VOST emergency drill reaches 268,735 in TATGranada15

A big industrial fire was the scenario where @LuisSerranoR, the dircom of Llorente y Cuenca, set up an emergency drill with the cooperation of @vostSPAIN, including president @Galvez Rivas, spokesperson (myself), @VOSTEuskadi Jokin Zubieta and @VOSTCanarias @JaviBlancoF presidents, as well as other team members and emergency communications specialists.

The drill started during Luis Serrano speech about crisis commons when he announced that a live exercise would be held using Twitter. It started when @GalvezRivas tweeted  that a big fire has just started in a  solvents factory and 15 fire crews plus 5 ambulances were in its way to the place, even though there was no one hurt.

After the first tweet, seven more Twitter fake profiles worked for about 20 minutes to show how emergency services, VOST team and mass media (a radio station under the name @OndaCerosimulac) deal with an emergency in the social network and do their best to inform the citizens and to stop rumor spreading through the web. 

I was in charge of the mass media profile, @OndaceroSimulac, working from my office in Madrid, while my colleagues where attending the event live in Granada (South of Spain). All of us worked coordinated following the Timeline using the hashtag #SimulacroTAT  and uploading information and pictures as we usually do when there is a real disaster here in Spain. 

We also were counting on two profiles spreading rumors (@Trollsimulacro - @josetes112- and @enteradillosimu - @ffdezalcaide). Besides, we also had a person who was asking for his father, @familiarsimul - @Ant_Varon- whom she has not seen and who finally died due to the incident. 

@112simulacro (112 is the official emeergency number in Europe)  and @industriasimul (@JaviBlancoF, from VOST Canarias) led the communications process from the beginning, updating emergency numbers, facts and figures related to the emergency. So did VOST, who also included a picture with the hazardous substances forming a toxic cloud. The mass media radio station retweed the official sources (@112simulacro and @vostsimul) and asked all the rest updated information

@Brigadistasimul (@gemaimorcillo)   and @enteradillosimu (@ffdezalcaide) played two controversial roles. The first being a fireman tweeting inconvenient pictures and confronting the emergency service and the second acting as a person who seeks notoriety trying to be a source of information.  

The troll @Trollsimulacro  (@josetes112) as expected, cursed all the time and everyone. Obviously, no one talked to him.

The drill’s impact

If we have a look to Tweet Binder, the drill had  268,735 Potential impacts, 130,358 Potential reach, 85 Contributors,  1,534 Followers per contributor and 2.45 Tweets per contributor.

The activity peak was as 1.05 pm on June 23rd.

It was my pleasure to participate in the exercise and I feel proud to be a member of VOST, since they play a fundamental role, when a disaster strikes. I also find it very important to practice using a simulated scenario, so we will be ready in case the black swan appears. 

Don’t you agree?


Do the journalist need an ethic code?

Disasters and journalism in the digital age was the topic of the XVII Journalism Laboratory hosted by The Press Association in Madrid on May 7. I was inviting as iRescate director and as @vostSPAIN spokesperson to debate with my colleagues on the issue where some conclusions where reached. You may listen the whole lab here (in Spanish)

@LuisSerranoR, director of the Communication Crisis de Llorente y Cuenca, estimated that the communicatinons' scenario "has radically changed" and "Twitter has become the backbone os mass media". "Social networking will democratize the conversation," he said.

I spoke of the whole new landscape we face with social media since communication is not anymore a one way process and since the so called citizen journalism is making us dealing with rumors, also emerging for the lack of reliable sources of information. It was also my concern the double victimization of those whose faces were broadcast once and again, especially in the case of women of children, since their exposure prevents gender’s equality.

Alipio Gutiérrez, Nemesio Rodríguez, María Luisa Moreo y Pablo Herráiz. 
Foto: Elena Hidalgo / APM

Alipio Gutiérrez, President of the National Association of Health (ANIS), said that social media are a "huge opportunity, but also a great danger." Therefore, he asked journalists to report with "their most ethical commitment and responsibility." He also urged the authorities to require transparency when conveying information; otherwise, "you are doing a disservice to democracy".

