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The Perversion of Social Media

I read an article today about a fatal accident that occurred in the Dallas/Fort Worth, TX area yesterday (6/3/2014).  The article focused somewhat on the accident itself, but moreso on the reaction of an off-duty responder who noticed bystanders using their phones to capture footage of the accident, rather than assisting.  (You can find the aforementioned article here in a new window if you’re interested in its content before reading further.)

The article shares the point of view of Lt. Anthony Williams (the off-duty responder) who attempted to assist in the incident as he pulled on-scene to a burning car where reportedly two people died, burned beyond recognition.  He recalled onlookers pointing their phones at the scene in his peripheral vision and called it “the perversion of social media” that they would be more interested in capturing video footage instead of helping the victims.  That phrase caught my attention and left me wondering…is that where social media has now led the public in emergency situations?

BipHkL_CcAApVR4 Post plane-crash selfie…

Upon further investigation, I found that even being a part of disaster situations isn’t enough to distract from the need to immediately share those experiences on social media.  You can search for  “selfie after plane crash” or “selfie after stabbed” and there are, in fact, results that turn up by the plenty.  Another video seen today made light of a teenager with his dad who saw a semi-truck stuck on some rail road tracks.  As a train approached, they began recording the unfolding incident and the video was soon uploaded to YouTube and shared across the web.  And the teenager literally stood in the middle of the debris saying, “is this real life??”

So what is encouraging the public to make these choices during disaster situations?  I would argue it’s actually a list on influences that should be considerably eye-opening for my fellow emergency management focused friends, especially in their planning and response strategies.

The public isn’t empowered enough to act during disaster.  

We spend a lot of our time telling people what they can’t touch, where there can’t go, what can’t do, what they can’t say, or generally protecting whatever “territory” we feel is ours that it’s no wonder community members look a a crisis unfolding and feel helpless to do anything.  For the lay community member, what is outside of their daily job function is outside of their “basement” level thinking – the kind of thinking that happens naturally and automatically in response to a stressful situation. (I should note that concept is learned from a 2011 meta-leadership seminar I attended!)  For the officer in the story above, jumping into response mode was the obvious choice.  For the other bystanders, they’re so often made to feel that the only thing they can and should be allowed to do is wait patiently.  Is this all encompassing, of course not.  Is it pretty common?  Well, the story above is one of many examples.

The public experiences fear, and fear can be paralyzing.

One of my favorite books related to emergency management was Amanda Ripley’s Unthinkable.  It’s a great read, not too complicated and very eye opening about the reactions people have to disasters.  Plane going down?  Everyone shares a laugh.  Building burning down?  Let’s wait and see what’s REALLY going to happen.  Fear paralyzes people, removes their normal thought process and makes excuses against what they’re experiencing to put it in a more digestable format.  When you’re afraid, the ability to make rational decisions is quickly diminished, and that lack of recognition and decision making is paralyzing.  What do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Which leads me to my next thought…

The public has a disconnect with crises. 

We’re not empowering them, and without knowledge or training there is fear.  And where there is fear and inexperience there is a disconnect from what a crisis really is: a bad situation that can happen to anyone, anytime that is completely dependent on who will step up to handle it.  The 24-7 news-like exposure folks have to disaster in our culture so often puts them in a realm of automatic disconnect to the reality of it that when it’s in front of them, it automatically turns into almost a movie-like experience.  As long as nothing happens to someone, they will believe that nothing will happen to them.  And when it happens to others, it’s a very unfortunate, very impersonal scene that they haven’t been given a role to play in.

The public processes information in a very unprecedented way.  

There was a point in my life that if I didn’t know what to do, I’d open my phone and click on Twitter.  Or I’d sit down to do a task at my computer and type “Faceb…” before I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.  Am I proud of this fact?  No way!  “Recovering” is a more accurate description.  The point is, social media is a decision A LOT of people make when we’re in the basic, “basement” way of thinking.  Nowadays, events haven’t been experienced until they’ve been shared.  They’re not processed unless they’re discussed.  We use social media to document information, to show we’re the first to know it, to receive empathy, to alert that we’re okay, to share the unbelievable.  We use social media to experience that which simply “can’t be happening to me” during the times we “can’t do anything about it” because it isn’t real life until we can go through our notes with those we connect with.

