Removing your Facebook foot prints

Think about it for just a moment.  Who looks at your Facebook history?  There are only two types of people who look back at what you’ve posted on Facebook: advertisers and stalkers.  The human-to-human interaction on social media is about the now.  It is not really much about last month let alone last year.  Continue reading Removing your Facebook foot prints

Before deleting a social account

The recent changes in Instagram almost made me delete my account.  I probably would have if it wasn’t for a lesson I learned with FourSquare a few weeks ago.  Deleting and erasing a social networking account is usually a fairly permanent decision.  All your history, links, scores and whatever are gone.  That can be a good thing.  Or not.

I was an early adopter of NetFlix and watched/rated quite a few movies (seriously like hundreds).  The system was really good at finding new movies to recommend.  When I cut back my expenses, I deleted my NetFlix account.  Fast forward a bunch of years to when I had children.  Now Netflix was great because I could stream shows on my phone for the kids in a restaurant so they don’t bug other patrons.  When I signed up for NetFlix the second time, all the ratings from the first time were still there.  Now I’m getting recommendations for movies like Dora the Destroyer.

FourSquare was a nifty little service that turned location check-ins into a game.  I did this for a while and amassed a large number of badges.  Then I considered what I was getting out of FourSquare.  All this data was pushed in but I didn’t get much out of it.  Naturally, I said “Badges, we don’t need to stinkin’ badges.”  I delete my FourSquare account.  A few weeks ago during the response to Hurricane Sandy, I was dropped into a location reporting discussion.  I hopped on a few social location check-in services including FourSquare.  FourSquare hooked me again.  Now I’m missing all the old badges and connections I had on FourSquare.

Instagram changed their terms of service.  A huge shockwave spread across social networks.  But instead of deleting my Instagram account as a knee jerk reaction, I stopped.  Would I ever come back to Instagram?  What if they adjusted their terms of service again?  What is the impact now that Facebook owns them?  Could someone take my screen name and pretend to be me?

I decided to keep my Instagram account but in an unused state.  After using an app to download all my images, I’ve deleted all my photos off the account except one or two.  For security reasons, I’ll “park” the account with an obscure password kept in my password vault.

Where to put all the images? I was debating between G+ and Flickr.  I opted to go with Flickr primarily because it seemed less tied into other social accounts.  It also had tools to allow bulk management of the images.  The advantage to G+ would be managing the images on my phone without another app installed.  We’ll see how it goes.

Fairfax County Roundup

Here are my Fairfax Roundup Speaker Notes from the Fairfax Roundup meeting.  The meeting is a great local event to build the community relationships between faith and community based organizations and the local government entities.  There were five breakout sessions.  My session was about technology in disasters.

For those who attended, additional details on the topics I spoke about can be found in the following blog entries.


Social Media:

Public Notifications:

Radio Types and Bands:

Cellular Communications:

Feel free to email me if you have any questions.


Social Media & Engagement

Social media reflects the move from large media companies monopolizing all forms of media.  Newspapers, books, magazine, television and radio are controlled by large companies.  Technology advancements lowered the barriers to getting your opinions out.  Technology allowed for individuals to create website and blogs to promote their own thoughts.  The internet allowed people from different locations to find this information and band together.  A key term used to define social media is “user-generated content”.  An individual has the ability to create and distribute their own materials.  The very nature of individuals sharing information with individuals made it social.  Hence the tag being social media.

Social media is the commonly accepted term.  But I think it goes beyond sharing user-generated content.  Traditional media is a broadcast medium that reaches a lot of people, but it is primarily a one-way medium that isn’t inviting for other opinions.  Dissenting views are policed by the media gatekeepers who choose what will and will not be broadcast.  Social media is similar to broadcasting to this.  The person who is publishing the materials retains the control of the information being published.  They can block unwanted information and be a gatekeeper to their own media channel.

Social media is shifting to social engagement.  It is no longer enough to be able to publish and distribute your own opinions.  Success in media involves the engagement of the people who want your materials.  True communication requires a feedback loop.  It is transactional communication that allows a full back and forth.  Technology has opened new methods of engaging with your target audience.  You need to be open and willing to hear what they say.  The best successes in social media today are actually examples of social engagement where an individual (or organization) is using social media channels to have individual engagements with the audience.  These engagements may still originate as a broadcast message, but with the desire that each individual receives and acts on it as if it was meant for them.

Advertising theory isn’t that far from this.  Advertising in mass media has always worked to target their message to reach a specific audience to influence behavior.  Advertising has always wanted very specific details on how to segment, divide and categorize the public.  Social media has done a wonderful job of this.  Imagine if ten years ago I said that I want you to pay for this device in your home, pay for an internet connection, go to this website.  Once at the website, I instructed you to enter all your personal information, link up with all your friends, and update your daily activities.  You’d think I was crazy.  Today, people do it all the time on social media sites.

As of January 2012, Facebook is valued as a $50 BILLION company.  Some estimates place it as high as $100 BILLION.  Why?  They don’t make anything.  They don’t sell anything.  The code behind their site isn’t that valuable.  Or is it?  As was pointed out to me recently: If you can’t figure what someone is selling, they’re probably selling you.  When you joined Facebook, you’ve entered your information (even if only partially).  You’ve linked to your friends and you update your status often.  An analysis of your online friends and their information can be very telling about you.  It is natural that you are friends with people who are of a similar social, economic and political stance.  This information allows Facebook to generate extremely targeted advertising.  This is very appealing to advertisers.  They recognize that advertising is not a single shot silver bullet, but instead it is measure over time and impressions.  An impression occurs each time their message given to you.  Facebook is valued so high because the large number of people who use the service; the wonderfully large amount of data; and the data has a high confidence since it is self-entered.

Here’s another tidbit about Facebook.  They’re promoting “seamless browsing”.  This is a single sign-on that you can use to access Facebook and many partner websites.  What is actually does is allows the transfer of your actions back to a single database to improve the ability to target advertising.  The Facebook cookie left on your computer was discovered to be live even after logging out which allowed the tracking of your actions off Facebook.

But all this social media isn’t evil.  It is an exchange.  You are getting service that you value in exchange for advertising to be pushed to your web browsing experience.  This advertising is just an extension of what has been going on with TV.  You’ve accepted advertising on TV as a way for the stations to generate revenue so you don’t need to pay for the TV shows watched.

Social media sites are being used by everyone from major corporations to individuals.  This has certainly changed the media landscape from when there was one local newspaper and three TV stations.  The “noise” of all the available social media has grown so much that it becomes critically important to find the information you want and disregard the rest. It is like everyone has come to a single place and they’re all talking at one.  Some loudly and others softly.  Your role is to find the people and thought leaders that have the information you want.  This is where your friends come in handy.  Your connections on social media are our curating content and posting it to their streams.  You post both original content and shared content to your stream where they read.  Recommendations from people you trust is more valued in this environment as you seek content.

Is there any hope for an Emergency Manager to establish themselves in the realm of social media and reach their target in competition to the highly-funded advertising machines?  Absolutely, but it takes time.  People want content that is timely, relevant, helpful and available in their preferred medium.  That may sound very similar to successful public notifications; well, it is.

The first step in social media: listening.  You wouldn’t just walk up to a group of people at a party and start talking about something.  You are more likely to walk up, listen to the conversation, and participate after you’re comfortable with the people and the topic.  They’ll also be more receptive to you because you’ve shown the respect not to interrupt them.

Start by looking for people and conversations like the ones you want to have.  How are they being conducted?  Are there nuances in language and wording unique to that medium?  Seek out others that appear successful and ask for their insights.  Professional networking for emergency managers are having more discussions on the use of social media; engage them for help.

An Emergency Manager needs to take an initial guess at what information they want to and can provide, then pick a medium to start in.  Consider where the audience is and what can be built on when selecting a medium.  If you’re in a county that has a good Facebook presence, then starting there could allow you build off the success of the whole county.  Cross pollination of ideas and sharing content will encourage followers of one to follow both.  Pushing existing public notifications through the social media channel can be a useful way to start building followers.  This can be as simple as the weather warning and traffic alerts.

A facet of success is being flexible when starting.  Listen to the feedback from the followers, and adjust tact to keep up with needs of the audience.  The Los Angeles Fire Department made the decision to have two twitter streams.  One was the primary notification stream for people to follow at Twitter @LAFD.  They learned that their audience didn’t want to be overwhelmed with messages that weren’t relevant so they started the second one at Twitter @LAFDtalk which was their talking stream where they engage the individuals.