Paul Herráiz, crime reporter from El Mundo point out the need of "not rushing to make a scoops on Twitter or Vine since one thing is the need to deliver information immediately and a different one to write a piece of news in a hurry, whose consequences are usually a mistake. "

Javier Barroso, crime reporter for El País, pointed out how much journalism has changed since we have social media. “Before (social media appeared, you worked, to some extent, with tranquility; today, information is delivered with two or three paragraphs to check out urgent search engine ". In the "maelstrom of immediacy," he urged caution and not to publish news before the official sources confirmed.

Carlos FernandezGuerra, journalist and community manager of the National Police, emphasized the importance of knowing how to distinguish the reliable sources of information.  He also emphasized social media as an information tool to helps authorities. Finally, he warned of the need to focus on the victims when talking of a disaster.

F Javier Barroso, Carlos Fernández Guerra y Luis Serrano. Photo: Elena Hidalgo / APM

From the conclusions drawn in this Laboratory of Journalism, which was moderated by Nemesio Rodriguez, deputy secretary and spokesperson for the APM, the following recommendations were developed to report on tragedies such as the recent rail accident in Santiago de Compostela, the Ebola crisis, the attacks of "Charlie Hebdo", the Germanwings aircraft crash and the Nepal earthquake.

You also have a Storify here (in Spanish)

Decalogue Madrid’s Press Association on disaster and journalism in the digital age.

1.- It's essential to focus attention to the traditional rules of journalism, due to the new communication scenario produced by the introduction of social networks and new technologies.
2.-Mistakes and hoax comes from the lack of verification, rigor and precision, despite the requirements of immediacy (related basically to Twitter). Contrasting the sources of information is an essential requirement. Before the overloading of information, it is a must to distinguish a reliable source.
3.- The Prudence should underlie before the rush inherent to digital media for reporting immediately. The rumor and speculation in disasters should not become news until confirmed by official sources
4 .- The Journalists should exercise extreme ethical commitment to reliably distinguish what to say, when and how. We are responsible for what we say.
5.-The Journalists must respect the pain and privacy of the victims and their families. We only should contact them under their previous assent. We should show our empathy when interviewing them and informing the public about them. We must always bear in mind that victims are the most affected.
6.- Striking images are suitable only in the case they provide an added value to the information. It is not acceptable to repeatedly broadcast victims' images, taken into account that after these images there is human beings’ suffering.
7.- The gender issue should be taken into consideration when seeking for victims’ images to illustrate news. Women and children usually appear as victims, while men take a different role in the aftermath of a disaster. This emphasizes the cliché of feminine weakness and does no contribute to gender equality.
8.-In case of terrorist attack, the journalists should exercise extreme caution and think twice whether to publish sensitive information on social networks.
9.-They journalist should keep in mind that this information can be valuable to terrorists. The journalist should also avoid turning the terrorist into the protagonist of the event, since there are victims suffering from their terrorist action.
10.- Coordination between PIOs and the press is essential to avoid and clear hoaxes in social media
11.- The authorities should be demanded maximum transparency when giving information related to disastera, since the absence of trusted and updated information foster the use of non-trusted information´ sources.
12.-The official Press offices must lead the information process in order to deal with the uncertainty of the lack of informationabout the tragedy.
13.-the Media must report "invisible tragedies", for example, diseases virtually unknown until they become an epidemic.
14- There is a need for a greater self-criticism among journalists. Although websites mistakes can be corrected, they are likely to harm any citizen during the time they are published.
15.-The Journalists covering tragedies and disasters can suffer emotional "shocks" or traumas. Therefore, it is necessary that these professional may receive psychological help in situ and in the aftermath of a disaster, as some other professional do.

All this said, do we need an ethic’s code? What do you think?


Vanuatu, NGOs lead relief support though social media

Save the children, Red Cross, Oxfam and Care, among others, has played a fundamental rol monitoring information and taking over the pleas for help using social media after the President of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale , made an emotional plea for humanitarian assistance following the widespread devastation caused by category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam last weekend.

Care was one of the organizations who warned people about the danger of Pam becoming a category 5 cyclone on Friday 13rd, affecting- they thought- to at least 20.000 people and anticipating what would inevitably come “extremely damaging wind gusts, heavy rainfall, flash flooding and strong storm surges”.

All at once, the NGOs in the area, as well as United Nations, used their twitter accounts to ask for help and to warn the citizens of the affected area.

Both, Red Cross  and @RedCrossAu reported utter devastation and also explained what the organization was doing to face the disaster.

