07 September, 2010

Some ideas for NZ Civil Defence in the Social Media Space

Below is a letter I am sending to MCDEM and the Minister of Civil Defence with some thoughts from for their Lesson Learnt workshops post the Chrischurch Earthquake.


When you start doing your debrief and lesson learnt sessions about the Christchurch earthquake there are a few points below about the use of the internet and social media which you might want to consider.  This is the first major emergency event in NZ that has has involved a very active involvement of the social media and this medium beings both new opportunities and new challenges to communications in chaotic situations.

Your site (in particular the Chch update page http://www.civildefence.govt.nz/memwebsite.nsf) does not work at all on mobile phones. I have a Nexus One cellphone and when in landscape views it wouldn't scroll and when put the phone in portrait and zoomed in (so could read the text) could scroll a little bit and then got cut off, meaning I couldn't read the all the text on the page. This is an issue because when there is a disaster people may not have power or they might not be at there desktop or laptop.  They are more likely to be accessing your information, which is out there to help them in the disaster area, on a mobile phone of some type. In future this is going to become more and more common.

Either you need to make your pages work on a mobile or have a dedicated mobile site which auto redirects when it detects a mobile phone. The mobile version should also be lighter on the images to improve load time and also to reduce cost. 2 Degrees did a good thing of saying the mcdem, moh, get thru etc sites would be free of data traffic charges. Not sure if this is a short term thing or a permanent thing. Maybe you could work with the Telcos and ISPs about making traffic to sites like yours free either during an emergency or all of the time, in the interests of the greater good.

You updated your site hourly but it didn't show what had changed, so you had to read it all every time. Maybe you need to look at some type of versioning or what's changed thing, so people can just read what has changed since the last update. Wikipedia has an example of what I mean by showing the difference http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2010_Canterbury_earthquake&action=historysubmit&diff=383217142&oldid=383211709.and http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2010_Canterbury_earthquake&action=history

This was the first big NZ disaster that involved Social Media and there are some things that can be learnt about using Twitter to better engage with the public.
* You were late to game, there was a lot of info on the web before you poked your head up. Apparently Twitter was busy by 5am or so, which I gather is about 1.5 hours before you came online.
* You were using the wrong #tag on Twitter. #eqnz was the main twitter hash by the time of your first post on #christchurchquake
** Most people followed and posted to #eqnz, so they missed your updates which you tagged with #christchurchquake
** #christchurchquake was far too long as a #tag. Tweets are only 140 characters and people may be typing them on a cellphone. People want content not lengthy #tags in messages
** http://www.cats-pyjamas.net/2010/09/social-media-use-in-a-crisis-eqnz-which-hashtag-prevails/ This is an informative blog about Twitter and Hash Tags and the development of the #eqnz  tag following the Quake

* Your messages could have been more useful.  They just linked and didn't say what the info was in the tweet or what had changed/new on the page since the last update
** Your messages were along the lines of #christchurchquake Update XX HH:MM LINK. Firstly you are not describing the information contain in the link nor are you saying what is new. Some people retweeted your messages onto the main #eqnz feed, but on the whole they did not get much penetration.
** Tweets that got retweeted a lot were along the lines of: "For information on water tanker locations LINK #eqnz" "For damage claim information see LINK #eqnz". These messages were retweeted far more than your tweets even though in some cases they were linking to your page. You need to give a reason for people to go there why they should spend time clicking on your link
** http://www.cats-pyjamas.net/2010/09/social-media-in-a-crisis-eqnz-the-findable-usable-shareable/ This is about useful messages and the quake

* Your tweets were just a bot posting when your site was updated.
** You should have had a comms person monitoring and participating in the twittersphere in real time.
** People were sending you questions and you weren't responding to them.

* The Internet and social media allows for information to travel much faster and there was a lot of information coming up on Twitter.
** You weren't using the information on twitter. I remember at one stage someone was giving an interview on TV and said that the hospital hadn't reported anything major.  At the same time I was reading that the hospital was saying two people were seriously injured.  These days information travels much faster in a much more one to all fashion rather than a one to one chain. And when you start using outdated information people trust you less as you seem to be behind the time and not knowing what is going on
** The downside to this fast one to all communication is from time to time rumours started and would have been good to get under control quickly e.g.
*** "All cell were going to die in under hour." Telecom and VF stood up in this case and said they had more battery than that and managed the rumour effectively.
*** "Riccarton Mall's roof collapsing" from Monday
*** Rumours need to be stopped quickly and from an authoritative source but you were not on Twitter so missed all this and could feed in correct and up to date information.
** Telstra, Vodafone and Telecom early on seemed to be the ones who knew what was going one they were reporting on the status of their networks but also power and the such and generally what happened. Come mid morning once you and main stream media picked up and started telling people what was going on, the Telcos left it to Radio NZ, Stuff and NZ Herald to cover.

Also for personal updates Facebook was an important medium as people could in one place give and update about themselves and also find out the status of their friends and family.

With social media and the internet becoming more important as a communication tool and where people these days go for information and contacting people there are new needs for emergency kits.  Maybe you should start recommending for people to have spare phone batteries and/or solar chargers in their emergency kits. I found the internet much more on the pulse and up to date than other media. I found the radio was behind and TV One really slow and outdated and TV3 seemed to completely miss the fact of the earthquake until the 6pm news.

New mapping opportunities also arise through Google maps and Twitter.  For example the link below is a really good map.  It is being crowd sourced and found via the #eqnz tag
It is a Google Map of cordon, portaloos, water, welfare centres, open fast food, open Petrol Stations, etc.  Neither MCDEM nor ECAN are linking to it. And it is showing the information that people need and a lot is sourced from you but just presented, to me at least, a more usable/digestible form.

I would be happy to discuss some of the above matters with you in more detail if you would like that.  I am located in Wellington.