Monthly Archives: April 2013

I didn’t know social media did all THAT

What. A. Week.  Seriously! I’m calling a time out for this week! Maybe even this month.  In true “when it rains, it pours” fashion, this last week has taken my battered brain on an intense ride.

I can’t focus on all of these events at once so I’m going to do like these disasters do.  Start local and submerse myself within the realm of social media and its impact on the local response and responder.  We’ll start with last Friday.  On April 12, 2013, a local college experienced an incident in which two women received non-fatal gunshot wounds.  Allow me, if you will, to take you on a little tour of these events.

At 1:52 p.m., the alleged gunman posted a picture of the entrance to the school, which is a satellite wing located in the local mall (another focal point of mine in disaster) to an online forum used by students.  At 1:55, dispatch received a call of shots fired within the building and police raced to respond, and 17 minutes later the local newspaper made its first Tweet about the event.

Within eight minutes of that, I had joined many other Tweeters in retweeing this information.  This continued until they conducted their first press conference, which was held at an astonishing time of 3:00 p.m.  It was also live tweeted by the local news.  The first interviews were done within this time frame and shared across Facebook and Twitter, just as the first photos were taken by a personal cell phone and shared in the same manner.

From threat to action to press conference and beyond, social media made the awareness of this event lightening fast.  Generally speaking, the race to gather information and put it out as quickly as possible has led the public to demand answers just as immediately.  Social media has not only supported the expectations for this, but it has changed the role the public has in disaster as well.

Suddenly, everyone is a reporter.  Everyone is a photographer.  Everyone is an investigator, surreptitiously accessing information because they can.  And they have an unlimited audience.  Though this blog is about the impact of social media on a local scale, I’d be remiss in failing to address the fact that authorities have actually started relying on these facts, specifically referencing the call for copies of personal photos and videos by the amateur reporter public.

Social media has become a conduit in which threats are made, and its users automatically become affiliated with some part of the response the moment they see or hear and report this information.  It’s become a crisis counseling or critical incident debriefing method as users are consistently able to share their experiences, fears, and concerns in ways they may otherwise never admit talking to you or I face to face.

Point being?  Social media is already integrating our communities into our response whether they like it or not.  Whether we like it or not.  If we’re not integrating that into our response, we’re refusing to engage the public in a way many of them can process, connect with, identify with or understand.  Social media plans need to be in the planning, the response AND the recovery.  Otherwise, our community is going to force us there and we won’t be ready to use their valuable information, or take advantage of opportunities to support community resiliency.

Even on the most basic, local scale, social media served a multitude of roles.  I know I’m not afraid to use these tools to meet my team members and my community where they’re at.  I hope you aren’t either.


That’s…A Bad Plan

Ever heard someone say, “In a real emergency, plans go out the window!”  I’ve heard it a million times…and I hate it.  If your plan hasn’t been written applicably, that’s…a bad plan. If it hasn’t been exercised with you staff and stakeholders, it’s useless.  If your plan isn’t engrained into your organization to the point of being second nature, you’ve got work left to do.

I’ve heard time and again that, “noone is going to do that,” in an emergency. I used to shrug and think well, that’s true. Who’s going to have time to make this call or commit to that action, in a real emergency? But I finally understand, I have been giving excuses to something that really doesn’t deserve them.

It seems many EM folks have been looking for ways to get around plans for years. Why? Incident Command gives us a clear direction on who does what, when and how.  Yet we fight against this, and all plans, constantly.  Allow me to elaborate.

Some time ago I participated in a discussion about triage. Folks were discussing ways to triage and track patients and instead of thinking of consistent, reliable plans, they decided on behalf of “triagers” that they were unchangeable, unwilling or incapable.  It became impossible to make a plan because instead of considering what was needed, we left with a nice idea and an “understanding” we’d never actually do it.

Another example: in a discussion about sharing information, everyone bypassed the Liaison Officer concept and the usage of a Public Information Officer, opting to contact whomever was in their address book because “you can’t rely on this agency to contact that agency to let them know what’s going on.”

Please understand, I am thoroughly impressed at the robust network many have established, but, if that person gets hit by a bus before a disaster, I need to know I’m going to know what I need to know. I need to trust that a specific role has a function, understands it and completes it. Networking is invaluable, but I can’t create a plan out of anyone’s personal network, because I can’t create a plan only one person can follow.

So…why write impossible things we only plan to bypass?  I submit to you that any plan that causes you to make up your own on the spot or leaves you lacking any faith in it, is….a bad plan.  Train your staff or change your plan, either way it needs to work.

And now boys and girls, a story!

Have you ever been to the fast food chain Wendy’s and noticed the square hamburger pattys and wondered why? The founder of Wendy’s, Dave Thomas, built his company on the motto that, “We don’t cut corners on quality.” He left the hamburger corners there as a reminder to his staff and to his consumers that this was their underlying value. True story!

Friends, colleagues, it’s time we stop cutting corners too. Let’s make the corners work, let’s get efficient, let’s get applicable, and let’s leave those corners there for our staff and our consumers to be reminded we’re here to give our best everyday.

Let’s stop writing plans we don’t even believe we’ll use, because if we don’t believe what we’re saying, it is highly improbable anyone else will either.

Why Do Zombies Work?