Yes, I realize I’m speaking in absolutes, recognizing this is a thought for a general population and not all-encompassing.  But you get the idea.  It is a terrible tragedy that anyone should lose their life needlessly in disaster.  It’s even worse when there are things that can be done that aren’t done, whether for ones self (evacuating, preparing, sheltering…) or for others.

So what are you going to change about your message and your interactions with your community to humanize the emergency management field, empower your citizens and foster a whole community response to keep these things from happening any more?

Tweet #BiggerThanMyself or mention me @tjlasagna if you have some suggestions.  If this is a topic you’d like to see researched further, please also let me know.

-Tanya

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August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!

Below you will find the August content of my monthly Disaster in Place.  Disaster in Place is an email series I began in May 2013 to engage Medical Reserve Corps team members to think practically about preparedness for just a few minutes a month and increase our alert responses (what we use in Virginia to see who is available to respond in disaster).  It comes complete with training and educational opportunities for those who are so inclined.  (I wrote a blog post introducing this series back in May!)

I’ve been instituting the Disaster in Place training series with my three MRC units since May and am happy to share stats, info, and previous months’ with you.  Feel free to participate, use and share, but if you do, please let me know so I can keep track of the reach of this program!  It would be quite appreciated.  I’ll be posting these every month…enjoy!

August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!

Good morning!

Welcome to the fourth of our monthly Disaster in Place series. As always, please click on the alert link in this message and indicate you did or did not participate in this exercise so we can track that everyone knows how to receive and respond to requests with  availability!

This month’s scenario is a chemical event.

A chemical exposure can happen for a few reasons, including terrorism and human error in a factory or even at home. If you were exposed to a chemical material, how would you react? Would you know to remove exposed clothing and wash for fifteen minutes with soap and water (or what we call decontamination)? What if that chemical was at home and a family member or friend was exposed?

For information about various chemical agents, including lists, FAQ’s, and decontamination, check out this fantastic resource from the CDC: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/

For additional training on hazardous materials at home, visit this free online course from FEMA, IS-55.a: Household Hazardous Materials ? A Guide for Citizens http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-55.a

For even more training, check out this course from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Intro to Chemical Agents: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-public-health-preparedness/training/online/intro_chem_agents.html

And remember these important numbers: Poison Control Center – 800-222-1222 and Virginia 2-1-1 for all types of questions, connections and resources.

Hope you enjoyed this month!
Tanya

Try this: Disaster in Place!

There aren’t a lot of jobs that require everyone’s participation.  And not just everyone in a certain facility or agency, I mean everyone.  It’s tough sometimes!  I certainly find myself “silo-ing” people into their jobs.  I don’t know how to be engaged and I’ll never need to know how to be engaged.  I think in the emergency world we find a lot of the same thing.  We have jobs to do and whether people know we exist and what our jobs are, they expect they’ll be done and all will be well.

But it just takes more than that.

Working with professionals who have volunteered their time, I am now much more accustomed to adjusting to individuals who don’t think of emergency management on any type of regular basis.  It’s kept me from having tunnel-vision or becoming so immersed inside an emergency management world that I forget how to relate with the public.  (It’s also done wonders for this fast-talking acronym lover! To slooooow down, spell things out, give meaning to each word of our accurately/overly descript titles!)

I love jargon, don’t you?

Couldn’t have said it better, public health memes!

