Tag Archives: Google

Fighting Influenza: Web 2.0 Tools for Public Health Professionals and the Public

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Boston Mayor has declared a public health emergency due to the deadly flu outbreak that has killed 18 people to date.  Public Health organizations are pulling out the stops to communicate protective action information to the public and social media is just one of the tools in the toolbox. The public, however, is also using social media to talk about the flu. They state such things as whether or not they are sick; whether or not they had a shot; and “Google” what they should do after they become ill, just to name a few of the topics of conversation. People can even download a new Facebook app titled “Help, My Friend Gave me the Flu” to figure out who they need to blame for feeling miserable. (As an aside the app is actually quite cool. After you give it permission to access your newsfeed it looks for key words from friends that have posted content related to feeling sick. From a public health standpoint, if people know some of their friends are ill they might be spurred to get a flu shot, or at a minimum keep their distance. I’m happy to report all of my friends are healthy!)

All of this web and social data, in turn, is being “mined” by public health organizations and researchers in order to determine both the geographic spread of the virus, as well as the rate of infection. Some organizations are also asking the public to self-report how they are feeling. Below I outline five tools that are interesting aggregators of social flu data.

flunearyou1. FluNearYou is a tool that allows the public to participate in tracking the spread of flu by filling out a survey each week. The survey is quite simple and asks the respondent if they have had any symptoms during the past week and whether or not they have had the flu shot either this year or last year. Respondents can include family members and the questions are asked about each person individually. This user contributed data is then aggregated and displayed on a map with pins that are either green for no symptoms, yellow for some  and red for “at least one person with Influenza-like” symptoms. The pins are clickable and display the number of users in that zipcode that have reported their condition, but no personal information whatsoever. The number of participants in the state is displayed (1294 in Massachusetts) as well as locations and addresses where people can get vaccinated. Links to local public health agencies are also provided. People can also sign up to receive location-based disease alerts via email. Social sharing of the site and its content is encouraged by the addition of prominently social media buttons.

This site is administered by Healthmap of Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

2. Google Flu Trends is another site that provides geographically based information about the spread of the influenza virus. Their data is aggregated from the search terms people are using versus self-reporting. In fact, the graph of the tracked searches (see below) related to the flu compared to the actual reported cases of the virus is so close that they almost overlap.


Google explains how this works:

Each week, millions of users around the world search for health information online. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season… You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Insights for Search. But can search query trends provide the basis for an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world. Our results have been published in the journal Nature.

In fact, the current flu trend data for Massachusetts reflects the declared state of emergency.


3.  MappyHealth is another tool that tracks keywords related to health but instead of using data from searches in Google, this system utilizes the Twitter data stream. Their stated reason for the site: “It is hypothesized that social data could be a predictor to outbreaks of disease. We track disease terms and associated qualifiers to present these social trends.” Although this blog post is focused on influenza, the MappyHealth site tracks 27 different categories of illness. They explain how all of this is done on their FAQ page.

The graph below displays Tweets by the hour and day that are related to influenza. The last full day on the chart is January 9, which shows a significant spike in the number of tweets on the topic.


What is everyone talking about? The user can actually see the individual Tweets by clicking on any point on the graph. The associated Tweets then populate a table beneath the graph (profanity and all). The table includes the time, tweeter, complete text of the tweet, location (if available) condition match and qualifier match. The last two terms need a little bit of explanation. If someone states “I don’t have the flu” the condition match will state “flu” but the qualifier will state “don’t.” Location data is not included in all Tweets, however, MappyHealth does provide a sorting mechanism by location and this content is displayed on a map.

Another feature on the site includes a link to a “Realtime Twitter Search.” This link takes the user to an advanced search MappyHealth has already created that includes many different keywords Tweeters  might use when talking about influenza, including: flu, influenza, h1n1, h5n1, H3N2, adenovirus, etc. This search is available for every illness category. This feature alone is worthy of a bookmark.

cdcapp4. Not to be outdone, the Center for Disease Control has released a Influenza smartphone application. The intended audience is clinicians and other health care professionals, with a stated purpose of making it easier to find CDC’s latest recommendations and influenza activity updates. Some of the reviews, however, point to a few problems, such as dated information on flu activity.

5. HealthMap.org was involved in the design and development of “FluNearYou” and therefore has a similar look and feel to it. However, the site does have a very different process for gathering data. HealthMap states that they

“…bring together disparate data sources, including online news aggregators, eyewitness reports, expert-curated discussions and validated official reports, to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health. Through an automated process, updating 24/7/365, the system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information about emerging diseases in nine languages, facilitating early detection of global public health threats.”

HealthMap.org also has a mobile application that includes all of the features found on their website, but I actually find the app easier to use. Using the smartphone’s touch screen zooming capability it is easy to hone in on specific locations and view all of the associated alerts. The alert content, however, is a bit heavy with information from traditional media.

+1. #FluChat: News organizations are not only providing the public with information about the effects of the influenza virus this year, some are also providing a public health awareness function via their presence on social networks. On Thursday, January 10th, for example, a #FluChat was sponsored by @USATodayHealth.

Health based Twitter chats offer the public the opportunity to post questions that are addressed by healthcare professionals or researchers. The CDC, for instance, has conducted many chats on a wide variety of topics. Watching the questions that are posted in these chats offers local public health organizations an opportunity to “hear” the concerns of the public. Knowing this information can help with message formulation and coordination. Here are a few questions posted to the #fluchat:



Bonus: Reviewing the #fluchat stream I found “A Flu With a View” from Sickweather.com. This visualization of flu data comes from a process they use to filter Tweets, Facebook updates and self-reporting on their website. They state: “This amount of real-time data, combined with historical data from the CDC and Google Flu Trends, is what gave us a crystal-ball-like view of the flu this year. In fact, our data of flu season to date shows that we are still near the peak of flu season, but possibly (hopefully) starting to level off.”

See this visualization:

None of these tools will help people feel better once they are already stricken with the virus, but they might alert the public to how prevalent the virus is in their community and possibly persuade folks to take preventive measures. Tell me what you think. How could your agency put this information to use?


Module 19: Blogging for Public Health and Safety Organizations


Objective: In this post you will learn why your organization might consider using a blog and learn how to determine which platform is the best choice.

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

What is a Blog?

The CDC provides this definition in their Social Media Toolkit:

Blogs, or web logs, are regularly updated online journals that almost anyone with an internet connection can use. Some blogs target a small audience, while others boast a readership comparable to national newspapers.

Blogging has been around for a long time, relatively speaking in the social media world. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, YouTube etc. some people thought blogging would fade away, however, other social networks have actually increased the amount of traffic to blogs, not vice-versa. Why?  Blogs are part of the social ecosystem. If your organization has an “integrated social ecosystem” it means that all of the content posted on each platform points to and supports the other. For example, if you write a blog post, some people may find the article by clicking a link you provided in a Tweet–in turn, other people may realize you have a Twitter account by seeing the Twitter feed on your blog; folks found your blog by clicking on a link from your website; they found the website by watching a video you produced on YouTube.

Does all of this seem a bit redundant? Couldn’t you simply post everything to one platform? We are not suggesting that you have to participate on each of these social sites, however, each one does bring unique ways to provide information to your community and increase the chance that people who need the content will see it. Nonetheless, deciding to blog should start, at a minimum, by answering these three questions:

  1. What are the benefits to our organization for using this form of outreach?
  2. Do we have clear goals and objectives for this tool?
  3. Do we have the resources to support the use of this platform–e.g. who will write the content?

Top Five Reasons to use a Blog

Standing up a blog site to disseminate public health and safety information can provide several distinct benefits:

  1. A blog provides a place to discuss a topic that may be too complex for other channels and to give your topic or program a more personal and engaging presence than a website allows. (Source CDC)
  2. Since comments can be reviewed before being posted it can be considered a less risky platform;
  3. You can choose a free blog site with easy-to-use/easy-to-learn user interfaces (free attractive themes as well) making them a good alternative to expensive websites (see the Western Massachusetts Disaster Animal Response Coalition as an example–their site was built using WordPress).
  4. It is easier to update a blog versus a website–which is an important consideration for crisis communications. Furthermore, some blogging platforms (such as WordPress.com) are mobile ready, meaning you can  post from your iPad or iPhone, Android or Blackberry.  The blog also looks quite nice to viewers via these same devices.
  5.  Analytics are included–allowing you to understand if you are reaching your audience.

Public Safety Example


This wordpress.com blog “Wild Land Fires” was stood up by the USDA Forest Service  and cooperating agencies during the summer of 2012 to provide information from the incident managers in charge of each fire in the region, which includes South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. The site also included statewide and region-wide content. The purpose of the blog was to offer citizens a comprehensive, interagency look at wildland fires.