A friend told me recently that nobody is going to pay attention to emergency preparedness unless we give them a reason to care (in so many words). And I have to say, truer words may never have been spoken. The funny thing is, everything that can actually happen seems to never motivate people into action. In reading Amanda Ripley’s The Unthinkable, history often shows us that even when disasters are actually happening right then and there, people seem to sink into a state of denial. So that really begs the question…why do zombies work?

I have this theory. Preparedness is boring, response is exciting. And the idea of fending for yourself in a cataclysmic event seems to be strangely attractive. came up with a great list of reasons we secretly want the zombie apocalypse (Note: Rated PG-13) that I can’t say I disagree with. The alluring factor of having nothing that stands between you and imminent danger is shocking to me, and yet I am subject to it.

Ask someone what they’ll do in a floodplain, tornado warning, or terrorist attack and they may shrug and mutter something about shelters or insurance. Ask them what they’ll do in a zombie apocalypse? They’re likely to pull out one of these gems (courtesy of

The key to my theory is this: no one is going to rescue the public in a zombie apocalypse and they know it.

In an apocalypse, it’s every man for themselves. If you know nobody is coming to rescue you, instinctually, you can only plan to rescue yourself. Meanwhile, the public often misunderstands their safety or places an extreme sense of trust into whomever they believe is supposed to protect them and that this agency will follow through. Not that we don’t warrant some trust, but the care of each and every individual is a task that we simply lack the resources to fully meet in a certain events. Why prepare for something you believe you will always be protected from? (Of course my question – why risk it in real life?) We’re all subject to zombieism!

Another key, in a disaster, everyone believes they will know that it’s coming.

Warnings will appear and they’ll have “plenty” of time to get ready. But zombies? Those suckers just arrive. In the movies, there is always someone waking up suddenly out of a coma and the world is overrun. There’s no time to think, only time to act. I’d venture to say people believe they will always have the luxury of knowing in “plenty” of time when something bad is going to happen. But that doesn’t always seem to make a difference anyway, as noted when a local to me river flooded and everyone parked near it just decided, “it won’t happen to me!”


Like I said, response is exciting, and I offer that it’s action movies and shows that have turned this super bad actionista/actionisto idea into something sexy. Even popular zombie shows like The Walking Dead have over 1.4 million Twitter followers and not a day goes by that #zombies isn’t a trending topic of some sort. In addition, they have over 16.4 million “likes” on Facebook, and over 2.4 million people talking about them at any given time. Millions of people who have no doubt questionned their own response in the apocalypse…millions of open minds. And there’s something creatively motivating about recognizing the direness of such a situation and realizing you will have no time, no warning, and no one to save you.

In today’s world, the farther we get from a disaster, the more complacent we become. And that’s whether you experienced it first hand or from afar. Rememer the slew of funding we received after 9/11? I think we’ve all noticed that’s significantly dwindling. And with every day that passes that we remain protected, lucky, or blissfully unaware, emergency funding is displaced and fire chiefs, town managers, or some other unprepared soul is “voluntold” to accept responsibility for planning. Without the tools and training. What happens next? Another big event with potential for major loss of life and property, more funding comes, years go by without an incident, complacency sets in, funding decreases, and so on and so forth.

Tthe CDC had it right. People care about zombies. For whatever reason, whatever theory. You just can’t beat the “what if…” in someone’s mind. But maybe, if we guide it a little bit, we’ll start really talking about preparedness, and maybe have a little fun, too.

Free Word of Mouth?!

I’m a Medical Reserve Corps coordinator by day, and a Medical Reserve Corps coordinator by night.  Yes, that’s right.  When disasters happen in any one of my areas at any time, I jump into response mode!

I love disasters.  Not to say I love what they bring with them, but I love the opportunity to protect the community where I live and work by providing focused coordination for people who want to do good work for the people who need it most.  In case you’re not familiar, a Medical Reserve Corps unit is a team of dedicated medical and non-medical professionals who have committed their own personal time to promoting disaster preparedness, response, and often times public health.  Literally people who have made a decision to become part of something bigger than themselves.

Working with people who have actually donated their time because they care about their community as much as I do is a complete privilege and an honor.  In Virginia, we have over 13,000 members (to my last recollection).  That is 13,000 people who have said, yes! I cared enough to commit my free time to preparedness.  13,000 people who could potentially be looking after you in a shelter, a disease outbreak, a mass shooting, an act of terrorism.  13,000 people who don’t need us, but how much we need them is unfathomable.

Everyone cares about emergency preparedness directly following the impact of a natural disaster or a catastrophic event.  But in order for emergency management to do any good at all, we need people to care what happens when nothing is happening.  And it isn’t always the easiest job in the world to convince people to spend money they don’t have on things that will “never happen here.”


Well then, aren’t you lucky?  No matter what state you’re in, MRC members are turning the idea of preparedness into the act of preparedness.  I think we all recognize that statistically speaking, prepared communities are more resilient before, during and after a disaster.  And it isn’t just the MRC by any means, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), American Red Cross, and various Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are also becoming the conduits for our message.  Being word of mouth advertising, planning for their families and themselves.

Want to spread a message of preparedness quickly and efficiently and skip the part where you convince people it’s necessary?  Try one of these free resources that include people who have already made a statement – I’m part of something bigger than myself.



Virginia MRC:
National MRC:
American Red Cross: