The VOST Instance Lifecycle

VOST Instance Cycle Graphic

The VOST Instance Cycle

Please review and comment -sr

The VOST Instance Cycle:

Disaster occurs or event selected

-VOST members gather in predesignated meeting place using predetermined methods (Our team uses Skype, twitter DMs (direct messages) or in an emergency, text messages

– in the case of an exercise, this may be known about and planned in advance, or it may be an impromptu exercise (see #SMEMbowl)

Decision to activate, team commitment

– VOST leader and members discuss need for deployment , team availability

– often a VOST deployment is requested, or may be offered if members see need (MOUs would be helpful here)

– decision to activate made

Set tasks, priorities, schedule, tools/platforms

– VOST leader uses modified ICS 204 document template to describe incident and assignment, define tasks

– VOST members fill in vailabilty on collaborative ICS 204 doc, read up on incident, goals and tasks, discuss as needed (backchannel chat – our VOST uses Skype for this currently) to understand assignment

VOST operational; coordinate, perform and log completed tasks

– Active monitoring of social media and internet for pertinent data, responding via all platforms as appropriate, coordinating efforts/tasks via backchannel chat – saving and sharing of data as needed to blog, social media platforms, curation site, crisis maps, archive, etc…

VOST expands/contracts according to ICS principles

– Be prepared to call for assistance from more #SMEM volunteers or other VOSTs as needed so as not to be overwhelmed

Deactivation, discussion, documentation, AAR

– After instance is completed, continue backchanne discussion, discuss what worked & what didn’t, document and report, share with the #SMEM and #VOST community so that others can learn from it.

VOST exercises between activations to stay current on tools and social media platforms.

Special Note: Please PLAN AHEAD FOR RECOVERY: In all planning, data collection, and social platform work, consider not just what the immediate disaster needs are, but what will be needed for the long-term recovery phases of the disaster. Be prepared to coordinate efforts and share info with recovery groups as early as possible so as to improve the quality and speed ofthe recovery 

Special Note: Part 2 of PLAN AHEAD FOR RECOVERY: While spontaneous volunteers can be tremendously helpful, your core VOST team of “trusted agents” needs to be built in advance of the disaster and needs to practice working together. Build you VOST now.


What platform will be best for sharing and review of disaster apps?

Photo of @sct_r VOST setup for 140 conference NW

Thanks to @TheRedElm for the 140confNW VOST photo.

It seems like a good time to discuss methods for collecting and discussing disaster app info & reviews.

My #SMEM and #VOST friends talk about our favorite tools, apps, techniques, platforms, OS’s, etc… all of the time. The discussions happen sometimes spontaneously on twitter, during the weekly #SMEMchat, and sometimes on Skype or Google+ chats, but there’s yet to be a specific place where all social media in emergency management practicioners can post about our favorite disaster apps and add comments, or perhaps even host a poll on which apps people are using for what.

After a twitter conversation a couple of days ago on the subject of disaster apps with Caroline Milligan (@mm4marketing) on twitter , I set up a collection of Disaster App Pinterest boards and invited several people to collaborate on them. The process of inviting each person to each separate board is tedious, requiring multiple clicks to get to the board page, then to the specific disaster app page to add them, then to the next. I’m not 100% sold on this being the best place for the discussion, but it’s great getting a chance to try out Pinterest, and who knows, it may end up being great once people start using it – if not,  we’ll try something else. Maybe a disaster app blog?

I’m a big fan of the tech website LifeHacker; they have a regular segment called “The Hive Five”, in which they ask their listeners to post their favorite apps for some specific use, and they then add up which are most popular and make a list of the top 5 mentioned, with comments. Something like this, I think, would be a good way to discuss disaster apps and how people use them in all phases of disasters.

I participate in the #IAEMETC – International Association of Emergency Managers Emerging Technology Committee – and we’ve discussed creating a database for collection of disaster apps, which I’ve volunteered to help put together via an initial google survey, but I’m also wondering if we need something more than just a collected list of apps.

I’d love to hear what others think of this, so feel free to comment here, but for now we can collect disaster app info on Pinterest, or via this disaster app survey form. You may then view the collected data here.

Happy disaster-apping!

NOTE: @CherylBle suggests a discussion on twitter at #DisasterApps for those interested! Thanks to Caroline Milligan (@mm4marketing), Cheryl Bledsoe (@CherylBle) and Bill Smith (@EmrgncyTraffic) for discussions leading to this post and input on the survey, and thanks to Alisha Griswold (@Alisha_Beth) for suggesting the survey in our IAEMETC discussions. Hope this turns into a helpful resource.

VOST: Virtual Operations Support Team

Certificate received for participating in the #ORfireInfo VOST/VIOS instance

Certificate of appreciation for work on the #ORfireInfo VOST/VIOS instance, August and September, 2011

I’m fortunate to be working with a group of #SMEM*  friends who like to help each other during disasters. We train on real disasters as well as live non-disaster events such as conferences and fast-moving popular events.  By doing so we can test new social media tools and techniques. We do this to learn for our own varied emergency needs, and to share what we learn with others in order to contribute to the development of social media disaster operations in all phases of disasters. We call ourselves the “Virtual Operations Support Team”, or VOST for those who prefer acronyms.**

We are a diverse mix of professional emergency managers and disaster volunteers of varying skill levels with one major thing in common: an enthusiasm for learning how to use social media in disasters, and for developing ways to operate that will make things easier for ourselves and for others in future disasters. We like to share what we learn.

Here’s a quick definition of the VOST concept:

Virtual Operations Support (VOS) as applied to emergency management and disaster recovery is an effort to make use of new communication technologies and social media tools so that a team of trusted agents can lend support via the internet to those on-site who may otherwise be overwhelmed by the volume of data generated during a disaster.

VOS Teams (VOST) are activated to perform specific functions in support of affected organizations & jurisdictions. Each VOST has a Team Leader that reports directly to the affected organization/jursidiction.

As additional VOSTs are established, a VOS Group (VOSG) may be established to coordinate the work of the VOSTs to maintain an effective span of control. The VOSG has a Group Supervisor that reports to the affected organization/jurisdiction. The VOST Leaders report to the Group Supervisor.

VOST History

While many of us already knew each other and/or had worked other disasters together, we were first assembled  as a group by Jeff Phillips (@losranchosEM 0r @_JSPhillips) as a team of “trusted agents” in March of 2011. The idea is that in a disaster, anyone trying to monitor and respond using social media will be quickly overwhelmed by the amount of data that needs to be examined and sorted into useful information, as well as the possibility that in a catastrophic disaster, it may be necessary for a predetermined, trusted person or group to search, proritize and forward crisis data from outside of the disaster location if the internet is not functioning or bandwidth is limited, or again, if the on-site personnel are overwhelmed by the amount of crisis data incoming. Our group meets and chats often on twitter and Skype (now Yammer as well), talk about our favorite tools, apps and to coordinate our efforts.

1. Proof of Concept: SMEMcamp

Our first “proof of concept” effort (from now on I’ll call them instances, as that seems to be what we’re calling the actual emergency efforts now) was set up in March 2011 by Jeff Phillips to support the “#SMEMCamp” panel at the NEMA Annual Conference.  I won’t spend a lot of time discussing this instance, as Jeff did a great explanation of it here. I will say that in my view it was a great success in demonstrating that a group of volunteers well-versed in SMEM can be of great asistance to each other if they coordinate their efforts, and plan in advance to do so.

2. 140 Conference Northwest

Our next effort was in support of the 140 Conference Northwest, aka #140confNW, which was held in May in Vancouver, Washington. We were led in this instance by Cheryl Bledsoe (@CherylBle) of Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (@CRESA). Those of us VOST members that were on site worked to live-tweet the conference, communicate problems to the internet audience and conference staff,  and help answer questions that were being asked via twitter as best we could. Some of our team were also helping from various locations around the country by monitoring the live stream and live tweet of the event, as well as searching for relative material available on the internet. For example if a conference speaker mentioned a website and one of us on-site tweeted the info without a link, the off-site people helped by looking for the URL and retweeting it, and also tweeted links to other supporting materials.

3. National VOAD Conference (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster)

Our third VOST effort was for the social media panels at the National VOAD, or Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster conference in Kansas City, MO.  Once again the team helped to find and share helpful information using twitter and facebook. Short-Term Disaster Recovery expert Bill Driscoll, Jr. of AllHands Volunteers  – now at NECHAMA joined in the effort, video streaming the morning panel session on U-stream using his iPad. The VOST actually had a chance to help relay info as we were under tornado warning and had to go to the hotel basement to shelter-in place between the morning and afternoon social media panels!   Some VOAD conference attendees that had expressed uncertainty at the morning session saw us using social media to gather data in the basement, and came back to the afternoon session to learn more and get help setting up an account!

4. Hurricane Irene

The fourth major #VOST instance was Hurricane Irene. While VOST has helped informally on smaller earthquakes, floods, wildfires and misc. smaller disasters, this was the first large instance where we operated as a VOST on a large scale disaster, combining efforts with other individuals and organizations who were assisting on the disaster. We helped to populate maps and lists with contacts and social media accounts for Emergency Managers and disaster authorities in areas that were expected to be affected that were in the projected path of the hurricane. We helped to amplify warnings and vital communications. One of our VOST members was in New York in the path of the Hurricane, and we stayed in contact with her and supported her local social media emergency effort.

5. Shadow Lake wildfire in Oregon

The fifth VOST instance was the Shadow Lake wildfire in Oregon.**** Jeff Phillips was contacted by Kris Eriksen of the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) who wanted to test the use of social media as part of informational support during the wildfire response. (there is a paper due out on that particular VOST effort soon, and I’ll get a link up for that as soon as it’s available.) VOST member Pascal Schuback set up the ORfireInfo blog,  I set up twitter & gmail accounts, set up a shared dropbox file, a facebook account and a Keepstream social media curation account for saving relevant media articles so that the NIMO staff always knew what the media and citiens on twitter & facebook were saying and asking in regards to the fire, and were able to respond to the public. Jeff Phillips again organized and led the effort, put together the operational ICS204 document in which to seek instructions, log actions in support of the effort, and save useful information and resources where all VOST members could access them. The “#ORfire” Shadow Lake Fire VOST was 19 days of sustained operations working directly with NIMO staff. (I was travelling during this one and was able to test what it would be like to assist in VOST operations while traveling – even posting some fire updates via iPhone while on a crab expedition in Portland, Maine!) This was a long effort and many assisted on it including Jerry KoenigJoel Arnwine, and many others (apologies to all not mentioned – luckily there will be more papers on this VOST instance coming out shortly.)

6. January 2012 Northwest Floods

The sixth VOST instance was in support of the January 2012 northwest floods and severe weather that affected Oregon. (Recovery efforts are ongoing.) In this instance, while we operated and shared crisis data during the flood event, the goal was to support not only response phase efforts, but also to assemble information that would support and streamline both short and long-term recovery phases of the disaster. VOST members located social media and conventional contacts for affected counties, started a map for locating hard hit areas as seen in media accounts, started a Storify media curation/archive, and saved useful info and resources so that Oregon VOAD***** could develop a plan for dealing with a multi-county flood recovery effort. (ongoing at the time of this writing.). This really has turned in to two efforts; one was the initial collection of all data by the VOST – and the subsequent attempt to engage ORVOAD members in the use of this collaborative tool for sharing information amongst themselves. One VOST member (@TheRedElm) even helped me with note-taking during a complex ORVOAD conference call with lots of attendees. We both worked on the notes in a collaborative Google doc.

VOST Going Forward

Each of the above VOST instances really needs to have its own unique story told, but I wanted to get this out there before we get too far away from the early efforts to get the discussion started. People on the #SMEM hashtag have been wondering what #VOST is about, so I hope that this provides a little of the background.

Applying the VOST concept to a disaster of catastrophic scale, I imagine myself (assuming I survive – I assure you that I do my best to prepare!) getting on site to my county EOC after a major earthquake, and I can only process so much crisis data by myself or with a couple of helpers. But I can contact my trusted agents and ask for help in processing this data. (Some of us are discussing MOUs so that the VOST can self-deploy in case contact is not immediately possible.) Perhaps some people are trapped in their home, unable to make a voice call, but they can get a text message out via twitter, or a text message to someone which a friend then posts to facebook.  VOST members can search for these cries for help on twitter, and help to sift that data out and pass it on so that they can be relayed to those who can help.



* We follow each other on twitter and gather on twitter; “#SMEM” is the hashtag for Social Media in Emergency Management – we also hold regular twitter chats on the #SMEMchat hashtag at 12:30EST every Friday – all are welcome!

** you will also occasionally see VOSG being used; this stands for “Virtual Operations Support Group” and is used when an “instance” – or operation – becomes big enough to require more people than can be managed; at that point one or more additional VOS Teams will be created, and the Teams will all be part of a VOSG, Or VOS Group, and will be managed following standard ICS guidelines.

*** I want to mention that I’ve only been heavily engaged in social media use in disasters for about a year and a half now. That was about the time that I realized (by viewing the Red Cross Crisis Data Summit) how important social media was becoming in all phases of disaster. I’m sure that there are others that need to be acknowledged as innovators and originators in this work, but I’m basing this piece on what I know, so please feel free to fill in the back story in comments. I want to acknowledge both Jeff Phillips, and Heather Blanchard of Crisis Commons as the people that I first heard use the terms Virtual Operations Support” as applied to Emergency Management, and “DOC or digital operations center”.

**** a much more thorough academic study will soon be available on the Shadow Lake Fire “VIOS” (virtual information operations support) instance, and I also hope that others including Jeff Phillips, Cheryl Bledsoe and others will share their views on this and other VOST efforts.

***** ORVOAD is Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a group of faith-based and community service groups who assist those affected by disasters with long-term recovery.

LINKS to VOST Info & Resources:

Great definition of VOST and post about the first VOST at Website

VOSG/T Concept Report by Jeff Phillips

VOST/VOSG Real World Applications by Cheryl Bledsoe

 The VOS Forum at (Thanks to VOST member Joanna Lane for her work creating & maintaining!)

VOST Participants to date:

Joel Arnwine – @joelarn

Heather Blanchard – @poplifegirl

Cheryl Bledsoe @CherylBle

John Owen Butler – @okcalvin

Lloyd Colston – @KC5FM

Kris Eriksen – @kriseriksen

Brian Fields – @bwfabq

Scott Gauvin – @scottcgauvin

Jim Garrow – @jgarrow

Alisha Griswold – @alisha_beth

Mar Reddy-Hjelmfelt – @TheRedElm

Eric Kant – @TIJTechOps

Jerry Koenig – @alaskazone

Joanna Lane – @joannalane

Erik Metal – @metalerik

Jeff Phillips – @_JSPhillips @LosRanchosEM

Scott Reuter – @sct_r – @ORVOAD

Pascal Schuback – @schuback

Bill Smith – @EmrgncyTraffic

Stayce Smith – @staycesing

Kim Stephens – @Kim26stephens

Jared Woods – @cfeaap

Earthquake Securing: Frequently Asked Questions

Although I’ve been focusing lately on social media in disasters, response, recovery, CERT, ham radio, LTRGs, VOAD, VOST and such, my area of expertise that led me towards all of this in the first place was my work performing earthquake securing of art and objects.

I did that for over 10 years at The J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, then had my own earthquake securing company in L.A. for close to 10 more. I’ve always loved that work (and still do it on occasion, as I am now for a special project at the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland, OR), but our move to a small town far away from large art collections and museums made it difficult for me to do this work.

But this is still very useful info, and since my biz website is long gone, this seems like as good a place as any to offer this information to the public.

So here’s a “Frequently Asked Questions” post to get things started. I’m be happy to discuss this here, or twitter or facebook, or via email if you like.  Enjoy, and I hope people find it useful.

Earthquakes and Objects: Frequently Asked Questions

On securing furniture and objects to walls:

Q: Is it true that securing furniture/objects to walls with flexible fasteners (such as heavy nylon strap or steel cable) allows some “shock reduction”?

A: No. This would be true if the furniture were on a seismic isolator which allows movement in all directions, but this is not possible when an object is against or near a wall. In these cases, a rigid fastening system is best. Flexible systems allow the furniture to “rattle” back and forth between the wall and the end of the tether, increasing the amount of force transmitted into the furniture. This also increases the chance of damage to anything that may have been secured to the furniture itself.

On the proper use of non-skid materials:

Q: Can objects be kept from toppling or sliding off a surface by putting non-skid material underneath?

A: Non-skid materials will only help prevent sliding and toppling if the object in question is completely stable and bottom-heavy. Otherwise, the non-skid actually “trips” the object, causing it to topple even faster than it would if it could slide around.

On the use of waxes, puttys, velcro and adhesives:

(Warning: These adhesive-type products only work if an object is a very stable shape, in good condition, and  has a suitable surface for adhesion. A physical restraint made of metal, acrylic, or composite materials is stronger and safer when the stability or condition of an object is questionable. If the object you wish to secure is valuable or fragile, consult a professional.)

Q: Since some materials can cause irreversible damage to sensitive art objects, what are the safest materials to use?

A: The following are recommended guidelines for use of adhesive type materials on works of art:

Wax is the safest adhesive-type material to use to secure sensitive objects to sensitive surfaces. It is least likely to cause damage, although there is still some risk of damage if improperly used or removed. Some of the commercially available “Museum” waxes are very soft, and will only work for very light weight, stable objects.

Puttys vary somewhat in chemical makeup, but most have sulphur in them, and they all (in my experience) leave an oily residue on porous surfaces when left for a long period of time. (I have even seen some puttys dry up and become “gummy”, to the point that they could not be easily removed, and stained some objects.) It sticks very well, but due to the problems mentioned above, it is not recommended.

Clear Gels do not stay in place. They liquify and run out from under the object, leaving a mess, and not always leaving enough gel to actually hold an object. I have seen (and have pictures of) objects that moved several inches on a shelf that was not level.

• When you secure an object with velcro, you are actually securing the velcro with an adhesive that is attached to the velcro. This should not be used for art or sensitive objects, as it might remove some of the objects surface when it is removed. Likewise, velcro  or double stick tape should not be used to secure objects to walls, as it is likely to fail by pulling off the top layer of paint or wallpaper.


Q: I have heard this type of work referred to as “earthquake proofing”; can I be certain nothing will be  damaged?

A: NO. The reason that the securing of objects is referred to as “earthquake damage mitigation” instead of “earthquake proofing” is because the best that can be done is to decrease the risk of damage, not eliminate it. Due to the completely unpredictable nature of earthquakes, there is no guarantee that objects will survive undamaged. However, earthquake damage mitigation can significantly increase the likelihood of an objects survival, especially for objects of unstable shape. The value of earthquake securing of objects and furniture has been proven many times over by Loma Prieta(1989), Northridge(1994) and many other earthquakes.

Update: For those who want more background on this subject, here’s a paper that I wrote on earthquake securing for museums. It is more restrictive on the use of certain materials like waxes and putties than one needs to be in the average household, but it provides a good introduction to earthquake securing concepts. -sr

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


I have many interests within the disaster genre. My area of expertise is disaster planning and preparedness, with an extra-strange speciality of earthquake securing of art/objects, but since moving to Astoria, Oregon I’ve gotten involved in all phases of disaster work, and each new phase of the cycle I’ve learned informs the others.

I learned about disaster response through CERT and Astoria Fire & Rescue, and learned the hard way the importance of ham radio when all communications fail in a disaster. I then learned long-term recovery the hard way through my work as a disaster caseworker/project manager with my county LTRG (Long-Term Recovery Group), which I helped create. And now Social Media.

It’s the Social Media piece that has inspired me to start writing here. It’s great to be involved in the development of something that is truly changing the way disasters are dealt with by everyone. And each part of the disaster cycle will have to learn how social media will affect them, how it can help them, and what tools they will need to use so that they can help their community.

I think that I bring a unique perspective to the “Crisis Data” (#crisisdata) or “Social Media in Emergency Management” (#SMEM) discussion. I’ll be posting here on the aforementioned topics, especially as related to Social Media, and I hope that some of this discussion will be of interest, perhaps even be useful to others. Thanks for looking. I look forward to exchanging ideas, and hopefully they will be used to help people.

The earthquake securing is such a specialized topic that I may have to move it to its own page, but for now I’ll lump it all here together. -sr