@NZRedCross also took part in the relief operation using its twitter account to let the world know so.

#Vanuatu and #CyclonePam, two hashtags for a the Cyclone Pam

Social media is an especially important back channel when communications are down, as @RedCrolssAu and some others said. The good news is that all the information was organised in two hashtag, so is was not very difficult to follow the updates.

The bone to me was the lack of official information in Twitter. The Vanuatu's Govermnet has a Twitter account since november 2010, but it is dumb since july 2012. Being this the case it probably would not had been relevant its use, taking into consideration that it only has 723 followers. Moreover, a disaster is no the best time to create engagement. As any emergency management knows, you must create a community before using social media as a channel in emergencies.

What do you think? Would it be relevant to create a community if you are in area prone to natural disasters?


Crisis commons is a dialogue. The Ebola case

2014 is coming to an end and it will be remember at the Ebola crisis year in Spain due to three cases within our frontiers. Two of them were priests who had been infected in Liberia (Miguel Pajares) and Sierra Leone (Manuel García Viejo). They both died in Carlos III Hospital. The third one was a Health Care Assistant who attended Manuel Garcia and who, finally, survived the virus, though we don’t know whether it was due to her own resources or to the treatment she received in hospital. The good news is that Teresa Romero is alive and that we have some lessons learnt to improve crisis communications.

Since I already explained in iRescate what went wrong and what should had been done, as well as good practices here,  I would like to focus now on the protocols and the information available in plane Spanish that could have been followed from the very beginning and were partly applied later on.

To start with, we have the Plan de Comunicación para posible primer caso de Ébola (Communication Plan for a possible Ebola First Case) by the Organización Panamericana de la Salud (Pan American Health Organization) and the Organización Mundial de la Salud (WHO). This document explains clearly why we should inform as soon as possible and insists on the need to so to stop rumor. The words certainty, transparency and immediacy are everywhere across the text.

It also advances the evidence that there could be Ebola cases out of Africa and offers a list of the questions that should be answered in due time taking into consideration all the information channels (traditional and new media, sms, webs, emails  and so on).

Moreover, the communication plan dedicates a whole page to the PIOs, numbering who should say what and when.

The social media era: communication is a two way channel

What caught my attention was a single line where it is said that crisis commons is a dialogue.

The Spanish authorities not only did not deliver information when expected but neither did they answer to the citizens or journalist questions in a suitable way until Fernando Simon was named as a spokesperson.

Why does it seem so difficult to handle crisis communication when all the recipes are at hand?

Let’s hope the lessons be learnt for once in case it is needed.


Ebola crisis commons: good practices

The Health Care Assistant Teresa Romero was discharged and officially allowed to leave after a month in hospital, what she did to visit her mother in the North of Spain. The press conference to explain how she has recovered from the Ebola virus was quite different from the previous one, offered by the Government when the Health Care Assistant was contaminated by the virus. The director of Carlos III hospital congratulated the whole team for their work, which is always a good way to start. 

Good practices made their way (after the pressconference on October 7th) and I’d like to point them out.

An expert in health alerts, spokesperson

The first achievement to me was the nomination of a technical spokesperson. Fernando Simón has proved to be a sensible man capable of offering credible, accurate and timely information. His reputation as a technical expert is out of doubt and this was exactly what was needed to stop rumor spawning rapidly. Simón already dealt with the Influenza A crisis in 2009-2010 and is an expert in health alerts, not a politician. So, his credibility is immaculate and his good disposition to attend the media anytime in plain and clear language has made of him the best possible spokesperson.

(Though there was some other technical spokesperson, like Fernando Rodríguez Artalejo, Simón is nowadays the most popular.)

Fernando Simón, Spokesman of the special committee for the ebola virus management

A single message

Once you have a single spokesperson it is much easier to have a single message. The media know who to ask and that what he says is the official version, so there is no need to search information somewhere else. This fact, besides what I explained above, leaves rumor out of place. When the information is timely, accurate and credible there is no place for rumor.

The same applies to citizens, who are also eager for information and have a right to know.

