Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Social Media and #NEMO in Massachusetts

Post by: Kim Stephens

The blizzard of 2013 is still causing problems from New Jersey to Maine at the time of writing. Although recovery form the storm is far from over, I like to look at Massachusetts specifically and make some observations about the role social media and web-based communications played (and continues to play) during this event.

1. Public organizations as well as elected officials provided great service announcements to encourage people to help one another. My favorite was a Tweet from the Mayor of Boston asking people to be a snow angel, not just make one.

They even took it  a step further by asking “How are you being a Snow Angel today? Use#BOSnowAngel to share a photo of your good deed.”

2. Sometimes the message was simple: “I don’t know.”  This post on Facebook was from Mass 2-1-1 who defines themselves as “an easy to remember, toll-free telephone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

mass211

One thing Mass 2-1-1 might have done is linked to the private utility company’s Facebook page, which brings me to #3.

3. Utility companies definitely bear the brunt of much of the public’s ire in the aftermath of disaster events, and this one is proving to be no exception.  This storm also provides an age-old lesson in how to handle some of that anger: no comment. One look at the Nstar’s page will give you an idea of some of the vitriol that can be spewed when the power is out, even for a day or two.  This simple statement on their page elicited over 200 responses, quite a lot of them angry.

We expect to have all customers restored by Thursday night and will have community by community restoration times available tomorrow. Our crews will continue to work around the clock until all affected customers are restored. Please stay away from downed power lines and assume all lines are live. Thanks for your patience as we repair the damage from this devastating blizzard

Although this post seems innocuous, people felt that the restoration rate was way too slow. One person started a fire storm by stating the following:

I just observed TWENTY SEVEN trucks parked at Dunkin donuts in Falmouth. I have an infant and no power for 48 hours with no end in sight. Some sort of estimate would be extremely appreciated. I am a healthcare worker that’s been working for 30 of the past 48 hours I’m cold, hungry and cranky. My patience is wearing very thin…”

I think they handled it well, however, by letting the public defend them versus jumping into the argument. Often it is a worker’s family member that is the most animated with statements along the lines of “Hey–they are working hard, I haven’t seen my husband in three days!” An example of someone coming to their defense is provided below. This somewhat inelegant statement both defends the company but also points out what everyone would like…more information.

nstar

4. If you build it, they will come…and maybe crash your site. The International Business Times reported before the storm that Boston was promoting their snowplow tracking website called SnowOps Viewer that would allow citizens to track snow removal by location by zooming in on the map as well as by inputting an address. This is possible because all city plows are equipped with GPS devices.  Other major cities including New York  (PlowNYC) and Washington DC have similar systems. The problem, however, was that so many people went to the site it crashed under the weight.

This is the message even today, Feb. 11: We are experiencing significant traffic and the site is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve these issues. Please check back later. Thank you for your patience. 

Every disaster seems to teach us that sending large amounts of people to your website is not a great idea, unless you have done significant load testing beforehand. I hope they sort out what went wrong soon!

5. Boston has operationalized Twitter. Twitter, unlike their snowplow website, remains up with no problem and Bostonians have been encouraged to send a Tweet to @NotifyBoston to report problems such as unshoveled sidewalks or disabled vehicles. One look at the exchanges taking place there shows that it is obvious the city is taking the citizen-reported information very seriously and wants to hear about problems (see an example below). The @NotifyBoston feed also includes information for citizens as well, including advisories, closures, and storm updates.  (I wonder if or how Mass 2-1-1 and @NotifyBoston are coordinating their efforts and sharing information? That will be a question for future posts.)

What are your observations, let me know.

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.

google2

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.

google

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.

mappyhealth

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
photo-8

“…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:

https://twitter.com/SellOrElse/status/289423264302895104

https://twitter.com/sgt1917/status/289424324937527296

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?

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!

Module 5: Strategy Development

 

Objective: To provide information about how and why to write a social media communications strategy.

City governments employees are often blocked from having access to social networks on work computers. One official in Western Massachusetts told me that access was denied to almost all employees due to an outcry and ensuing brouhaha at a city council meeting: citizens complained that they didn’t want government employees to use social media–seemingly because it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars (I’m guessing they were envisioning employees posting pictures of their grandchildren and chatting the day away with friends). This type of conflict illustrates why city and government agencies not only need an overarching communications strategy, but, if they choose to include social media, how these tools fit in that strategy. This document could then be held up at public meetings and officials could state, without equivocation, not only why access is important, but how it is a part of their overall plan to serve the community.

In order to develop a strategy, it is important that key city or organization leaders are involved. Without buy-in from leadership, the strategy will never have a chance to succeed. This document, however, can be written even if your organization is already using social tools: having a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish is key–how else will you be able to measure success?