The content included maps (an example from the site has been embedded on the right), updates, and links for detailed information about individual fires. Each listed state had at least one active fire, most had more than three.  For example, by clicking on South Dakota, the user could choose between the White Draw Fire, the Highlands Fire or the Crow Peak Fire.

This was a bit of an experiment by all involved since no interagency “social networking/collaborative” project of this nature had been tried before. I interviewed the project lead, Kris Ericksen, PIO for the Portland National Incident Management Team (a full time Incident Management Team), and she provided some great insights to how and why they decided to use these tools. She indicated that the blog, as well as all of the associated social media sites (Google+, a Twitter account, as well as a Facebook page) were stood up for the response because it is now an expectation of the citizen. She said “We are living in a refresh button world. People expect you to be listening and to answer their questions.”  She acknowledged that this is difficult for some public safety professionals who are used to message control and sometimes fear what the public might say.

Why did they use a blog and other social sites when they already had inciweb? Answer, because these sites allow you to post and host things that inciweb cannot, for example, high resolution maps and podcasts, to name two. Furthermore, inciweb does not have a feedback mechanism–by using social media, you are building interactions, and hopefully, trust and credibility, with the community.

There were a few limitations, however, with the free blog site. For one, although the maps could be loaded and viewed, the ability to provide interactive maps was restricted with the .com versus the non-free .org version. They also learned from this effort about best practices regarding how to organize the blog and what templates to choose (there were some complaints, for example, about the black background).

Of note, they did place the blog in a social ecosystem–as mentioned, all of the other social sites they were using were linked to the blog (which they highlight on the “Welcome” landing page) and when a new blog post went up it was Tweeted out, linked to on Google+ and mentioned on Facebook.

What platform is best?

There are several blogging platforms:

The two I would recommend are: Blogger.com ( a Google product) or WordPress.com (the site you are currently viewing is on wordpress.com). Each one has pros and cons, but the technology is quite similar. Ultimately it is your organization decision, but HowTo.gov (a federal site) recommends following these guidelines when choosing a tool:

  • What are your overall goals, budget, and technical capabilities?
  • Decide whether a particular tool is affordable, fits into your current infrastructure, and gives you what you need to meet the goals of your blog.
  • Do you need a hosted or stand-alone blog?
    • Hosted blog: a company provides the space to store (host) your blog. Blog hosting may be free or fee-based, and each company may offer a different array of services.
    • Stand-alone blog: you host your blog on your own network. It allows great freedom to customize your blog, and gives you full control of the design; however, it is more complicated and costly than a hosted blog.
  • Will your blog be written by one person, or multiple authors?
    • Multiple-author blogging might have different requirements, such as separate accounts for each blogger.
  • Where will you post?( e.g. Do you need a tool that allows remote posting, from mobile devices, etc.?)
  • Does the tool comply with government policy–such as Section 508 accessibility guidelines, to ensure it’s accessible for people with disabilities or  security policy–to ensure it’s in a securely hosted environment?


  • Follow this link to see features of WordPress: “Getting Started Support.”
  • The video below, How to start a Blogger.com site, gives you a quick overview their platform:

More resources:

Module 18: The “Lay-of-the-Land”

English: Nashville, TN, May 5, 2010 -- Nashvil...

English: Nashville, TN, May 5, 2010 — Nashville resident and disaster survivor Amy Frogge uses social media to display pictures that document the flood and damage to her home in Davidson County. FEMA is responding to the severe storms and flooding that damaged or destroyed thousands of homes in May 2010 across Tennessee. David Fine/FEMA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine a disaster has just struck your region, maybe it is a wildfire that has crossed several fire districts, a tornado that has touched down in several communities, or a hurricane that has caused extensive flooding; whatever the situation, organizations and citizens across the impacted area will be using social media to talk about the event and to look for information.

From the perspective of your response organization, you can obtain valuable content from response partners via social media that you would not be able to determine otherwise, even by using WebEOC.  It is worth noting, for example, that most volunteer organizations (with the potential exception of the American Red Cross) do not have access to WebEOC in order to update their activities. Increasingly, these same volunteer groups as well as spontaneous volunteers,  are posting what they are doing on their Facebook page and Twitter accounts.