@Info_Ebola_Es, a  Twitter official account to pull information

@Info_Ebola_Es Twitter account is, to me, the best tool to stop rumor spreading through social media. If you want to stop rumor going viral in Twitter, use Twitter. The official account, set on October 14th (and already verified by Twitter) is an official place where it is possible not only to find last minute information but also resources, videos, links, FAQ, recommendations and all the information related to the Ebola virus inside and outside Spain.

Again, official, credible, accurate and trusted information. A one stop shop that makes unnecessary to go somewhere else to search information. If we admit that you must feed the information beast regularly, nothing better than a good big store where everything is at hand.

What is more, @Info_Ebola_Es is a place where the citizens can address the experts directly, ask their questions, have them answered and pull information. Let's not forget that Twitter is a two way channel. Unilateral information of traditional media is not enough (though it is relevant) in this new communications’ era, where nothing is more important for citizens than being capable of getting in touch directly with the source of information. 
Again, if I get what I want (certainty), It would not be necessary to go and search somewhere else.

To sum up, we have moved from improvisation to a 360 degree strategy, and the results are what is expected during a crisis.

Any more good practices I may miss?


MIT Laboratory for Social Machines, a bet to avoid a mayor emergency in Twitter

The MIT Media Lab announced the creation of the Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), whose main goal would be the creation of programs aimed to develop collaborative technologies to tackle complex social problems, as you can read here. This would be great news for the emergency management world as long as Twitter itself developes new technologies  capable of detecting a big streaming growing up in Twitter. Once we have this problem solve, it would turn into the best tool for PIOs to control rumors when a disaster strikes. If we admit that Twitter is the biggest web of reporters existing ever (with all their drawbacks) and that it offers a synchronized experience, as @dkroy explained in #TATGranada2014, there is an urgent need to put an order in this huge stream of information. We’ll try to explain in this post (co written with @LuisSerranoR) why and how this new tool may help.

It is true that there are some ways to monitor conversation in social media (we are talking about Twitter basically here) when a disaster strikes. We can add a column either in Hoosuite or Tweecked with a Hashtag (ie: #Sandy, #yycflood) and this helps to monitor the conversation. I always tell my students that a tweet without a Hashtag is like going to a Big Store without a directory indicating you where the goods are. If you want to buy shoes you go to the shoe section- not to the bakery. So if you want to follow the news of a Hurricane your follow the HT with its name.

We could also follow the official source of information (usually the Government, local authority, and so on) or a list of influencers and people we trust as a reliable source of information, but still, we cannot stop rumors because we lack relevant information: where and when (the exact time) the tweet was posted being the more important. Moreover, we need to detect the rumor going viral from the very beginning.

Time is relevant to stop rumors going viral

The thing is we don’t have any app capable of detecting a huge stream of (false- not trusted) information expanding at an incredible speed. By the time we detect a rumor in social media, it would have been retweed thousands of times; it would have become viral and would have caused undesirable effects. We would be lucky if we can still control the situation if a big disaster strikes, considering the speed of Twitter. Just remember the 6.000 tweet per second in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake .That's why Twitter would the one to offer the Technological solution.

Using a HT helps, but it is no enough to stop rumors

What I describe above is a way to follow only the information of a topic and spare the rest. But, as explained, besides detecting the rumor stream there are some other issues to solve: where and when a tweet was posted (most tweets are not geolocated); whether the information delivered is updated, relevant, and trustful and who is the source of information (when this is not indicated). Our main problem remains. We need a lot of hands (VOST teams) to stop rumor spreading through social media.

As @LuisSerranoL says, one day we will face a mayor disaster amd rumors will be so big that we will not be capable of controlling them. Unless we find a way to really scrutinize social media and get the information delivered in a manner we can decide what is worth and what is rubbish at the speed needed to stop a mayor disaster. 

500 million tweets per day and 241 million users deserve a solution to the Twitter conundrum, especially when we are talking of saving their lives, properties and the enviorenment. It is on Twitter's hands to provide a tool that helps emergency managers making civil protection to save  lives using social media.

If Twitter succeeds in creating this rumor detector, the microblogging site would move from being just a mass media to effectively save lives in emergencies. This step would be the base above which  Public Administration and VOST teams all over the world would build a holistic strategy to stop rumors.

As @dkroy heard  at #TATGranada14 from @LuisSerranoR speech: “100 firefighters cannot stop a tsunami without the help of they who control the web”. The Laboratory for Social Machines is undoubtedly a huge step to fulfill this goal.