CDC’s Strategy Worksheet

The good news is that this isn’t something that has to be done completely from scratch. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has developed a social media toolkit for health communicators, which can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of any public safety organization. Included in the kit, on page 47, is the Social Media Communications Strategy Worksheet. This worksheet outlines the key elements and considerations– and is included it in its entirety below. We have added language to assist emergency managers and first responders.

1. Target Audience
Describe the person(s) you want to reach with your communication; be as specific as possible. More than one audience may be listed. Include a primary and secondary (influencers) audience if appropriate. (Examples: University students living in the Northampton area–see number 3 for why this is important; or racially diverse populations living in Springfield or West Springfield.)

2. Determine your objectives: 
Define what you want to achieve through social media outreach and communication. This could include something you want your target audience to do as a direct result of experiencing the communication. Objectives may include (but are not limited to) the following:

a) Provide information during the emergency preparedness phase:

  • Highlight a campaign
  • Encourage a health /emergency preparedness behavior
  • Reinforce health messages/citizen safety
  • Encourage interaction
  • Obtain feedback/exchange ideas
  • Collaborate with partners (Example: Increase awareness of immunization campaign.) or
  • Provide a forum for CERT members to coordinate/collaborate

b) Provide a way to communicate (or push information) to citizens after a crisis:

  • Provide redundancy in our communications after a crisis (web-based communications can be more resilient that land-lines)
  • Provide protective action information to people via mobile networks using free tools (such as twitter)
  • Provide text based communication to the deaf and hard of hearing community

c) Provide opportunity to listen/monitor (pull information) what is being said on social networks after a crisis. Example of what organizations can learn from listening:

  • Are citizens confused about what protective actions need to be taken?
  • Are citizens communicating false information that should be corrected?
  • Are spontaneous volunteers and organizations soliciting donations for distribution to first response organizations?
  • Are spontaneous volunteers asking where and how they can contribute?
  • Are citizens confused about or demanding more information on certain topics (e.g. debris collection)?

d) Provide opportunity for staff to connect to other professionals. Travel budgets for conference attendance is tight–social networks provide interaction and communication with other professionals across the country. Examples:

  •  Facebook Emergency Management Issues Group. Groups goals: “This site is made for all EM practitioners from anywhere, serving any jurisdiction, with any specialzation, to have a place to float ideas, ask advice, or start a discussion about areas of concern.”
  • Live Twitter “chats”
    • LinkedIn’s Community Emergency Response Team group with over 5000 members.

3. Define Audience Communication Needs (Describe your audiences and their health or emergency preparedness and crisis communication information needs.)

People access information in various ways, at different times of the day, and for different reasons. If possible, define your audience needs by using market research and other data. You can use the following resources:  (see newly release July 31, 2012 Pew Research Center Internet Study on Twitter users).

This is an example of the data:

Twitter use among 18-24 year olds increased dramatically between May 2011 and February 2012, both overall and on a “typical day” basis.

Resource: Tools of Change Planning Guide.  (This link does not imply endorsement.)

4. Goal Integration

  • Describe how your social media objectives support your organization’s mission and/or overall communications plan.
  • How does it support other online or offline components – what events (either national/state/local) present communication opportunities?

5. Message Development
Develop the key messages based on the target audience and objectives identified. (Example: for moms of young children to encourage late season flu vaccination, “It’s not too late to vaccinate.” Example: for homeowners, YouTvideo to encourage proper debris collection after a severe weather event “how to sort debris for collection”)

6. Resources and Capacity
Determine who in your organization will be responsible for implementation, and determine the number of hours they can allocate for content creation and maintenance. (Make sure to increase this number for content creation and social media monitoring during a crisis.)

7. Identify Social Media Tools
Determine what tools will effectively reach your target audience. Match the needs of the target audience with the tools that best support your objectives and resources. (Example: Because Facebook has a large population of young women who have children, is free, and requires minimal technical expertise, it may be a good tool for a mom-centered program while only requiring a small amount of funding for social media activities.)

8. Define Activities
Based on all of the elements above, list the specific activities you will undertake to reach your communication goals and objectives. (Example: Develop and promote Facebook page for emergency preparedness education which can be used for crisis communications after a disaster or emergency.)

9. Identify your key partners and their roles and responsibilities

Example: Community Emergency Response Team members will be responsible for developing their own group pages on Facebook.

10. Define Success for Evaluation
What are your measures of success? Your measures of success may be different depending on your goals and objectives.

(For public safety organizations, the real value of your social presence isn’t necessarily obvious until after a crisis. Experience shows that people might not  become a fan of your emergency preparedness page or follow your twitter account until a crisis is imminent or has already occurred, at that point, a 500-700% increase in views is common. )

11. Evaluate
Create an evaluation plan: how often will goals be measured?

Your Turn