Be prepared during an emergency to be active on social media.  Some of the obvious mistakes are the social media sites going silent during a crisis.  This was very obvious during the breaking of the Penn State crisis in November 2011.  A good analysis of this is posted at Social Media Today (  Instead of actively engaging the audience through social media, they went silent on the major story but kept pushing soft general interest bits.

Develop a social media handbook for your work.  Establishing the foundation and purpose of social engagement will be critical when it comes time to justify (defend?) the time spent of social media.  It helps to bring colleagues onboard with a common set of expectations.  When establishing goals, avoid measuring success by the number of followers or friends.  Measuring impact and trust by counting followers is like measuring intelligence by the height of a person; it is simply not the same thing.

The American Red Cross posted their social media handbook for chapters openly at  The guidelines boil down to a few simple statements:  Tell them who you are.  Be factual.  Be honest.  Be timely.  Stick to what you know.  Represent the brand well.


Additional resources


Are you reaching the public or just sending notifications?

Public notification is successfully informing the public as to what is going on during an emergency.  The key to reaching people is to reach them timely; where they are; how they want to be reached; with positive actionable information; and in a culturally appropriate manner.

Timely: Information could be too late to be useful if it takes too long to reach them or the information is out-of-date.  Imagine if a building fire alarm took 10 minutes from the time the alert is sent to the time the alarm started to ring.  A building fire alarm needs to ring quickly to give people more time to evacuate the building.  A wildland fire evacuation notice is very similar; the fire moves extremely quickly and can change directions unexpectedly.

How they want to be reached:  Think of how you interact with your family and friends.  Some you will call by phone, some email, some text message and there may even be a few that you mail a real letter to.  You might even admit to have the crazy relative that you’d rather talk to their spouse and have the message passed along.  The public is the same way: all different.  This means that your message must use many different methods to reach all the audience.  Some will want text messages to their cell phone; some will want a voice call to their land-line phone; some will want an email; and there may be a few that are only reachable through the community or faith leader.

Each medium needs to convey similar information, but it need not be the exact same words.  Why should you limit the email to 140 characters just because Twitter is one of many mediums?  For convenience and speed, a message might have a long version and a short version.  The short versions could cover Twitter, SMS, and other short message forms.  The basic information would be shared, along with where to get more information.  The long version could cover email and voice calls.  It would start with the basics and then provide the additional information.

Many of the emergency messages that would be sent can be pre-scripted with blanks left for the immediate details.  Consider the weather watches and warnings.  These are scripted messages that contain all the ever-green information with spots to insert timely specific weather details.  Use the time before an emergency to word-smith the message and get necessary approvals on when it will be used.  Trying to get multiple approvals to send an emergency message is contrary to sending a timely message.

Where they are: This can refer to two places.  Where someone is geographically, and where someone is in the mentality of readiness.

A thing that bugs me is signing up for weather alerts by zip code or locality.  I still get weather alerts for there even when I travel elsewhere.  I want to sign up for one system that follows me.  It can already happen with weather alerts through mobile apps, but it doesn’t happen with local EM alerts.  I have hope that CMAS is changing this.

I live in Fairfax, VA and work in Washington, DC.  I’m registered for county-level alerts in Fairfax, VA; Arlington, VA; and Washington, DC.  Why do I have Arlington, VA alerts?  Because I commute through Arlington and this gives me information on my path.  This becomes amusing on metropolitan-wide alerts as I can see which system sends the information out first and which one takes the longest.

When I travel to another city, I do not get local alerts for that city.  I still get the other alerts from home which is fine so I can take actions to protect my family and property.  When travelling I could do my research, find the local alerting system and sign up for it; but let’s be honest, that’s too much work.  The capability exists today using a feature called “cell broadcast.”  An SMS alert message is point-to-point.  It originates somewhere and goes directly to the single recipient.  SMS alerting requires lots of individual messages all containing the same information which can bog down systems.  Cell broadcasts are point-to-area messages.  It originates somewhere and is broadcasted out to all the phones in a specific area, usually by cell tower.  This doesn’t overload the system because it is one message to many phones.  The technology is commonly used in Europe.  Use in the United States is very limited because it originally released as a way to do local advertising.  Pass the front of a store, and you’d get a text message with a coupon or ad.  People were naturally against this and cell broadcasting has been minimized in the US.  The feature is hard to find on most phones in the US, and defaults to opt-in with no channels loaded.

People also need to be reached where they are in their mentality of readiness.  Telling someone to use their emergency preparedness kit isn’t helpful if they don’t accept the fact they need to have one.  Someone may have a fatalistic attitude of there’s nothing I can do or it is God’s will.  The message needs to be crafted in a way to reach these people where they are mentally.  This leads right into the next point.

Positive actionable information: I chuckle when I hear someone say don’t forget or don’t panic.  How do you not do something?  Mentally, you must flip the message around to figure out what you need to be doing.  That assumes the person reading the message would know the opposite you’d expect them to know.  Craft the message to be a positive action message so the receiver will know what you want them to do and give them something to focus on.  The two statements above should be remember and stay calm.

I forget this all the time in parenting.  I tell my kids things like: don’t touch that, stop making that noise, don’t go over there; instead of keep your hands in your pocket, stay quiet and stay over here.  People should be told what to do, not what not to do.  Messages in a disaster should be simple and direct to be quickly understood and acted on.

Culturally appropriate: Being culturally appropriate starts with using the right language.  Keep in mind just because someone speaks another language doesn’t mean they are literate to read materials written in their native language.  A common mistake I hear is when people say they’ll make print materials in Spanish to reach a Spanish-speaking audience.  Reading and speaking are different things.  A native Puerto Rican told me that he’d rather distribute our materials in English then Spanish.  Apparently, it is easier to understand materials written in English than materials written in European Spanish because Puerto Rican Spanish is that different.  European Spanish— or Castilian Spanish — is commonly taught in academics and is the default Spanish when asking for a translation.  The lesson here is to ask someone from the community the best way to provide written or auditory materials to the community.  Translate to their specific dialect.

Culturally appropriate also refers to the sensitivities of the people.  Migrant farm workers are sensitive to the immigration status of themselves, their family or their friends.  Consider FEMA assistance to these workers before or after a disaster.  The workers will see the DHS logo on the materials.  Who else does DHS have?  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Do you really think that people who are sensitive to their immigration status want to engage with any DHS offices?

Some communities get all their trusted information from a community leader.  Information from other sources may not be readily accepted by the community and have less impact.  Public notifications to these communities need to involve and go through the community leader.  Individuals don’t have relationships with organizations; individuals have relationships with individuals who represent an organization.  Think about it for a minute: your best organizational relationships are likely to have an individual or series of people who you’ve built trust with.  That will be a key when we talk about social media: how do you make your organization interact with individuals on the individual level?

Next time you write a public notification, check off the points I listed above and see if you can improve the effectiveness of the message.

Social media nuts and bolts

There are many different platforms to conduct social engagement.  A working list of these can be found on Wikipedia (  We’re just going to review a few of the major social media sites used in the US as an introduction.

Facebook: By far the leader with market share, Facebook is home to 800 million registered users near the end of 2011.  If Facebook were a country, it would be third most populated country behind China (1.3 billion) and India (1.2 billion), and ahead of the United States (312 million).  11% of the world’s population is on Facebook.  The site allows users to friend other users in the system.  Most people have set their security to only share their posts with friends.  Friending someone is a two-way process.  One person asks and the other accepts.  Without this mutual agreement, people will not be linked.

Twitter: Micro-blogging is the hallmark of Twitter.  Posts are limited to 140 characters.  It forces users to be brief and trim down excess to make a point.  All tweets are default to public.  Although users can make their tweets private and approve each follower, it isn’t very common.  The open nature of Twitter allows anyone to find and read tweets about a topic.  Topics are tagged and linked through the use of hashtags (#) before the word.  Emergency managers should be keeping tabs on the #SMEM conversation.  SMEM is short for Social Media Emergency Management.  Anything can be a hashtag, and the use of a hashtag is decided by the people who use it.  The other special character is the at sign (@).  This precedes a user name to identify it as such, and tags the user in the post.  This will make the post show up as a mention to the user tagged in to.  The @-sign become so popular that it was added in Facebook to tag other users.  The #-sign also became popular and is now used in Google+ to tag content as searchable.  Following is a one-way process.  For the most part, you can follow anyone in Twitter without needing their permission.

