Tag Archives: Jeff Phillips

Understanding VOSTs (Virtual Operations Support Teams) Hint: It’s All About Trust

Post by: Kim Stephens

voicebroadcast_graphic1Virtual Operations Support Team(s) or VOSTs is a concept created by Jeff Phillips and it was explained in detail in “Module 20: Who Can Help your organization with social media?” Jeff will be available on two conference calls for WRHSAC stakeholders: Thursday, December 13th at 11:00EST and again on Friday, December 14th at 1:00EST. If you would like information about how to dial in, just provide a comment to this post.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept please take a moment to review the Module 20 post. This current post is intended to provide even more context and examples of how VOSTs can be used by emergency management and public safety organizations. In general, it should be noted that VOSTs are typically deployed during a crisis or disaster event, and are generally not utilized for day-to-day preparedness communications.

VOST Defined

For just a bit of background, repeating content from Module 20, a VOST can be defined as a team that accomplishes some or all of the following:

  • Establishes a social media presence for an organization that previously did not use social networking tools to communicate with the public;
  • Monitors social media communications;
  • Handles matters that can be executed remotely through digital means such as assisting with the management of donations or volunteers;
  • Follows social media and traditional media trends and reports back to the organization what is being seen;
  • Communicates issues and concerns being expressed by the public (e.g. represents the citizen’s perspective;
  • Identifies misinformation or angry postings that need to be corrected or dealt with;
  • Provides a supportive voice for the organization and its efforts;
  • Amplifies the organization’s message by repeating content  (via personal and/or official social media accounts);
  • Compiles media coverage (traditional and non-traditional) by date;
  • Document the social media conversations – especially if something big happens.

Trust and Trust: The Incident Management Team Model

There are two huge issues here: trust and trust. Who do you/would you trust to potentially be the voice of your organization and  to answer questions from the public?  Although this concept  may initially seem like a stretch–I would never allow someone else to be our voice!–there is a perfect example of how “outsourcing” can work: Incident Management Teams. When an IMT comes into your community you do trust them to do what is required/asked.  However, this delegation is not without strings attached–a  “Delegation of Authority” agreement is signed between the two parties detailing expectations. Below is an excerpt from a sample DoA:

You have full authority and responsibility for managing incident operations within the framework of legal statute, current policy, and the broad direction provided in both your verbal and written briefing materials. You are accountable to me. A formal evaluation of your performance will be conducted prior to your departure. This formal evaluation may be followed up within sixty days after your departure once the Agency has had the opportunity to review accountability, claims, financial matters, and other items, which require time to evaluate.

Although IMTs do include public information officers, it is not realistic to assume that communities will have the opportunity to tap an IMT every time there is an incident. Even small, localized events can stretch resources and limit your organization’s ability to “deal” with social media. Which is why you might want to consider using a VOST. However, an agreement, that borrows from the IMT or Mutual Aid agreements, could be utilized.

Who serves on the VOST?

Unlike IMTs, VOSTs are not pre-formed, nationally trained teams. One current misperception is that the “VOST”  will swoop into your community after a disaster.  Although there are people who work on VOSTs for specific communities, those folks have been pre-identified by the community or organization (I cannot emphasize that enough).

In other words, if you are interested in having a group (or even just one person) ready help with social media after a disaster, you have to take responsibility to foster that relationship and come to a terms of agreement before the disaster. Communities have done this in several different ways (explained in more detail below). Some have turned to CERT members (e.g. Anaheim California’s Office of Emergency Management); others have tapped  savvy social media community members (e.g. Cecil County, Maryland); and still others, including the NYC Public Health Department, have developed a VOST from within their agency by training their own employees–e.g. people willing to add additional duties for the opportunity to do something unique during a disaster response.

Like an IMT, VOST members can supplement resources and potentially even bring in a new set of skills.

VOST Models 

From my perspective, three models have emerged for the use and structure of VOSTs. Interestingly, the model or category an organization falls into seems to be a reflection of the both the level of trust with VOST members as well as the level of trust and knowledge/comfort with social media in general. The models I have identified are

  1. External Support (Amplify and Monitor Only)
  2. Hybrid Support (Amplify, Monitor, and Respond on behalf of the organization, but with specific limits)
  3. Internal/Embedded (Full range of social media duties and support)

1. External VOST Support:

Organizations that are both new to social media and the concept of a “VOST” might consider using support from team members in a more conservative manner. In this model the following support might be provided:

  • Follow social media and traditional media trends and reports back to the organization what is being seen;
  • Communicate issues and concerns being expressed by the public (e.g. represents the citizen’s perspective);
  • Identify misinformation or angry postings that need to be corrected or dealt with;
  • Provide a supportive voice for the organization and its efforts;
  • Amplify the organization’s message by repeating content  (via personal and/or established community VOST social accounts).

