Archive for the ‘ #recovery ’ Category

The Astoria Fire Social Media Recovery Effort

I have a rough draft of a report I’ve been meaning to finish and post here on social media disaster recovery efforts, but I’ve been absorbed in the actual work and the holidays, so finishing it was slow-going.

So when one of my FEMA Region X friends asked (on a personal, not professional level – I had mentioned that my wife’s office had been lost in a previous communication) how it was going with the fire, I started with a simple explanation, and it just kept growing, to the point that it is a much more thorough and concise version of the story, and I think reads better than the “report” that I was trying to do. So here it is:

Thanks, we’re doing fine. Ann has a new space for Clatsop CASA, and they had good insurance coverage as well as generous donations from the community, so getting set up in a new office will be extra work, but not as devastating as for some others in the building. Her computer hard drives were miraculously saved, and she learned an important lesson about frequent backups. We still haven’t been able to get in to the space yet, but it appears that everything will be too damaged by water and/or heat and smoke to be salvageable.

So that has made for an interesting holiday season, but it also provided an opportunity for me to test some new social media and internet recovery tools, such as a blog where people could post needs, offers of assistance, and other recovery related info, and a “Where’d They Go?” Map that shows the temporary or new homes of all of the businesses and services that were in the building so that their customers and clients can find them easily.

One of the major effects of the fire was that 28 businesses, organizations and individuals were displaced and had to find new and temporary homes fast. That wouldn’t be such a big deal in a big city, but in a small town, it’s a major disruption. Tiffany Estes, the president of the Astoria Downtown Association and I worked with the Chamber of Commerce to quickly make use of “available space” inventory data, and Tiffany worked all night on building the Astoria Fire blog and entering the space inventory so that everyone would have access to that information right away. It’s been a great resource.

While she did that, I set up a facebook “Astoria Fire Recovery” page, and also saved all of the critical media links and info to a site so that all important media and messages regarding the fire could be accessed and linked to from the blog. Then I set up the Google map and helped add additional recovery-related info to the blog, and added links so that they all work together.

These are all free tools available to anyone with a computer and internet access, so I’m hopeful that others will find them useful. I’m setting up some empty disaster recovery blog templates with instructions that I plan to post to the ORVOAD website for others to download and use – I’ll also share them with my emergency management friends who’ve been following all of this on twitter.

These are great resources for small-scale disasters where people can handle the recovery themselves if they have the tools, and could be adapted for use in larger scale events as well.

One of my twitter friends, Cheryl Bledsoe of Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency in Vancouver said she’s told her staff to go study the sites we’ve set up as an example of best practices for disaster recovery – so I guess spending the holidays working on this will prove to have been a good time investment, not just for Astoria, but may also prove to be helpful to others as well.

So that’s the letter.

I also realize now that I forgot to mention the tremendous help and encouragement that I received from Kate Starbird. She set up a “Tweak the Tweet” instance for Astoria Fire recovery on short notice early on a Sunday morning (!).

The live map that Kate set up allowed me to demonstrate its usefulness to our fire department and County Emergency Managers office, and this has helped to convince them that these tools could be very useful not only for recovery, but also for response and damage assessment, which is where I think that the Tweak the Tweet technology will prove to be most useful, since it can be deployed rapidly with available phones and volunteers through an existing communications system (Assuming that the cell towers are still working for data, which is often the case.) More on this in another post, because it needs further consideration. But I wanted to be sure and thank Kate and University of Colorado at Boulder for this amazing resource, which is becoming more refined with every disaster that it is used on.

I also need to thank all of my twitter, #SMEM and #crisisdata friends who have offered kind words of encouragement during this effort.

Here are a few links to the Astoria Fire Blog and the related sites described above:

The Astoria Fire Blog

Astoria Fire Recovery Talk on facebook

The Astoria Fire “Where’d They Go? Map

GoogleDoc: Post-Fire Resource Sheet

#AstoriaFire Tweak the Tweet Map

Collected Astoria Fire Media on Storify


surrealism, cognitive dissonance and virtual volunteering for actual disasters

On Tuesday I was practicing digital disaster response, helping reformat and retweet critical flood, mudslide and other info to the “Tweak the Tweet” spreadsheet and map (#TtT) during the #NWrain, #WArain and #WAflood events, or “instances” as Data Informatics expert Kate Starbird (@Kate30_CU) calls them.