That being said, I know no matter how many disasters happen, and no matter what has actually impacted our area, encouraging people to think about disasters and preparedness on a realistic level is still a challenge.  This is true for community members, colleagues in all types of organizations, schools, and so on.  But I think I might have a solution that will help engage people using the best ally we have in preparedness: their minds!  ♫Dun dun dun!!♫♪

As an emergency management addict – yes, I’ll admit it – I live thinking about the “worst case scenario” every day.  Behind a truck with a radioactive symbol on the highway?  I’m planning.  Driving through gasoline storage tanks?  Planning.  Standing at the edge of the ocean?  Planning!  Random zombie apocalypse in Wal-Mart?  Oh, you know I’m planning.  I’m sorry, but no disaster scenario you throw me into is going to be as colorful as my “what if…

So I wonder, what will the public’s “what if’s” do for them?

This month, I will begin a new series with my awesome Medical Reserve Corps teams and leave it open for adaptation in any facility that would like to play off of it.  It’s called Disaster in Place and will be more than just a tool to raise “alert” response numbers (those availability responses I monitor when I send out events, tests, etc.)  For example, for the month of May, I have scheduled to send out alerts to all three of my units on Tuesday during standard business hours on an Active Shooter scenario.  However, the scenario won’t be mine to write.

It will begin with the explanation of Disaster in Place, the purpose and the instructions on how to successfully complete it.  (For those of you that may want to replicate this idea, what I’m more or less using is below.)  But I won’t leave my friends without some educational resources as well!  Months ago, after the Aurora, CO shooting, I encouraged my members to take FEMA’s IS 907 Active Shooter: What You Can Do and we had some interest.  But talking yourself through your own active shooting plan, right where you are at that very moment?  That may encourage a little more planning indeed.  I will also include a link previously shared on some of our Facebook sites, Houston’s popular RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. video on YouTube is a very clear, useful way to consider your choices in an active shooting incident.

The purpose is to leave our members feeling ready (and maybe even the people around them, if word spreads!).  Not to live in fear, but to live in preparedness.  To create strong, powerful communities where everyone is a part of my job and that’s what makes it successful.  Disaster in Place will have several elements I think are critical for success – giving our communities something they can think, something they can see, and something they can do.

Next month, we’ll give severe weather a shot one evening or on the weekend!  And once that catches on, I think letting people choose the time/place of that days drill will be appropriate and even more engaging.  Stay tuned and I’ll update how it goes, and if you decide to participate, please comment, or shoot me an email and let’s share some great ideas.

Tanya

Want to implement Disaster in Place in your organization?  Here’s a snapshot of what’s cooking in my MRC’s:

Purpose:  To engage non-emergency management related personnel at least once a month in their normal environments in order to increase awareness, personal preparedness and readiness.  (MRC specific purpose: to also increase our alert response and stay actively connected to our members.)

Introduction:  Our introduction looks a little something like this…

Good afternoon team,

This month we will begin our Disaster in Place series, designed to increase awareness, preparedness and response no matter what your environment today may be!  Please take five minutes to participate in the exercise, and respond to this alert with a “yes” or “no” that you have done so.  Please respond either way so we may track our alert response rate, even if you are not able to participate.

This month’s scenario is an Active Shooter event.  Please take two minutes to review your surroundings where you are right now.  What are your exits?  Where are your hiding spaces?  What resources, such as phones, windows, and other people are around you?  Now take three minutes and decide, what would you do if an active shooter were to advance towards your area?

For tips on what you can do in an event like this, please review the following 5:22 video: Run. Hide. Fight.

For additional FEMA training, please advance to the following course at your leisure and forward your certificate to your coordinator, if you choose to participate.

Thank you for all that you do!

Goal:  To require as little time as possible in order to encourage participation – professionals are busy!  But in the end, you make time for what you care about, and I believe our members will do just that.  We’re asking for a five minute interlude in their day, we’re offering several more minutes of optional training, with an unlimited potential community value.

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.”

vol

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.

 

HELPFUL RESOURCES:

Virginia MRC: www.vamrc.org
National MRC: www.medicalreservecorps.gov
CERT: http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams
American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
VOAD: www.nvoad.org