twitter lists for disasters

Next to building a network of trusted relationships with agencies, orgs and people via social media in advance of a disaster, one of the most important tools to build in advance are twitter lists and social media lists. These are places that you can look to fast to see what’s being reported in your area, and to see what your trusted network of peer agencies and organizations are saying.

I recommend building two lists for your area (one each of these two if you are responsible for multiple regions):

1- Local EM List

Put all accounts on this list that are related to sharing official information for their agency that affect the public during possible emergencies or disasters.

Emergency management, all public safety related organizations, state police, local police, sheriff, fire & rescue, public heath agencies, city and county accounts, department of transportation, power company, red cross, disaster related volunteer groups CERT, VOAD, local ARES (amateur radio emergency services) and ham clubs, in other words, anyone that you would want to hear from and communicate with in a potential emergency or disaster.

2 – Local Media List

Add all local media accounts such as local radio station accounts, newspapers, any television stations that cover news in your area (even if they are not right in your city), local news blogs, etc…

How do you find the accounts to follow? Start with the accounts that are easy to find. As you find new accounts, look at their followers, the accounts that they follow, and add accounts to your list as appropriate.

If you are responsible for a county with two or more large population centers, you may want to have a list for each of them. A state EM agency might ask each county to make their own list and then the state can track each of these lists.

More on twitter lists:

Twitter recently changed lists so that each twitter account can have 1,000 lists, and each list can have up to 5,000 accounts max listed on it. (for EM purposes you won’t need anywhere near that many people.)

FACEBOOK INTEREST LISTS: My VOST – SMEM colleague Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt just posted this very helpful guide: How To: Create a Facebook Interest List on her “The Red Elm” blog.

HOW-TO: twitter  post on using twitter lists


new VOST – SMEM twitter monitoring suggestion using tweetdeck (update)

Many of our #SMEM and #VOST folks have been struggling since the loss of tweetgrid.

The big missing piece for monitoring and searches since the recent twitter API changes brought down tweetgrid is not just a loss of easy viewing with multicolumn searches. We lost the ability to set up all of these searches once so that we don’t all have to build the searches individually. Tweetgrid was a huge timesaver and also allowed us to rapidly share searches with the public.

When we were on a VOST debrief call Monday for the Owyhee Fire VOST activation, we were talking about searches and monitoring, and it occurred to me that if we set up an activation-specific tweetdeck space using the activation-specific twitter account, we can list it as a resource along with our other VOST tools, and share the password with the team. Then any of us can go log in and use that set of  searches from that account any time we like without everyone having to rebuild all of those searches.

Colleague and PNW2VOST team lead Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt was leading the meeting and she agreed that this was a good idea, and said that she also thought about doing this. Jeff Phillips agreed it was worth trying, and we quickly tried it on tweetdeck to see if two of us could be logged in – it worked just fine.

This is not as good a solution as tweetgrid was, but it can be a big time-saver, and well worth the trouble of setting up on medium to large disaster activations. It still doesn’t allow us to share multicolumn searches out to the public fast, but at least we can use tweetgrid as a team tool.

So the procedure would be:

– Decide that the disaster activation is big enough to justify the time it will take to set up the activation-specific tweetgrid account and then set up text, hashtag and geocode searches.

– Use the activation-specific twitter account and email account to set up tweetdeck, then build a preliminary set of text, hashtag and geocode searches in columns on that account.

– Save the tweetdeck URL, account info and password to the shared resources document for your VOST team.

Note: This is also potentially a useful tool for all EMs and disaster org folks who may want to set up a specific twitter and tweetdeck account to share with a trusted team in a specific geographic location. For example you could set up an account to share with your “trusted agents” and set up to search local hashtags, place-names and maybe geocode searches for likely disaster areas – for instance if you have regions that are likely to flood…

If you have this account set up and ready, you could use it to train during drills, then everyone will know where it is and how to use it when needed.

Maybe others are already doing this? I’d love to hear from you.


Update: @JeremyOps mentioned via twitter that he uses this technique:

“@JeremyOps Jul 17, 8:56am via Twitter for iPhone
@sct_r my team does this using the web app. Only challenge is everyone needs to refresh to see when someone makes changes to searches/column”

Using Advanced twitter search (helpful for smartphone and tablet searches!)

Occasionally when you find yourself without access to a computer, performing advanced twitter searches can be difficult; especially if you don’t have the “advanced search operators” memorized. (Attention: twitter app makers -I haven’t located a good advanced search phone app for twitter – help!*)

Luckily, twitter has a great page discussing this on their website.

Unfortunately, the operators were saved on the above page as an image, making it difficult to save them to my notes. So I transcribed them to text, and here they are – I advise you to save these to your notes on your phone so that you have them handy if needed. I also added a simple goecode search example to the bottom of the list. You would need to find the lat/long and insert in place of the one that is there for an example.

Using Advanced twitter search (from twitter help center)

Operator:  =  Finds tweets:

twitter search  =  containing both “twitter and “search”. This is the default operator.

“happy hour”  =  containing the exact phrase “happy hour”.

love OR hate  =  containing either “love” or “hate” (or both).

beer -root  =  containing “beer” but not “root.

#haiku  =  containing the hashtag “haiku”.

from:alexiscold  =  sent from the person “alexiscold”.

to:techcrunch  =  sent to person “techcrunch”.

@mashable  =  referencing person “mashable”.

“happy hour” near:”san francisco”  =  containing the exact phrase “happy hour” and sent near “san francisco”.

near:NYC within:15mi  =  sent within 15 miles of “NYC”.

superhero since:2010-12-27  =  containing “superhero” and sent since date “2010-12-27”.

ftw until:2010-12-27  =  containing “ftw” and sent up to date “2010-12-27”.

movie -scary :)  =  containing “movie”, but not “scary”, and with a positive attitude.

flight :(  =  containing “flight” and with a negative attitude.

traffic ?  =  containing “traffic” and asking a question.

hilarious filter:links  =  containing “hilarious” and linking to URLs.

news source:twitterfeed  =  containing “news” and entered via TwitterFeed.

ALSO geocode searches: 

geocode:45.523452,-122.676207,10km  =  searches a specific lat/long within 10km

(smallest possible geosearch is .1km and largest is 2500km)

you can use geocode along with combinations of the above search operators

Note: find the lat/long for a place or an address here:

If you’re an emergency manager or disaster organization employee that’s responsible for a specific region or place, you may want to find and save some lat/longs ahead of time to speed up your search creation.

Also see:

 Twitter for Newsrooms: #Report 

reason for this post: this morning while trying to do some advanced searches from my iPhone, I realized that you cannot get to the advanced search twitter page from an iPhone or iPad because as soon as you enter the URL “” in a mobile browser, you’re directed to twitter mobile app and told that the page you are searching for doesn’t exist : (

* If you know of a good twitter advanced search app for iPhone or Android, please post in the comments.

finding and sharing disaster info on twitter (UPDATE)



UPDATE: due to twitter API changes, tweetgrid has stopped working – and there’s no word on how long it will be before it’s working again.

There are certainly other options for running searches using the search techniques discussed below, but they  don’t include easily shareable web-based multicolumn searches yet. After a discussion this morning on #smemchat, it seems as if we are all looking for solutions and work-arounds.

Kate Starbird  and her team are working on a possible solution (hopefully available mid to late fall)

Many of us are simply setting up multicolumn searches using tweetdeck and hootsuite. This doesn’t make things easily shareable, however, which is important for #SMEM and #VOST social media/disaster work.

Mary Jo Flynn now has an agency account for Geofeedia, and is testing it. Chris Tarantino also has access to geoffedia and is testing. I’ve used their trial, but as Geofeedia pointed out, the trial version is limited and doesn’t deliver all data. I’m looking forward to hearing from Mary Jo and Chris how they like it.

As Chris Tarantino pointed out, it’s pretty easy to open text and geosearches as well as text/geosearch combination searches in tweetdeck, and then move the most productive searches over to an advanced twitter search, which can be saved and shared one search at a time. Not ideal, but workable.

Humanity Road also shared this great “hashboard” page that they’ve added to their website – it’s great to have access to this, and I’m sure it will be helpful, especially during the early moments of many types of disasters, prior to disaster-specific hashtags popping up within each disaster.

Here’s a link to the entire discussion that we had regarding this on #smemchat this morning. Thanks to Mary Jo Flynn for her input, ideas and also for the chat  archiving!

I’ll definitely keep udpating here and posting as we find new/better solutions.


Original Post:

Here’s a step-by-step how-to narrative for rapidly finding useful info on twitter, and  how to easily save and share searches with others to assist in your search for timely, relevant, useful information.

Let’s say you’ve heard rumor that there’s a disaster happening somewhere, but you have very limited information. How do you quickly refine your twitter searches and find useful information? How do you quickly identify relevant hashtags?

1- Run several tweetgrid word searches in a multicolumn search environment:
1a- open
1b- choose “1×10 sidescrolling” (or your preferred layout for multi-column searches)
1c- start searching using simple word search combinations that are likely to bring relevant results, such as [location disaster-type] for example: [California earthquake]

During a disaster or event, these text searches will bring many results to quickly scroll through so that you can look for more relevant info with which to refine your search. When you find new and relevant information, create a new text search in new column to refine the search. For this example we’re trying to find specific location info that will help us to focus in on a specific area that may have been hard hit in a disaster.

So the above [California earthquake] search at the time of a significant quake in CA would result in tweets with additional info for refining searches. Specific location names will appear; cities, town names would appear in the search result stream, and eventually a hashtag or two will appear in the results as well.

   1d- Set up [earthquake location-name] and [earthquake #hashtag] searches in tweetgrid columns.


Next: use the locations you’ve found in these text searches to create geosearches. If you have the latitude/longitude coordinates for a specific place, twitter can be searched by location from .1km out to 2500km. Here’s how to find a latitude/longitude:

2- Open a web app such as and enter a specific address or city, state get the latitude/longitude.

3- Copy the lat/long and insert into a geosearch template.

It’s possible to run geosearches of gelocated tweets using the following formula for an area as small as .1km out to 2500km: [geocode:INSERTLAT/LONGHERE,??km]

   3a- I’ve created a sample tweetgrid multicolumn geosearch to get you started – set up using this template:
TWEETGRID 1×5 geosearch TEMPLATE minus RTs with searches at: .1km – 10km – 50km – 100-km 200km


   3b- Run the searches to see what the results look like.


   3c- Create your own custom searches using this search code:
[-RT geocode:___,10km] (insert the lat/long where the underlined blank space is with no spaces and don’t copy the “[ ]” brackets – they are just my way of showing you what things in a searchbox will look like)

Example: [-RT geocode:45.523452,-122.676207,10km]

Please note the use of “-RT” in the search: This helps to cut down on retweets

   3d- Try adding additional search words to filter for useful info such as:
closed – evacuation – shelter – etc…

   3e- Try running the above with a “question mark search” [earthquake willits ?] or [#eqCA ?] to look for people who are asking questions that may need help (note: searching the word “help” will most likely bring lots of results of people asking for others to “please help those affected by X disaster” – this happens a lot)

It’s likely that these searches will result in more specific place names, town, regions, and you can:

4- Set up additional text and geosearches based on these results to further refine the searches.

5- Watch for hashtags – these sometimes evolve during an incident, or new ones become active during an incident. (NOTE: running hashtag searches does not eliminate the need for regular keyword searches as many do not use hashtags or in times of disaster may not take the time to locate or begin to use hashtags until later in the disaster)

   5a- Create new text searches for [#hashtag evacuation] [#hashtag shelter] [#hashtag closed] etc…
It’s helpful to share out info on the most used hashtags – watch for local officials to encourage use of specific hashtags – support their message when appropriate by sharing info on new hashtags to other tags that are in use.

6- If you’re working with a group – share the searches that you’ve created so that others can help you.

   6a- In tweetgrid, after you have your search columns set up and running, move your cursor in your web browser window to the top white “Tweetgrid!” app menu area and click on “Share: [ Full Address ]”.


   6b- The full address/link for this search can now be copied out of your web browser address window at the top of your browser. Highlight it, copy, and paste in to an instant message, chat window, tweet, email or however you wish to share it with others who can help with your searches.


twitter search step-by-step numbered summary:
1- open – choose “1×10 sidescrolling”; run wordsearches [disastertype placename] to search for a location
2- Go to and enter the place name to get a lat/long
3- Create a tweetgrid multicolumn geosearch using this template:
TWEETGRID 1×5 geosearch TEMPLATE minus RTs with searches at: .1km – 10km – 50km – 100-km 200km:
4- Refine your searches based on new location info by repeating the above searches with new location names found from first search results
5- Watch for hashtags and share; create new text searches for [#hashtag evacuation] [#hashtag shelter] [#hashtag closed] etc…
6- save and share the most useful tweetgrid searches with others (click on “Share: [ Full Address ]” then copy URL from browser address window)

NOTE: practice, practice, practice! The more you practice using these tools, the more second-nature it will become. Try different column layouts, different searches on big events (other peoples’ disasters, or sporting events, conferences, etc…)

NOTE2: Save the geosearch template somewhere handy – bookmark an empty one or save in your notes – so that you can set up and operate quickly.


There are other ways to search twitter and other social media platforms – I talk about those over here (link to longer doc?)

Now that you have gotten to the point that you can find useful info – what do you do with it? How do you sort it and get it in front of the right person to deal with it? Sometimes there is simply too much data on too many platforms to manage alone, and a team is needed.  YOU MAY NEED A VOST (Virtual Operations Support Team)


if possible set up these twitter lists now for you and your community to turn to in disasters and emergencies for helpful info:
another very helpful thing to do is to make local twitter lists for your area – I suggest making two:
1 – local EMS and disaster-related accounts twitter list – this list should include all relevant emergency management, public safety, law enforcement, fire & rescue accounts, volunteer accounts such as any Red Cross, VOAD, CERT or ham radio club or ARES accounts, also dept. of transportation, power company, cable company and any relevant businesses that may be offering useful closure info such as banks, school districts, etc…
2 – local and regional news twitter list – this list should include all local radio, newspapers, newsblogs/sites, TV stations, etc…

I’d just like to credit and thank Gahlord Dewald (@Gahlord on twitter) for all of his excellent posts on twitter geocode searching, without which this post would not have been possible. Thanks Gahlord – and here are his posts – be sure and see these, especially if you are a hootsuite or tweetdeck user!

Twitter Location Search: A complete guide

Set Up GeoCode Searches on Hootsuite

Set Up GeoCode Searches on TweetDeck

Figuring out the GeoCode



Here’s a link to a googledoc called “#SMEM and #VOST Search” that has more search info including some web apps that allow you to search other social media platforms such as facebook, blogs, and more.

Social Media Training During Major (non-disaster) Events


I really enjoyed participating yesterday in a Presidential Inauguration 2013 social media monitoring exercise.

This came about because of a conversation between colleagues during our weekly twitter #smemchat. A few of us discussed the possibility of monitoring social media during the inauguration, then set up a Skype chat room and invited all who wanted to participate to join us there to discuss what we’d like to do.

We set up monitoring tools and saved all official social media accounts related to the inaugural event and important websites to one handy document so that the monitoring team could share and have access to them. In that same document (called a “workbook” when we use it for official activations), we also shared our contact info and logged major actions taken, as well as things that we noticed were happening during the event on social media.

We kept in touch about what we were seeing in the Skype chat room (via text chat). We looked for problems, then tried to share that information to help people find it via twitter. If we had an official agency to work with we could have done more, been more focused and perhaps been more effective, but even without that, we still got to test the tools and practice, which is always good, since new tools are available all of the time, and platforms change the way they work constantly. Practice is essential for maintaining good social media monitoring skills.

Even more important than the social media tools is the outreach and team-building, and getting to work with people to establish a relationship and build trust. This is essential to working together via social media (as it is with almost any group). During this event I got to work with some people that I knew through casual conversations on social media, but had not yet gotten to work with. This was my favorite part of the exercise.

Mostly the day seemed to go well, and while there were predictable traffic issues and a few children briefly separated from parents, it was overall a relatively calm day (I’m sure in large part due to the amount of behind-the scenes work of all public safety employees – the scanner was ful of activity!) from the point of view of the general public. We had two locals and three non-locals working on our effort, so we had access to live scanner info, and local knowledge of the region for those of us not so familiar with DC. We also monitored the official United States Park Police text alerts and amplified the text alerts to twitter on the two most active event hashtags, which were #inaug2103 and #inauguration.

We could see what was happening via television radio, public safety scanner channels and what people – ost of people – were reporting via social media. What we didn’t have this time was a connection to an official agency should we find anything that needed to be addressed, or to get direction from as far as what to look for in the social media stream. This potentially would have made the exercise more realistic form the VOST viewpoint, since an actual VOST activation would always have an official agency contact.

We didn’t have an official agency to work with for this one, so this was not a “Virtual Operations Support Team” (VOST) effort, but we used the VOST tools and procedures in a more informal type of operation just for practice. Even as an informal exercise,  all practice is good. So while it was not an “official VOST effort”, many who were not familiar with the way VOST operates got to practice, experiment and learn to work together in a low-pressure setting. Everyone that helped enjoyed themselves and said they’d like to do it again. We may even do another training exercise during the superbowl, and try to get more people to participate. (Post a tweet to the #SMEM hashtag if you’re interested and we can discuss it).

Major cultural and sporting events and the like are great opportunities to train using social media. The number of posts and tweets are simply overwhelming, so it’s great training for searching for useful and important information in the midst of chaos; just like in a disaster. There’s no simulation tool that yet exists that can provide such a realistic demonstration of what you face when trying to monitor social media during a disaster.

My friend and colleague Cheryl Bledsoe of Clark Regional Emergency Services wrote a great post last year after we did a similar impromptu training exercise during the superbowl, describing what this is like. Have a look at that if you have time, as well as the rest or the website; it’s a great resource.

Thanks to all who participated, from Chris Tarantino (@Tarantino4me), Keith Robertory  (@krobertory) and Donna Lee Nardo (@DonnaLeeNardo) and Wayne Blankenship Jr (@WayneDBJr) who first mentioned and supported the idea during #smemchat, to Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt  (ATheRedElm) who helped to select an appropriate version of a VOST-style workbook with which to practice, to Mary Jo Flynn (@MaryJoFly), Caroline Molivadas (@disastermapper) and Karen (@surfingchaos) who worked extremely long shifts,  and others like Mackenzie Kelly (@MKelly007) and Joanna Lane (@ joannalane) who were busy yesterday, but still stopped in to say hello, see how it was going, and discuss what we were doing. Good learning also comes just from discussing the work as you do it, so that’s helpful too.

Social Media Searches and Monitoring Tools for Museums, Archives and Cultural Institutions

tweetgrid multi-column search

I built this how-to guide and list earlier today as a collaborative document, (link below) and I hope that others may still wish to add to the effort.
(Here’s the full link to this page for sharing: )

twitter searches:
Here’s a 10 – column word search using common words that might pull good results for sifting twitter for disaster info:
(also I’ve added a “-RT” in order to limit returns to the original tweets)

To set up more searches on tweetgrid – go here:
• select the amount of columns and layout for columns in your search, then add searches.
• you can also save the searches that you make.  After you set up your searches, click on “ Full Address” in the menu at the top of the window, then copy the full address out of the URL (web address) window in your browser. Save this search for later use, or share with other.

Great post by friend Cheryl Bledsoe (@CherylBle)  on twitter filtering and sharing crisis-related information:
Filtering Out the Noise


Multicolumn Geosearches:
twitter can also be searched by latitude/longitude, from the center of the lat/long out, the smallest search possible is .1km, and the largest saerch possible is 2500km.

Here’s a pre-built template to which you can add any lat/long:

The above search is set for the following ranges: searches at: .1km – 10km – 50km – 100-km and 200km

Go here to obtain a lat/long for the desired location:
• enter an address or city/state, or place of interest
• copy/paste the lat/long with no spaces in to the tweetgrid underlined ”blanks”
• press search
• add additional search words and a blank space to refine the results, such as the word flood sandy museum etc…

Additional info on geosearches available here:
Examples: Searching Twitter by location and with specific keywords by Gahlord Dewald of ThoughtFaucet

Other advances twitter searches
You can also do some very advanced and yet simple searches right within twitter:


Other useful social media search sites/webapps:
most of these search twitter, facebook, blogs & other social media sites

Icerocket –
Bing Social –
Social Mention –
Also would be useful to monitor LinkedIn

Collaboration: VOST Basics Presentation

VOST: The Basics

VOST: The Basics presentation By Caroline Milligan and Scott Reuter

Here’s the VOST Basics presentation Caroline Milligan (@mm4marketing) and I built for introducing new folks to the VOST concept. It’s up on Slideshare for all to use to introduce the VOST concept to their own agencies and organizations. Will post more about this here soon. Enjoy.

(Caroline had already produced a great first presentation that was the inspiration for and became the backbone of this new one. Thanks Caroline, it’s great working with you!)

VOST needs and resources: backchannel & public facing resources for #SMEM

VOST needs and resources

VOST needs and resources

I’m one of several VOST members assisting in the development of many new VOST teams this year. As new teams are gear up for wildfire and other possible activations, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the tools and resources that we’ve used from the point of view of the specific needs instead of based on the tool, app or services.

So below is a list of VOST needs, the purpose or reason behind each need, what resources we’ve used previously to meet that need, and what we plan on using soon.

Each VOST team and activation may create new needs and other VOSTs may already be trying out new things; in other words “your mileage may vary”, but hopefully this post and the graphic I built to identify the “backchannel” or non-public resources as opposed to the public-facing resources will be helpful.

Note that some resources are used both for backchannel and for public sharing. Our plans are to build our backchannel resources, then build activation-specific public-facing resources. This is because, as we learned on the Shadow Lake fire activation, we want to make it clear from the start what incident the team is supporting. This can be done by choosing an instance-specific name and using that name for all public-facing tools.

Also note that we are working on developing backup resources for all needs – If you’re building a team, be sure and include backup resources for all needs in your plans and exercises. Sometimes these resources and services go down temporarily, so be ready for that.

And one more note! I reserve the right to update this post as I am sure that my VOSTie friends will remind me that I forgot something : )


Need: Team or individual activation – emergency or urgent communication
Purpose: Alert team as quickly as possible to an activation or possible activation.
SMS group text messages, individual text messages, or twitter DM messages have been used previously to activate the team or ask them to gather for a discussion.

• Individual SMS Text message

• Group Text Message via regular SMS group text or via GroupMe App

• Individual messages via twitter Direct Message (DM)

Need: Regular ongoing backchannel communications:
Purpose: ‘Offline’ discussions needed to set tasks, clarify issues happening in real time on social media platforms, or other things that don’t need to be discussed in public. Many teams have ongoing regular conversations between activations to keep in touch and discuss new resources, tools and developments. This helps to get people comfortable with each other and the tools/services to be used.

Tools currently used: Skype, Yammer

• Tools proposed: Yammer, GooglePlus

• Tools previously used: Skype, GooglePlus, Yammer

NOTE: There are other backchannel comms tools that meet specialty needs, such as voice chat while driving via HeyTell or Zello apps.

Need: Collaborative Documents
Purpose: Team collaboration on documents for organization, ICS forms or workbook spreadsheets, activity logging, etc…

• Tools currently used: GoogleDocs

• Tools proposed:, SkyDrive

• Tools previously used: Googledocs, Piratepad

Need: Filesharing
Purpose: Sharing documents, images and anything that the team may find useful to meet its objectives.

• Tools currently used: Dropbox

• Tools proposed:Dropbox,, Evernote

• Tools previously used: Dropbox, GoogleDocs

Need: Search tools

• Tools currently used: twitter searches, google searches, tweetgrid, monitter, SocialMention, BING social, twitterfall, trendsmap

• Tools proposed: Geosearches, Multiple geosearches in tweetgrid, tweetdeck, hootsuite, twitterfall, etc…

• Tools previously used: Google searches, searches on twitter and facebook tweetgrid, monitter, SocialMention, BING social, twitterfall, trendsmap (some of us set up multiple searches in tweetgrid, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck)

Need: Curation tools
Purpose: Save all useful info such as websites, articles, social media posts, tweets, status updates quickly and easily to one “stream” or place – may be useful to have one for public use and one for private VOST use; public curationsite for providing an ongoing narrative to the event, private curation site to provide context that will help the team keep updated on critical issues.

• Tools currently used: Storify

• Tools proposed: Storify, Pinterest

• Tools previously used: Keepstream (gone), Storify

Need: Image  sharing/storage tools
Purpose: Images help to provide context and tell the visual story of an event. (Images for Shadow Lake Fire VOST instance were very popular and were a large percentage of the blog site visits.)

• Tools currently used: Flickr, dropbox

• Tools proposed: Flickr, (pinterest?) Skitch (for adding text & graphics to a picture)

• Tools previously used: Flickr (fed to WordPress Blog?), Picasa (gone)

Need: Video streaming and sharing tools:
Purpose: Share live stream of meetings, or videos of events.

• Tools currently used: YouTube, Livestream, Ustream, Vimeo

• Tools proposed: Pinterest

• Tools previously used: YouTube, Livestream, Ustream, Vimeo

 Need: Archiving tools (for saving PDFs of website articles, tweets, posts, status updates, etc…)
Purpose: Archiving and for use during activation.

• Tools currently used: GoogleDocs, Rowfeeder, Tweetchat

• Tools proposed: Make PDF then drop via IFTTT to both Evernote & DropBox

• Tools previously used: Rowfeeder, GoogleDocs, TweetChat

Need: Analytics tools
Purpose: To be able to analyze crisidata for future study and improvement.

• Tools currently used:

• Tools proposed: TweetReach, Google Analytics, ?

• Tools previously used: (Needs improvement! We can look at limited WordPress blog analytics from a couple of specific activations, but we haven’t set up analytics tools previously. Hopefully we will get better at this this year, and if you have suggestions for us, we welcome suggestions.)

Need: Automated workflow tools
Purpose: Automate some basic repetitive tasks that can be done automatically – such as when a facebook blog post is made it can be automatically posted as a facebook post and tweeted

• Tools currently used:

• Tools proposed: IFTTT (If This Then That)

• Tools previously used: ( Seems like we had a couple of automated tasks on Shadow Lake instance; will check and report back here.)


Need: Curation tools
Purpose: Save all useful info such as websites, articles, social media posts, tweets, status updates quickly and easily to one “stream” or place – may be useful to have one for public use and one for private VOST use; public curationsite for providing an ongoing narrative to the event, private curation site to provide context that will help the team keep updated on critical issues.

• Tools currently used: Storify

• Tools proposed: Storify, Pinterest

• Tools previously used: Storify, Keepstream (gone)

Need: Image sharing/storage tools:
Purpose: Images help to provide context and tell the visual story of an event. (Images for Shadow Lake Fire VOST instance were very popular and were a large percentage of the blog site visits.)

• Tools currently used: Flickr, dropbox

• Tools proposed: Flickr, (pinterest?) Skitch (for adding text & graphics to a picture)

• Tools previously used: Flickr (fed to WordPress Blog?)

Need: Video streaming and sharing tools
Purpose: Share live stream of meetings, or videos of events.

• Tools currently used: youtube, livestream, ustream

• Tools proposed: vimeo, pinterest

• Tools previously used: youtube, livestream, ustream

Need: blog or website

Purpose: A place at which to post all available resources and tell more of the story than can be told via twitter or facebook

• Tools currently used: WordPress

• Tools proposed:

• Tools previously used: WordPress

Need: Mapping

Purpose: Visual representation of instance, resources, closures, shelters, etc…

• Tools currently used: NIMO maps (NIMO-specific)

• Tools proposed: Ushahidi, googlemaps

• Tools previously used: NIMO maps uploaded to dropbox – placed on Inciweb and instance blog, Google maps

Needs: Platform-Specific Needs (per activation):
Note: Public -facing resources include instance-specific twitter, facebook and other standard social media platforms. Find out what platforms are use most in the area near the disaster and be there.

Instance-specific accounts for:


• Main account: @activationname

• Backup account: @activationname2



Set up instance specific account as needed

note: check with local community near disaster area to see if a collaboration of facebook is possible  – so far we have set up instance-specific sites

How to Plan & Build a VOST for your Community or Organization

Jeff Phillips VOST startup tweet

Jeff Phillips VOST startup tweet

Today’s the one year anniversary of the VOST Initiative, and in honor of all of the good work that’s been done by the VOST Initiative group and our “Osbourne” VOST Team, and the other VOST groups that are beginning to spring up, I thought I’d share some thoughts on VOST advocacy and setup. *

Why a VOST? (Social Media Preparedness.)
Many people in the SMEM (Social Media in Emergency Management) community are expressing interest in starting a VOST, or Virtual Operation Support Team. While it’s possible to set up a social media operation from scratch with new volunteers during a disaster, it can be very difficult and distracting. It’s not possible to plan for every eventuality, but having some core volunteers in place, having a plan, and being proficient with some basic social media tools will make activating your team for a social media disaster effort much easier.

(If you’re an Emergency Manager working in social media, and you are reading this to see how to set up for Virtual Ops, you can skip this part!)
Community Members: Set Up Now – Hopefully with support from your local Eemergency Management Agency, but if necessary, set it up yourself.
In an ideal world, you would be setting up your social media in disaster/VOST effort with official sanction from your local emergency management agency. Realistically, however, not all EMs are ready or able to accept your VOST in an official way at this point.

Yet social media efforts are happening more and more, almost every time there’s a disaster, so if you have your team and tools in place, you can be ready to operate, inviting all stakeholders to take part, including emergency management. In several recent cases, social media efforts that were started or operated by volunteers were ultimately accepted, used, and praised by local EMs.

If you’re not involved with Emergency Management in your community, make every attempt to include and encourage your local EM agencies to participate in your social media efforts. It is ALWAYS preferable to work with emergency management form the start – but realistically, many EMs are not ready or able to take this step yet.

Be positive, and if your EM says no, stay positive. You will want to ask again in the future when they’re ready to reconsider. Send your local emergency managers, CERT teams, ARES ECs and first responders invitations and info every time you participate in social media; give them gentle but persistent reminders that your group is organizing to assist in disasters. Try to get your foot in the door. Participating in existing disaster-related groups such as CERT and ARES is a great way to gain trust and demonstrate competence.

If you don’t have the time to put together an entire VOST team yourself, that’s okay! Do what you can for now; participate on an existing #VOST team in your spare time, build your skills, be ready to help others on their VOST efforts if needed.

For Emergency Managers:
If you are an Emergency Manager working on social media and VOST development, please consider the following points:

• What social media platforms are being used in my community? (Learn and use.)

• Who are the heavy social media users in your community? (Recruit or join forces.)

• What other organizations are doing interesting social media projects in your community?

Building your VOST in Six (or so) Steps

Building a new VOST does not happen overnight. Here are some suggestions to assist you in creating a VOST for your community or organization, with or without official buy-in from your local emergency management agency.

Step 1: Learn how a VOST works by volunteering with one of the existing groups or teams. ** This experience will help you to see what a VOST can and can’t do, and the networking will help you as you set up your own VOST and for future activations where more than your own team is needed. Begin outreach early to your local emergency management, preparedness, first responders and disaster recovery groups.

Step 2: Get active in social media and in your local community. Learn which social media platforms are used in your community. (You will want to have both local and nonlocal VOST members.) Put out the word that you’re working on this and post updates as you progress.

• 2a- Locally, organize by presenting on the advantages of being prepared to use social media in disasters to those in your community that are interested in all phases of disaster: CERT, ARES, Red Cross, ham clubs, Fire & Rescue, VOADs or COADs, youth groups, community service clubs and faith-based groups.

• 2b- Non-locally, participate on a VOST that is located outside of your area. Take part in the operation, chat with others in the backchannel chat, learn how VOST works and ask if anyone might want to also help you set up your own VOST. Consider signing an MOU with another VOST group outside of your local area so that you can each support each other remotely in a large scale or catastrophic disaster.

Step 3: As your team forms up, get some VOST practice by live-tweeting a live event such as a conference, a sporting event (our VOST had a great time trying this for Super Bowl this year!) or a festival. Ask CERT and ARES groups if you can practice operating on social media before during and after their next preparedness event!

Step 4: As your VOST continues to build its skills, offer to assist others on real disaster activations. Be sure and have members practice a variety of tools and platforms so that they aren’t too specialized. Document your efforts so that you can present the results of your efforts to local emergency management agencies, disaster – related groups, and the VOST Initiative Community.

Step 5: Link up with other VOST groups so that we can all support each other in disasters. Participate in #SMEMchat and the #VOSTchat, share what you’re doing on your VOST blog or facebook page. Help to build the community so that there are more people trained to assist in this effort.

Step 6: Keep building the local community connections that will help you to make your social media effort work well with other local efforts, including emergency management and all disaster-related organizations. Be ready to offer your VOST when needed. We are a volunteer technical community that has to demonstrate our ability to help, just as ham radio operators did – now they are in every EOC during disasters. We can be too some day.

Well done! You have a VOST now.
By the time you work your way through these steps, you should have a good VOST group that can help your community as well as others.

Stay tuned for Part 2!
Next post: Nuts & Bolts (Tools & Platforms) for actual VOST Setup



* Special thanks to Jeff Phillips, @LosRanchosEM, who one year ago today put out the call on twitter for the first VOST volunteers. I’m proud to be a member of the Osbourne VOST!

** For more info on VOST team formation, watch the #SMEM and #VOST hashtags on twitter, and visit the website for more info and to share your efforts with the rest of us!

Special thanks to Cheryl Bledsoe @CherylBle and Jeff Phillips @_JSPhillips for their input and encouragement on this post and for their hard work and dedication to the #SMEM and #VOST Initiatives. The many other talented VOST Members also deserve recognition, and they’re all listed in my previous post on this site called “VOST: Virtual Operations Support”.

IRL: Can we be friends “In Real Life” if we haven’t met in person yet? (A Virtual Rant.)

Discussion of "Virtual Friends" with @jgarrow

Discussion of "Virtual Friends" with @jgarrow

Over the course of the last year and a half I’ve gotten heavily involved in efforts to use social media in disasters.

The friendships that have developed are real, and are now a part of my life, just as much so as other friends, family, and people in the local communities in which I participate.

I’ve been working with my new friends on a series of social media disaster response and recovery efforts; wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes – you can find most of us by searching the hashtag #SMEM (social media in emergency management) at any given time. (Or #SMEMchat on Fridays at 12:30 EST!)

As you can imagine, working on a disaster in any phase is something that one must take seriously. The response phase can be especially stressful, even when you’re working the disaster from hundreds of miles away in front of a computer.

Searching through fast running waterfalls of tweets, status updates, blog posts and news stories for useful, accurate and timely data then sharing it to the appropriate map, curated stream or wiki works better when you’re coordinating the effort with a group. That’s why groups such as Crisis Commons, Humanity Road, Crisis Mappers, Tweak the Tweet and Standby Task Force exist. There’s simply too much data to sift through yorself – you need to work with a group.

A small group within a group of us who enjoy working together on developing these tools and techniques have set up what we’ve called a VOST or “Virtual Operations Support” Team. We are emergency managers and volunteers who have been described as disaster geeks, zealots, champions and other things – mostly we just like helping people and seeing if we can find better ways to help people in all phases of disasters. (See my other posts on the VOST Initiative on this blog.) 

Even though I still use it, I’m annoyed by the word “virtual” in reference to the disaster work that we do. It’s very real and important work, and I know it’s just a word, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying that we refer to it as that. And don’t even get me started on IRL, or “In Real Life”. I recall a few weeks ago in our VOST chat group that someone said they were soon going to meet another of our group “In Real Life”, which reminded me that there were many people in our group who I still only know by text and video chat, by email and by our “virtual” work together.

It annoys me that the people – people who I consider friends – people that I work with in difficult situations, complain and laugh with in social media – are tagged as “virtual” communities. They are not virtual by my understanding of the word. I’m proud to be working with them, whether they live within driving distance or not.

If you’re lucky, (or if you plan for it as Jeff Phillips did in out VOST group), your social media groups will want to talk and develop relationships outside of disaster activations. Thanks for working with me, my very real SMEM and VOST  friends; my life is richer by “virtue” of knowing you.