeling a bit drained at this point and am not looking forward to additional years scraping by and incurring additional interest on my loans (payments can be deferred).

While I have some consulting opportunities in the hopper to help supplement my income, they are not consistent and there is no guarantee that they will be there throughout my tenure.  Also, and very importantly, given that I am in a serious relationship, I want to be secure in providing for the many future milestones that are sure to come.


If you have ever met me, you'll know that one of my strongest attributes is the ability to network.  While I am confident I will get to know many of the right people over the course of the next few years, I am still at a loss as to what to do after receiving the degree.  Obtaining a PhD certainly prepares me for teaching, researching and consulting, but I am unsure of what path might be best for me.  Additionally, each has its pros and cons (thoughts?).  While rejoining the workforce as a practitioner is also a possibility, I may be over-qualified for many of the positions.

I also realize there are so many good things going on that I am like a kid in a candy store not knowing where to begin.  I can't do it all (not enough time in a day), so where do I draw the line?  In some ways, I am trying to have faith that it will all work out.  In other ways, I am trying to be strategic about it.  For all I know, my future job may not have been thought of yet!

The Big Move

English: Divine Moving in one of NYC west vill...

My story in a nutshell...I grew up in the NYC suburbs, spent a total of five years in Denver, CO for undergraduate and working in EMS, then moved to Arlington, VA for three years where I was a Disaster Management consultant, then back to NYC for the past two years to pursue my MPA at NYU Wagner.  I have done some moving in my time and feel comfortable with it.

But this time is different.  I have someone else in the picture and this is a big decision for both of us.  She has built a life here in NYC and moving, while exciting in some ways, is not so exciting in others.  For one, there is the question of her finding a job in the DC metro area as an elementary school  teacher.   This is a big issue.  We are exploring all the avenues, but if we miss the cycle for hiring this year, it will be very difficult to find a job during the year.  Additionally, she is leaving tenure and a prestigious elementary school to move.  Will she be able to find something comparable and secure in the DC area?

Parting Thoughts

Decision time is coming soon.  It is a tough decision and I would love your thoughts...

Do I go do a PhD, or continue working as a practitioner or consultant?  What are the pros and cons of either from your perspective?

3 Types of Social Engagement for Disasters

Social media is becoming ingrained within the daily operations of disaster management.  From mitigation through recovery, emergency management agencies are implementing social media strategies.  But with limited precedent and understanding for their effectiveness, change is hard. Operationally speaking, how do organizations begin tackling their social media strategy?  What tools are being used?  Who is assigned the responsibility?  And for what specific area?  What procedures/policies/processes are being used to support disaster social media?

We know the many social tools that are out there...Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.  The tools, though, don't not necessarily help us achieve our fundamental objective of preparing our communities through effective engagement.  This is where strategy comes in and the different types of social media strategies.


Whether you as the Disaster Manager, Public Information Officer, or Intern is at the helm for your organization's social media, it is important to develop your strategy around 3 types of engagement that span all phases of disaster management.

1)  Messaging. Probably the most common and time-honored type of communication strategy for disaster management organizations, social media has added tools that enable use to do this more effectively.  Press releases, preparedness tips, and incident information can easily be passed through Facebook's and Twitter's status updates.

Public Information Officers (in general) develop dissemination strategies through  use of Facebook  (using Facebook Pages) or Twitter by increasing the number of follwers.  There are also aggregation tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck (check out 7 Social Media Aggregation Tools to Simplify Your Streams for more tools) that help you manage messaging dissemination.  Analytics can also be incorporated through the use of URL Shortners such as or  Better yet, show your influence to your bosses and naysayers with Klout, the standard for measuring social influence.

2)  Conversation. Probably more difficult, but certainly the next step in disaster social media strategy, conversing with our public is becoming expected and certainly a gray area between messaging and data collection.  If the public sends tweets asking questions, they want answers.  Conversation is much more expansive than public messaging because it includes going to where the conversation is taking place.  These days, more and more conversation is taking place on LinkedIn and niche sites in addition to Facebook and Twitter.  It is unrealistic to believe that conversation will only happen on your website.

Conversation, though, can easily eat up manpower and is a risky public media strategy as you develop proper responses to often heated questions and discussions (check out the NYC Social Media Customer Use Policy and the NYC Social Media Policy).  But it is one well worth the effort as your community begins to recognize that you are not just listening, but engaging and working on the things that they so desperately need.  They need to know not only what you have done, but what you are working on!  Begin looking where the conversations are taking place and start engaging now, before the disaster.  Create a list of all online places where YOUR communities are engaging and where your organization should have a presence.

3)  Data Collection and Management. I will be honest, we aren't here yet, but we are heading in this direction.  It is a simple fact, the public is everywhere else that we are not.  They are assets in helping us identify and manage unmet need, and in maintaining good situational awareness.  But they don't necessarily know what our data reporting needs are and they certainly don't know the best place to feed this information to.  But what if we identified existing (or perhaps created) tools that are easy for the public to use and will enable us to do our jobs better?  What if we created the processes behind the tools to help manage the flow of information so that public information becomes more meaningful?

Adam Crowe, CEM presented on this future in his conference presentation Going Beyond Facebook & Twitter.  He discussed the use of social geo-location tools to ultimately aid:

  • Search & Rescue
  • Debris Management
  • Damage Assessment
  • Spotter Deployment
  • Field Accountability

Tools like Facebook Places, Foursquare, and Google Latitude are just a smattering of examples.  Many new mobile location-based applications are being developed and it is up to us to develop the processes and procedures behind the next generation of applications to meet our information needs from the public.  Technology today makes this possible and is a lot simpler than you think with do it yourself tools like SwebApps and AppMakr.


Your followers are your community members as well as those in the surrounding areas.  Prominent organizations and other response partners in your community are also  followers that have the ability to amplify your messages farther than you can imagine.  Check to see if your local non-profits or response partners maintain an online social presence and incorporate them into your social media strategy.

What does your social media strategy look like?  How is it organized?  Who is responsible?

Online Disaster Communities...What/where are they?

A number of disaster related online communities and portals related have popped up in recent years.  I am researching and compiling a list of all social network, portals, blog, and news resources related to disaster management, business continuity, and homeland security.  I hope to publish this online in the next month for free. Please comment on your favorite online community.  Please include the target audience as I will be organizing the list by end users.

For example, here is a short list of communities that I have already identified:

Reply by leaving a comment below or directly at  Thanks for your support!