Team members could provide this support from afar–in fact, getting this type of assistance from folks outside of your community might be a great option since they would be out of the impacted area and would therefore have power in their home, or office, etc. Remember, monitoring social media does not have to happen in your EOC.

  • But who? Team members could be emergency managers from the other side of the state,  for instance.
  • But how? It is important to note that with any of these models, communication between the team members and the organization is vital for success. For example, if the team identifies a potential issue that needs to be addressed quickly (e.g. people posting angry comments on Mayor’s Facebook page about conditions in the shelters) they need assurance that the “customer” has seen their “red flag”.

2. Hybrid Support

In this model, the team does everything identified in the external support model, but also responds to questions from community members and posts content on behalf of the organization.  Unlike the model above, these individuals would be made administrators of those accounts. In this approach, however, there are specific limitations placed on the team members. For instance, they are allowed to post on behalf of the organization, but only information that has already been cleared by their organization’s PIO or posted on other official government accounts.

  • But who? I have seen this model used with CERT volunteers.
  • But how? Similar to the way 311 employees use pre-scripted responses to citizen’s questions, the social media volunteers are provided answers to frequently asked questions that they can type into the Facebook page, or post to the Twitter account. They would be responsible for monitoring these accounts and flagging any out-of-ordinary questions and obtaining quick answers: e.g. Is Elkton Road flooded?

3. Internal/Embedded

In this model, the VOST team leader  is given the full range of social media duties. This model is often utilized by small communities that do not have a full-time (or even part-time PIO) and the Agency’s staff person, responsible for social media communications, has many other duties during the response to a crisis or disaster.

  • But who? Often this type of arrangement is made with people very familiar with the organization and maybe even retired PIOs. The organization has an established, trusted relationship with the person or team members.
  • But how? In order to provide this type of support, it is often best to have the team, or a least the team leader, embedded at the Emergency Operations Center.

There are many examples of what VOST members have accomplished during the past two years. Click on the links below to see some of the social media pages they have built. Sorry for the extra-long post. I hope you have made it to the end! If you have any questions about this concept please let us know.

http://barrypointorfire.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/barrypoint-orfire-814-morning-briefing-pics-jp/
www.twitter.com/barrypointfire
http://www.facebook.com/BarryPointOrFire

http://longdrawfire.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/photos-from-longdraw-orfire-jp/
https://twitter.com/LongDrawORFire
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Long-Draw-ORFire/123506971124484?ref=hl

http://tablemountainwafire.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/tablemountain-wafire-photo-mop-up-at-table-mountain-fire-st/
https://twitter.com/TableMtnWAFire
http://www.facebook.com/TableMountainWAFire?ref=hl

http://trinityridgefire.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/trinityridge-idfire-public-information-map-nh/
https://twitter.com/TrinityRidgeID
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Trinity-Ridge-IDFire/355697117846919?ref=hl

http://wenatcheecomplexfire.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/wenatcheecomplex-wafire-information-station-photo-marh/https://twitter.com/WenatcheeWAFire
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wenatchee-Complex-WAFire/522867564394287?ref=hl

http://wildlandfires.wordpress.com/rma/
https://twitter.com/#!/WildlandFires
http://www.facebook.com/WildlandFiresinfo?ref=hl

http://nyvost.vosg.us/about/
https://twitter.com/nyvost
http://www.facebook.com/NYVOST?fref=ts

Social Media Teleconferences: Learn how to Enhance Your Organization’s Presence

social-media-buttonsJeff Phillips and Kim Stephens (contract support to WRHSAC) are available during the month of December to help your organization with social media. This support is intented to build on what was learned during the September in-person conference. To start, there will be a conference call on Thursday, December 6th at 11:00am EST and again on Friday, December 7th at 1:00EST to address any questions you might have about either the technology or the processes that you have put in place since September. You can choose to attend one or both of the calls.
More “info” calls will occur during the month of December including:
  • What is a Virtual Operations Support Team? (Dec 13 at 1100 EST and December 14 at 1:00 EST)
  • Twitter round-a-bout–Including the why’s and what’s of Twitter as well as a simultaneous Twitter “chat” to get users used to the technology (Dec 17th at 1100EST and December 18th at 1:00 EST)
  • What tools are available to monitor Social Media? (December 20 1100 EST)
The dial in for each of the seven calls this month is (409) 777-9000 using the pin 4021675#.
We realize the month of December is a tough one to reach everyone, so we haven’t scheduled anything between Christmas and New Year’s. However, if you are interested in having a call during that time, please let us know (you can either provide a comment to this post or send an email to jksmtraining@gmail.com). Also, please answer this survey so we can gauge interest in specific topics: https://westernmasssmem.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/develop-your-social-media-presence/.
Participation in this learning experience is free and open to any WRHSAC stakeholders. Please feel free pass information about this training opportunity to your colleagues.

WRHSAC Workshop Summary and Feedback Form

The Massachusetts Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council, or WRHSAC, sponsored a social media training event Friday, September 21, 2012 in Northampton, MA. Below is a summary of the event, including Tweets from the  tag #WMASMEM.  If you attended please be sure to fill in the comment form at the end of this post.

The agenda was packed with information from the perspective of the community members themselves, and facilitators Jeff Phillips and Kim Stephens led the way. We started the day with a “check-in” regarding what attendees thought was the biggest obstacle for their use of social media. Each table reported one item they felt was the biggest impediment. They came up with the list below, and interestingly, 3 different groups thought “time” or resources was the biggest issue.

  • comfort using tools- legality (how far does it go? where does it end)
  • governance
  • SOPs (message control, etc)
  • time to keep it updated – keeping current & fresh (resources)
  • social media policies are restrictive
  • clarity and consistency – message control
  • ensuring consumers/citizens are aware
  •  time to do it all
  • time (how do we control the incoming traffic – to be responsive)
  • crowdsourcing data, finding out what’s out there
  • not all people have access to tools but would like to see what’s on the social platforms
  • how do people differentiate their between their various roles in their lives (e.g. selectman and employee).

The attendees were reminded that the facilitators had established a training blog titled “Western Mass SMEM.”  This blog site has many resources for the participants to use well after the day of the workshop, including modules on specific topics as well as “lay-of-the-land” maps.

The maps have links to all the social media sites the facilitators could find by emergency service organizations in the Western Region including public health, NWS, law enforcement, emergency management and city government. There are two categories of  maps, county  versus State and Regional. The State and Regional maps include applicable agencies such as MEMA. Why is doing a “lay-of-the-land” an important step? Read Module 18 for the details about why organizations should understand who else is Tweeting and posting.

Legality: What public organizations need to know.

The first presentation of the day was given by Linda Hamel, General Council for the state of Massachusetts, Information Technology Division. Her talk was titled Three aspects of Social Media Use for Public Sector Employees. This informative presentation had many great take-aways including: letting participants know that organizations have to be very careful about deleting people’s comments on government sponsored Facebook pages or blogs because of first amendment free speech protections; that staff should be informed about what behavior is expected on or off government social sites, such as on their personal Facebook page; and what kinds of behavior on social sites can lead to disciplinary actions.

Fire, Police and Emergency Managers Discuss Use of Social Media

The first panel of the day was quite lively and included Chief Wynn, Pittsfield Police Department; Bob Labrie, Goshen Fire; and Ryan Quimby, Town of East Longmeadow. They discussed their use of social media and told some great stories about how they use these tools to reach their communities before, during and after a crisis.

IMG_9051

IMG_9051 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some interesting take-aways: FB can and has been used catch criminials; social networks can be used to inform the public very quickly of what is occurring–well before traditional media goes to press; by monitoring social sites organizations can determine what the public is saying about them–good or bad. Chief Wynn stated–the public is talking about your organization anyway, if you are also on social networks at least you are able to see it and respond. This seemed to resonate with participants.  Another kind of funny take away–cute pictures increase traffic to your site: people love babies and animals and especially baby animals!

One of the concerns from the audience was about rude comments on their organization’s page. Facilitator Kim Stephens mentioned the case study posted on the blog that discusses what can happen when people post irrational or inflammatory comments. That post can be found here: Module 10.

Question: How many minutes a day do you spend on posting to your Facebook page? Answer from Bob Labrie–30 minutes or so, which includes crafting the post.