There was a lull in activity, and I was not finding a lot of useful info to put on the map. This is not a bad thing, except that I wanted to keep practicing, because who knows when a bigger emergency will happen, right? Well, guess what.

I started seeing reports of a tornado in a place called Aumsville. Turned out to be in Oregon. My state.

There’s a surreal feeling that occurs in these moments of disaster; it can occur not only at the disaster site, but also far away  as you try to fit the square peg of a new reality in to the round hole of what existed only a few minutes ago. I wrote about this a few months ago when I was helping Kate Starbird with the #Boulderfire response, which was my introduction to social media in emergencies.*

She had mentioned a surreal feeling as she worked to set up the response to a real emergency in her own community. I’d seen her first tweet saying that she was coming home from the gym and saw some smoke – within minutes it was obvious that a serious wildfire was underway and she was setting up the tool she had been using to help Haiti for an emergency in her own back yard. I jumped right in to help, and kept thinking about that conversation. After I thought about this for a couple of days, I wrote to her that I had felt the same thing myself during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in Los Angeles:

“…you mentioned early on in the fire that you had a surreal feeling as you worked setting up the response – this is very interesting to me, and I think that I know what you mean, as I had worked for many years at the J. Paul Getty Museum preparing the art and facility for disaster before the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. (And everything worked! We suffered no losses due to good preparation and training!)
But I remember how strange it felt, having spent years putting these preparations in place – and to see what happened when the earthquake hit and we began to operate as we had trained to. There is a certain cognitive dissonance between the envisioned response and the actual response, since you can never quite imagine exactly how a disaster will play out…”

Now back to the present disaster with flooding and slides instead of wildfires or quakes and now I have to switch to the tornado and here’s this feeling again. I don’t dwell on it, I just change my Tweetgrid searches from “mudslide”, “flood” etc… to “tornado”, “Aumsville” etc… and let the surreal feeling wash over me like Astoria rain, which does not usually fall straight down as much as sideways. I go to work; my searches: Aumsville. Tornado. Shelter. #ORtornado. Volunteer…

I ‘m resisting pressing the “delete” key on this post, as it sounds a little self-absorbed, but these are real thoughts emerging from real emergencies, and the surreal feeling is not just because I’m so far from the actual disaster, since I’ve experienced it from both inside the disaster experience, and now outside – not as a passive gawker, but as an active helper.

This tornado is no less real to me than the ’94 Northridge quake, my apartment shaking me awake at 5am, flashlight already switched on in my living room**, the smell of natural gas and the flash of downed power lines; no less real than the ’07 Oregon coastal gale, trees stacked on houses, the air thick with roof tiles flying like birds and downtown Astoria’s glass carpet of broken shop windows; no less real than the ’08 Nehalem Valley freeze and power outage, delivering supplies with a sled to folks who burned their furniture to stay warm when the firewood was gone.

As a digital volunteer I am not there in person to offer comfort, or help pick up debris, but I do what I can; I start my search of the stream for those key pieces of useful data that could  help someone to find shelter, locate a missing loved one, find assistance for an insurmountable task, or direct concerned well-wishers on the internet to a place where they could donate some dollars or valuable time to aid those who had a tougher day than they did.


* I contacted Kate after seeing her #TtT presentation at the Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit. I think that like twitter, which is still discovering what it is, TtT will be an incredibly useful and resilient tool in catastrophic response and recovery. What other real-time, crowdsourced map can be populated with data directly from a disaster area using just a regular cell phone sending text messages to twitter? That’s not the only way to use it, but it’s one that seems to me to be full of possibility.

** I had acquired a vintage ’60’s flashlight a month before the quake. It was sitting on the floor in front of a framed photo that was leaning on my stereo. During the shaking, the picture fell forward, clipping the switch on the light, so when I ran to the living room during the shaking, my flashlight was sitting on in the middle of the floor. True story.

Social Media Curation Needs Differ in Response and Recovery Phases of a Disaster

In social media disaster response, digital volunteers perform real-time curation*, searching for actionable data that could save peoples lives.

Many tools are being developed and tested for disaster response, such as Ushahidi’s SwiftRiver and Project EPIC‘s Tweak the Tweet at U.C. Boulder, and more are on the way**. We need these tools first, and during an actual response we shouldn’t worry about what the data looks like, as long as it’s displayed clearly, is consistently accessible, and is searchable for critical key intel to forward to responders. The needs of real-time curation also carry over to recovery.