In order to take advantage, or even make sense of content posted on social platforms, you have to find it first.  It is ALWAYS best to determine the “players” before a disaster occurs: you would not want to be exchanging contact information with other responders after a crisis–that same principal applies to social media usage. This process, finding who is using what social platform, is something we call determining the “lay-of-the-land.” By completing a lay-of-the-land you will have a much better picture of who can help spread your message, understand and identify potential collaborators, and understand who might provide content on these platforms  during a crisis–who you should be “listening” to.

There are two overarching steps–#1 find social accounts by using the search process we have outlined below and then #2, share your curated list with other response partners so that they are not re-creating the wheel.

Step 1: Find Local Social Media Accounts

Where to look?  For the Western Homeland Security Region we have started building a “Lay-of-the-Land” already. Look above at the tabs “Web-Based Communications by County” as well as the tab State and Regional Social Media links. The list of hyperlinks can be copied and pasted for your own use, or you can copy and paste from this google doc (anyone with the link can view the Google doc but cannnot edit it. If you have an addition or deletion please let us know in the comments section below.) These lists contain every social site we could find that relate to the 10 homeland security disciplines. We have even provided a link to the main website of each community or city.  We will be adding more news organizations and volunteer groups as the information becomes available.

How did we find this information? There are numerous ways to find who’s using social media in your community:

  • Start with websites: Are there any social symbols on the city’s or organization’s landing page?  Check each agency’s page because, for example, the Fire Service might have a Facebook, Twitter and YouTube “connect” button, but the city’s homepage might not.
  • Visit Facebook pages of similar organizations and agencies:  once you find one agency, or an organization such as the Humane Society or the local hospital, select “See All Likes” (provided they have enabled this feature). Agencies and organizations will often “Like” each other, finding one can lead to similar groups.
  • Do a search in Facebook: this is especially useful after a disaster event because volunteer groups often form  (e.g. Monson’s Street Angels) and event-specific pages are also stood up. I often use the town’s name in the search, or the name of the event.
    • Activity–search the term “Hurricane Isaac” in Facebook. What did you find?

There are many ways to search Twitter, specifically:

  • Find the popular hashtags used in your community.  In Western Massachusetts the tag most often cited is #WesternMA–especially for general information (currently there are several politicians including that tag in their tweets). Once you find the hashtag it is easy to see the most active participants.How do you find popular tags? There’s an App for that!
  •  Go to the Twitter page of an organization or person you trust, choose “Lists” and look for lists that apply to your organization. FEMA, for example has a list titled “Local Emergency Management Agencies
  • Look at  MEMA’s Twitter page, who do they follow that you should consider following as well? Check other organizations or trusted sources to find who they are following.

 Step 2: Share the information

Make your “Lay-of-the-land” accessible in an easy-to-view format for others to see and use, such as the maps we included in the blog. Or at a minimum, post the content in a Google Doc and invite other response organizations to the document. You can also create your own Twitter lists.

If you want to formalize this process during an activation, you can develop a Modified Social Media Communications List (ICS 205A). (The hyperlinked example can be copied for your own use. This document cannot be edited, but your copied version can–simply choose “File”, “Make a Copy”). The ICS form 205A was developed in order to record methods of contact for incident personnel. We have modified this form in order to record all responding organizations (including volunteer) social media pages and accounts.  This form can function as an incident social media directory.

Good Luck! If you have any questions or comments please let us know. 

Module 16: Video Content Distribution Basics

Please take 15-25 minutes to complete this module. (This module is quite long–so there are no associated tasks.) 

Objective: To understand the basics of video content distribution and how the service can be utilized for crisis and preparedness communications.

What is a video sharing service?

According to HowTo.gov “Short videos are used to communicate all kinds of information by way of websites and popular online video-sharing services. Government agencies use video to convey how-to information… scientific and cultural resources, and news.” You do not have to be a registered user to see content on YouTube or Vimeo, however, you do have to be registered with these sites in order to upload videos.  YouTube, LLC was bought by Google in 2006, and now operates as a subsidiary of Google.

Did you know? YouTube has a US Government “channel” with aggregated video content from all government agencies. The videos are listed in categories, such as “Health and Nutrition” and “Public Safety and Law.” It also has a “Featured Channels” list that provides a quick link to channels such as CDC Streaming Health and HHS.