Social Media for Professional Connections: #SMEMChat

Learning to use Twitter was part of the day’s activities and included a discussion on the use of the network to connect to other professionals.

With this idea in mind, the workshop attendees joined the #smemchat on Twitter, which takes place every Friday 1230 EST. The chats are often joined by emergency managers from all over the United States. Quite a few people were testing the water with this experience.

Some of the more experienced Twitter users in the crowd really dove into the chat discussion, which was about dealing with rumors on social platforms during a disaster event. See the storify of the chat here and a Tweetdoc version here. (Tweetdoc is document that brings together all the tweets from a particular event or search term.)

Most of the exercise involved just learning to use Twitter in a quickly moving environment, such as a chat. These chats make a good no-fail exercise each week. One of the things participants discussed afterwards was that it was “kind of hard” to keep up, illustrating the need for more practice.

Social Media and Public Health Communications

The public health session began with a video by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospitals. The 3 minute YouTube video is used to train employees about their social media policy.

Panelists included Sam Brody, Representative from Cooley Dickinson Hospital; and Steven Jay Cohen, also of Cooley Dickinson and John Jacob of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

John Jacob told the audience that DPH primarily uses a blog and a Twitter account to reach citizens, they currently do not have a Facebook page. The blog allows them to post stories and information in a more flexible format than the agency website. The blog also allows for interaction with the public via the comments section. See this module for more information about blogging: Module 19: Blogging for Public Health and Safety Organizations.

One interesting problem the private sector hospital representatives brought up was the issue they are encountering regarding  the balance between emergency information versus “brand” information. They are still considering whether or not they should they post from the same account or establish a new one just for emergency-type messages.

One great point made by Mr. Cohen was that the hospital has to be careful when repeating messages created by others or “ReTweeting.”  They want to ensure that message is verified information because the second they repeat it, it can be viewed as an endorsement of that content. Public sector organizations should also take this into consideration.

40404

The participants learned how to use Twittter’s SMS texting capability, specifically the “fast follow” feature using 40404. More information about this capability can be found in Module 17. We learned that in order to follow someone (or an organization) via SMS on their smart or even “dumb” phone, users simply text to 40404 and then “Follow [username].” If you text the word “stop” to 40404 it turns off all text notifications. Users could also type “unfollow [username]” to remove the notifications from that specific person or organization.

Volunteers and Donations Management

The last panel of the day addressed how spontaneous volunteers and organizations use social media in a crisis. The panel included Morgan O’Neill of Recovers.org; Wendy DeShais, a volunteer from Monson, MA; and a member of the local media, Peter Chilton, the social media director for New England Public Radio, located on the UMass campus.

We began the session by viewing a Ted Talk that included Morgan O’Neill and her sister Caitria. In the talk they discuss how they organized volunteers in Monson  using both Facebook as well as “post-its” after the June 1, 2011 tornado event. Morgan elaborated on the talk by telling the story about how after posting a need on Facebook not only would the requested item show up–but often x10, requiring a quick retraction: “We no longer need freezers!”

Wendy pointed out the necessity of keeping up with all of volunteer activities–spontaneous or not.

Mr. Chilton addressed how improvements could be made between the media and officials involved in getting out emergency messages.

What Now?

Those of you that attended the workshop, and used some of these tools for the first time, might be wondering what you can do to keep up both your new-found skills as well as the connections you made during the day. We have several suggestions:

  1. Follow and friend each other’s new social presence(s) on both Facebook and Twitter.
  2.  Connect to the WRHSAC’s Facebook pages and Twitter accounts: the WRHSAC Facebook page (with the intended audience of first responders) and their Western Mass Ready Facebook Page. Also connect to the Western Mass SMEM page–which was created for attendees and regional constituents to use as a place to both try things out and share best practices.
  3. Connect to each other on Twitter via the #WMASMEM hashtag–maybe even pick a time to have your own regional chats. If you are still unsure about Twitter revisit  Module 11: Twitter Basics.
  4. Connect to other regional Twitter users that have been aggregated here: https://twitter.com/i/#!/JSPhillips2/wrhsac/members. This Twitter List was created by Jeff Phillips and has 109 members including the new Twitter users from the workshop–Jeff was adding  new accounts as they were created.
  5. Practice!!!!!!

Thanks to everyone who participated and presented. It was a very successful day!