LinkedIn: From the start, LinkedIn has been billed as the professional networking site.  It focuses on building relationships between people and leveraging professional networks.  It lacks the entertainment aspect of the other social media sites, which adds to the site’s focus for business professionals.  An emergency manager would not look to reach the public through LinkedIn; instead this site is a good technique to collaborate with other disaster, crisis and risk professionals.

MySpace: This was a popular social media site until the perception took a nose dive.  The site’s lack of controls and investigations around pornography and other illegal activities darkened the perception of the site.  The site wasn’t dynamic in keeping up with user demand.  Other sites, like Facebook, were more rapidly adapting to meet user demand which led to users leaving MySpace.  Revenue and users have been steadily declining.  I would not start a social media campaign on MySpace unless there is a very specific audience you are seeking that hasn’t left yet.

Google+: This is Google’s recent response to social networking.  While the newest of the sites reviewed here, they have learned from the mistakes of the others.  The privacy policy and security settings built into Google+ from the start clearly resemble the best of both Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve explained Google+ to people this way: “Twitter and Facebook went on a date. Nine months later, Google+ appeared.”  It allows wide public sharing like Twitter, but also has features to allow limited posts to user-designated circles.  A circle is like a bucket of followers so sharing isn’t an all or nothing deal.  A user can share with college friends but not family, or with co-workers but not the public.  It is more representative of how a personal naturally separates their friendships in time and space.

YouTube: YouTube is in the list because sharing videos is part of social media.  It is user-generated content that is published for others.  The best use that I’ve seen for YouTube is in conjunction with another social media channel.  Post video content to YouTube then send out the link through other medium.  A handheld video camera can be used to capture short—almost raw—video from leaders during a disaster and shared.  While other times and topics deserve to have a high-quality and edited video package; it is acceptable to have a more raw and uncut feeling video during a disaster.  Take note that a video that feels raw and uncut may have actually been captured through multiple takes and did get edited before it was posted.  It is common to see broadcast news services show breaking news video from handheld phones until they have time to get their equipment to the scene.

Flickr: Flicker by itself isn’t really a social media site except for pure photo documentaries.  Like YouTube, it is best used in conjunction with other medium to tell a full story.  Creating a photo album for a specific event allows you to keep using the same link to the album while updating the content of the album with new imagery.  Using the same link will keep users going consistently to the same place.  If they click on a link in an older message, they’ll still be taken to current content.

Pam Dyer compiled a whole bunch of social media infographics at  Some have a high degree of bias or slightly out of date, but all-in-all it is a pretty decent review of the sites and public perception.


Here’s a few notes.  Watch this spot for information on showing the power and expectations of social media in disasters.

How much has internet usage changed in the last 10 years?

Who’s online?

What do people do everyday on the Internet? and

Why Americans use social media? (2011)


How big is social media?  This slide deck give a quick overview.  Is the most recent in a series of three.

What is the expectation of social media users when it comes to disasters?  The infographic is at (2010) Make certain you review slide 14.

A longer version with more details is at


Other notes:

How many people and households have cell phones?

What age ranges own what tech? and





IAEM conference summed up by Twitter

I’ve reviewed the tweets during the IAEM Conference in an effort to pull out the ones that best flavor the conversations occuring in the sessions.  This is a step beyond the capture that is documented here.  Instead of a normal summary of the conference that I’d provide to share learning with others, this time I’m letting Twitter do the talking.  Here’s my list of tweets.  Let me know if you think I missed some.

Continue reading IAEM conference summed up by Twitter

Conference specific Twitter handles?

The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) conference is next week.  Normally, conferences are a time where my number of tweets per day skyrocket as I hear interesting things and try to bring the essence of the conference to people in the Twitterverse.  The problem is that my regular followers on Twitter can get overwhelmed and turned off by the huge increase in tweets.  Continue reading Conference specific Twitter handles?

EMSE 6310.10 – Information Technology in Crisis and Emergency Management

Here is my “work in progress” of a syllabus for the upcoming course that I’m teaching at the George Washington University.  There’s still some revisions that I plan on doing.  If you were taking this course, what would you want to hear about?

Continue reading EMSE 6310.10 – Information Technology in Crisis and Emergency Management