But some of the needs/requirements are different for long-term disaster recovery. Organizations such as VOAD come in after the response to help people and communities with this long and difficult process. FEMA’s publication “Telling the Tale of Disaster Resistance: A Guide to Capturing and Communicating the Story“, stresses the importance of keeping the public engaged and helping people in devastated communities in order to strengthen recovery efforts after the response phase has ended.

For the recovery phase, we need a way to find archived data for stories, and a way to tell those stories**** in compelling and visually interesting ways that keeps people engaged, so that they’ll continue helping survivors past the point of saving their lives and providing them temporary shelter. I think that one way to keep that story compelling will be with what we now refer to as “curation.” Here are some of the things that would be helpful in curation tools for purposes of disaster recovery.

To tell these stories we’ll need to archive data – or have access to archived data – so that it can be searched for and edited once there’s a recovery underway, and there’s a story to tell beyond the disaster and response story. Ultimately, it would be great to be able to access the entire tweetstream***, searching back in time to the event, even before the event.

Imagine the power of a story that’s able to illustrate what an area was like before being devastated; children playing, families enjoying their community, people living their normal lives before the disaster. Yes, we can look to traditional media for some of this, but access to social media data such as tweets and facebook posts will be very helpful and will enrich the story.

Beyond that, being able to easily reformat these stories/streams/bundles so that they can be shared in a variety of ways, such as being sent in an email message, or posted on blogs and websites would be helpful. For example, Storify stories can be sent via email formatted as they appear on their website, and Storify, Keepstream and Curated.By stories can be inserted as formatted in to many blogs and websites.*****

It seems to me that this will be especially  important as new, innovative ways to fundraise such as “CrowdFunding” begin to be used for disaster recovery.

I’ll continue to add information here as I learn more. Thanks for your time, and I hope that this will begin a helpful dialogue on disaster recovery and social media.


* I agree with Sophia B Liu, who writes in her “CuratusKit” proposal about the need to be more specific when identifying and developing the different phases of curation. We need to define this more clearly. Her “7 Archetypes” are a great way to begin that discussion.

** For more on the new curation tools that are being developed, please see my post on the subject and the ongoing discussion on the #SMEM PiratePad

*** I’ve seen Robert Scoble’s DataSift and Research.Ly interviews – these services will be powerful research tools that I believe will be useful for telling recovery stories.

**** There are very serious privacy issues to be dealt with when telling these stories, and this is covered in the FEMA publication and elsewhere.

***** Unfortunately none of the current curation tools can be posted here in my WordPress blog because wordpress doesn’t allow javascript; partially my fault since I could do this using WordPress if I hosted the site elsewhere.

This post was informed and inspired by many, including all who wrote these:


The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators

MARCH 27, 2010 BY ROBERT SCOBLE (Blog post)


The real-time curation wars (exclusive first look at



Why Social Media Curation Matters

By Chris Collier

November 10, 2010 (Blog post)


Social media curation with Keepstream: skip or join?

(blog post)


From Curator to Socially-Distributed Curation (aka Crowdsourcing Curation)

Sunday, March 07th, 2010

Author: sophiabliu

••• Aims To Be The “Smithsonian Of The Web”, But They Need Your Help

Author: MG Siegler

Nov 23, 2010


Storify and the search for curation

Posted on Sep 30th, 2010 by Mike Carlucci


Keepstream: A tool for curating internet content

Posted on October 17, 2010 by diannerees


Automated Filtering vs Human-Powered Curation

(blog post)


Real-Time News Curation Series (in Six Parts)

Robin Good with the editorial help of Elia Lombardi

(discusses some more tools that I haven’t looked at yet)

(be sure and see all parts in series – all are in this link)

October 2010


Exploring Curation to Transform the Mundane into the Strategic

By Alex Williams

July 13, 2010 11:36 PM


Defiant Irish tweeters say #imnotleaving

(Storyful Beta Demo)


CuratusKit: Designing a Curatorial Toolkit for News about Disasters

By @sophiabliu


5 opportunities for dynamic curation tools

By Kevin Loker on November 23, 2010 10:41 AM


Project EPIC

Empowering the Public with Information in a Crisis


The New Curators: Weaving Stories from the Social Web

by Josh Stearns


Started an update about search in curated lists/streams/stories, but it’s quickly turning in to a separate post, so I’ll just say that search is an important function that would be very helpful. By search I mean specifically it would be helpful to be able to search all text in everything saved to the stream, and that should include – if possible – any web pages saved to the stream or list. More on this in an upcoming post. -sr