Three Reasons Why It’s Important for Emergency Management:  

  1. Eyes: According to Tech Crunch, as of January 2012, YouTube had 4 billion views….per DAY!
  2. Stickiness: Adding video content to your website or blog increases the time people spend on your site. According to emarketer.com“Virtually 60% of respondents said they would watch video previous to reading text on the same webpage, and 22% said they generally liked watching video more than browsing text…” In other words, if you have video they stay, if you don’t they leave.
  3. Ability to Share: Video content produced on either Vimeo or YouTube is highly shareable. The viewer simply clicks “Share” and is given the choice of posting the entire video to any of the most popular social networks. There is also an “embed” option. For example, the video below has been embedded on this blog, and people can click on the video and then share it to their own Facebook page. (You do have to choose “Watch on YouTube” in order for the share options to appear.) The ability to share also means that your agency can search for preparedness videos created by other organizations and then share them to your own network. This video, created by the City of Houston with funding from DHS, was widely circulated on social sites by other emergency managers and has been viewed over a million times. (Notice closed caption option only appears when watching on YouTube.com.)

Video can be used to effectively communicate both preparedness and recovery information. As an example during the devasting tornado season of 2011 FEMA created this video below about debris clean up. Granted, people might not have been able to view the video if their homes were destroyed, unless they had a smart phone or saw it in the relief center. However, because it is shareable, there’s an opportunity for friends or family members of those impacted to see it on social networks and discuss the information with their loved ones.

Furthermore, now that the content has been created, it can be embedded (as I did below) on websites that discuss disaster preparedness and recovery so that people can see the content before a crisis. Your agency can post this content  to your own webpage, blog, Facebook page, etc.

Other uses after a disaster: 

Post disaster, not only are “how-to” videos created regarding recovery information for citizens, but “What’s happening” videos are also appearing more frequently. Ideas:

  • Upload videos of press conferences–this allows people to view the entire thing (in 10 minute segments) not just what the press decides to show.
  • Video tape responders in action–this content can be posted to your   other social sites, such as Facebook, and demonstrates what activities you are accomplishing–again, bypassing the media as the messenger.
  • Post videos of damage to prevent people from doing “disaster tours” in person. After a crisis people tend to be voyeuristic (in Monson after the tornado there were traffic jams due to people coming to see the damage) they want to see what happened. Creating a short video that shows the damage can allow people to understand what occurred, will help provide context (e.g. why recovery is taking so long) and might encourage donations; hopefully, it will also discourage site-seeing. See this video below from the Joplin Independent School District as an example of this.


Watch this “how-to” screen cast from the International Association of the Chiefs of Police” sponsored by the Department of Justice.

Accessible Communication. It's the Law!


According to the Massachusetts Social Media Legal Toolkit: “Agencies using social media sites must provide a link on the landing page to the accessibility policies, if any, of their third party social media host.  Prior to securing a social media identity, agencies must assess and either correct, or provide an accommodation for, any significant accessibility issues associated with the social media site. Regardless of the accessibility of the third party host’s social media tools, agencies remain responsible for ensuring that the content that they post online, either from their own employees or external social media users, is accessible.”

How to make videos accessible is not necessarily an easy task.  YouTube itself has this guidance:

How to create captions and subtitles on YouTube

Captions and subtitles are the dialog of a video in written text format. Sometimes they also include information to help folks follow the dialog, like descriptions of music, phones ringing, and other sounds in a video’s audio track.

Captions and subtitles help make videos accessible to a wider audience by helping folks – especially those who are hard-of-hearing or who speak a different language – understand the audio track to follow along. Captions are in the same language as the video’s audio track while subtitles are in a different language.

You can add captions/subtitles to videos you’ve uploaded. It’s optional but strongly encouraged to make your videos available to as many people as possible.

For more information, please see the following Help Center articles:

Another Resource: Ohio State University’s Web Accessibility Center provides a good “how-to” do captioning which you can find here.

Official Policy Seal

Consider: Policy

Massachusetts: STANDARD EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY (Excerpt from exhibit 3 From the Legal Toolkit)

Insert this language below on your YouTube channel or your website.


To both increase transparency and save money on video hosting and streaming, [INSERT AGENCY NAME] publishes all of our video content, including press releases and to our YouTube channel at [INSERT URL TO YOUTUBE CHANNEL] and embed the videos back on our site.

The [INSERT AGENCY NAME] is responsible solely for the content uploaded to the official YouTube channel, and not for any related videos or linked videos linked from other users, nor for any advertising or other content contained on the YouTube website.