Citizen journalism?

Social media have come to stay and they have changed completely the landscape when a disaster strikes.  We all know wonderful examples of citizens being rescued thanks to social media geolocated post (as in Turkey) as well as the possibility to add information that can help emergency services to get a better picture of what’s going on thanks to these post in social media by anonymous people. Social media saves lives and this is out of discussion nowadays. What I like to discuss today is the name we call that activity consisting, basically, on anyone armed with a smartphone (tablet, computer, etc) sharing text, pictures or video through social media. To have a better idea of the concept, you can see Tony Rogers post, whose content I basically agree.

I’ve been thinking for quite a time in the term citizen journalism and I came to the conclusion that we really should find a better name for this activity. It sounds to me that we all see the advantages when the story has a happy ending. Let me just remind you that we live in the era of co-creation, and thanks to social media, we have a great opportunity to be part of the story rather than to be told what  the commercial brands used to sell.

The message is not unilateral anymore, and that is good. Thanks to this co-creation process the way we watch TV or go a show live is a completely different experience and this is great for many reasons.

I believe that we all could agree till here. But what happen when we are talking of an emergency and there are people sharing pictures though social media saying things like a person has died during the explosion or blood is needed at some point and this information is not true? Who is responsible of these rumors being spread through social media? Obviously, they who share the information. But it is when this occurs when we all start thinking whether this is journalism or it is something else.

In the picture above, someboy called @ineslr73 shares a picture of a building in Madrid where an explosion has taken place and says: "It seems that there are dead people".

She argues with Madrid 112 Press Manager, @LuisSerranoR, who asks her not to spread rumor nor to create social alarm. In a more than casual tone ( to me an offensive one)  she offers to delete the picture.

She explained then that it has been her sister who lives near the building and who has taken the picture.

This is a citizen armed with a smartphone sharing a picture from a non trusted source of information and creating social alarm. It is clear to me that she has not even thought for a second of those people who live in the building neither on their families. Would you call that (citizen) journalism?

Shoemakers make shoes, journalists do journalism

I am not saying, by any means, that ordinary citizens shouldn’t use social media when an emergency strikes, nor that what they share is worthless. I like to make it clear that social media are good value in these cases as I have always written in this blog. To put but one example, VOST teams work very well in emergencies and many of its members are not journalist.  The difference here is that they use official sources. As we (the journalists) do, they corroborate the source of the information, something that, generally speaking, is not an issue for the ordinary citizens, as shows the example above. Let’s say that people, and to some extend (see below) the media, rush to share information without thinking twice.

Besides, it is good when citizens use social media during a disaster because it helps the authorities and firsts responders to make civil protection. At the same time, the citizens are empowered by being capable to access the information they need to protect themselves through social media.

Is journalism at a loose end? Where is the journalism reputation?

It caught my attention the undeniable fact that some journalists and media seem to have forgotten how to do our job. Since social media started it seems to me that the old uses of corroborating the source of information and the rest of good practices what we learned at College and working in traditional media are old fashioned. Why is that? We know why: due to the urgent need to be the first source of information, competing in Twitter, what anyone armed with a smartphone (journalist or not, including the- to me misnamed- citizen journalism)
You can see examples of what I mean here  and in the picture below.

The picture of the former president of Venezuela
Hugo Chavez is a fake

When the first newspaper in Spain has reached the point to publish a false picture of former President Hugo Chavez there is little more to say… not to remember the great amount of false pictures uploaded to social media of hurricane Sandy.

The misnamed revolutionary tax versus (the misnamed?) citizen journalism

During Franco dictatorship , after the Spanish Civil War, many of you would remember that here in Spain we have a huge problem in the North of Spain (Basque Country), with a terrorist band called ETA. They used to blackmail the businessmen who have their industries in the Basque Country and that blackmailing was called “The revolutionary task”.  In the 90’s I used to work for a Radio Station in Madrid and we (the journalist) started to called that the “misnamed revolutionary tax”. For one simple reason: that was not a tax.

From my point of view, citizen journalism is not journalism. Journalism is what journalists practice. What the citizen share, using their right to express themselves using social media, is something else. Besides the terminology issue, if we are talking about emergencies, “you do need to watch what people post”, as Steve Outing explains so well in this interesting article.

What do you think?