Also note that this video share is hosted by YouTube and is governed by YouTube’s separate website policies, including its Privacy Policy [HOTLINK TO PRIVACY POLICY] and Terms of Service [HOTLINK TO TOS].  These policies apply to your use of YouTube.  For questions, please contact [email contact at agency where user can request information].


privacy (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Consider: Privacy

When posting video content on public platforms, such as YouTube, privacy issues can be a huge concern. As a Google post points out: “.. exposure can be risky to the citizens shooting the footage and the people who appear in their videos.”
There is help with this problem. YouTube has a new face blurring tool “that represents a first step toward providing visual anonymity in video.” Although this  feature was designed with videos of activists in war-torn counties in mind, it will also help when posting content, for example, with children whose parents refuse to sign the release form (a sample release form can be found in the legal toolkit–Exhibit 8) or when obtaining a release form is not possible.


This is a lot of info. We hope you will use this page as a resource in the future if you are not ready to stand-up a channel today. Good luck!

More Resources:

Module 14: Google Products for Archiving and Collaboration


Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Objective: To gain an understanding of the multitude of free Google products that can be used before, during and after a crisis to help first responders with necessary coordination and collaboration activities.

Google has many free services and products for first responders. Their “Crisis Response” page has a list, as well as descriptions and case studies of what they offer, so we won’t repeat that entire page here, but we will highlight two applications. Before you can use any of their products, though, it is necessary to obtain an account. If you are signing up for this service on your work computer then be sure to check with your IT department or web manager first. Having a Google account allows access to their full suite of services, as Google states:

A Google Account lets you access a variety of Google products such as Gmail, Google+, YouTube, and many more. A Google Account includes a Gmail address and a Google Profile…

You can create a Google Account by going to the Account Creation page, or by clicking the Create an account button on the top-right corner of any Google sign-in page. You can use your Google Account with all Google products, so once you create an account — regardless of whether you do it through the Account Creation page or through a specific product’s sign-in page — you can use that username and password with any Google product.

Two Useful Applications

Gmail. Gmail is a great email service that provides 10 GB of storage space, and it has a lot of extra handy features. We find Gmail most useful, however, in the context of using social media. How? Gmail makes archiving social media interactions a breeze. Most social networking services have settings (on Twitter see “How to Change Your Email Preferences“) that allow you to get notifications when activity occurs involving your account. On Twitter, just as an example, you can get emails when:

  • you are sent a direct message;
  • you are sent a reply or mention;
  • you are followed by someone new;
  • someone marks your Tweet as a favorite;
  • your tweets are retweeted.

Facebook has similar notifications. If your account gets busy after a crisis, for instance, these emails can start to really pile up and overwhelm your normal work account–so having an alternate email is a good idea. It is important to receive these social media notifications, though; by saving them, you are archiving your interactions.

Gmail’s filter option is a lifesaver. By creating a filter you can automatically send all emails within the specifications ( from “Facebook” in the example below) to a folder. You can do this in 5 steps:

  1. Click  the box next to the email you want to filter, once you select a message more options will appear at the top of the page.
  2. Select “More”
  3. Select “Filter Messages Like These” from the “More” pull down menu.  This brings up a box that has a few choices; you can add in more information, or just choose “Create filter with this search” in the bottom right corner.
  4. Once you choose to create the filter, you are taken to a box where you can choose what to do with those messages. You can choose to “Skip the Inbox” as well as to apply a label to that message and ALL messages like it (in this case all notifications from Facebook). 
  5. In order to view the filtered messages, simply click on the folder name to the left of the inbox.

Google Docs--If I could only choose one Google application, Google docs would be the one. Why? Coordinating volunteers is just one example of the tool’s utility. When multiple shelters are open, for instance, trying to determine who has signed up for what time, and where, can be an administrative nightmare. Volunteers can get very frustrated when they show up to work only to be told–after driving for two hours–that they are not needed because someone else also signed up that shift. An online, collaborative document can solve that problem. Google docs states that their product allows users to:

  • Share and collaborate in real time with volunteers, co-workers, and partner organizations, eliminating the need to email updated attachments back and forth;
  • Safely store your work where it’s not vulnerable to a damaged or left-behind laptop;
  • Edit and access online, from anywhere, at any time.

The ability to share and collaborate in real-time came in handy during the Joplin tornado when many volunteers were required to process and track the other volunteers showing up to work. See how AmeriCorps used the application:

Using Google Docs is as easy as using Microsoft Word, however, there are a few differences to get used to. Here is a tutorial created by Anson Alexander that provides a good basic overview. It is a worth watching the entire thing, even if you already are a Google Docs user.

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