A while ago, I posted this blog about how the life-hacking community has a lot in common with Emergency Managers (we both have an attitude of self-sufficiency.) Then I posted my perspective on social activism (I’m for it.). Now I want to talk about what Emergency Managers (and preppers) have in common with environmentalists. (Hint: It’s a lot).
Social justice. Often it seems like people who care about the environment also care about equality issues. People are uniquely linked to the health of the environment and disasters expose the strength of this link. When, for instance, coffee farmers cut down the Rainforest to plant coffee plants, they expose the topsoil to heavy rains which wash away the nutrient-rich top soil. This leads to successively poorer crops which causes hungry farmers to cut down more Rainforest. Furthermore the rains–unchecked by strong trees–causes extreme flooding, much more than would’ve happened before the trees were cut , causing farmers to lose their homes and crops. Which, in turn, causes the country to become vulnerable to famine. Worsening cycles like this one are why we try to buy fair-trade crops and crafts. These situations are a good example of the synergistic mix between social and environmental issues. Disasters just bring these issues to salience.
Bangladesh slum dwellers find helping the poor makes everyone more resilient.
How well a community withstands a disaster is directly related to how well it has treated the local environment. A common example: if you fill watershed areas with dirt and pour concrete over it and the surrounding hills, you will get flooding. If you develop along coastlines, not only do you put more people in harm’s way, but you also erode the beach and damage the protective corals causing storm surges and tidal waves to travel farther inland than they would have before (we’re looking at you, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana). If you cut down forests and plow up grass, wind storms or flooding can carry away the top soil and damage both the recuperation power of the area and cause algea blooms in the ocean where all the nutrient-rich top soil dropped (Ahem, Dust Bowl). This might lead to a bad harvest and starvation (back to social justice again).
Bali fisherman switch from fishing with cyanide (which bleaches coral) to other methods.
Global warming is making disasters both more frequent and stronger. First world countries’ infrastructures are also getting (a little) better, but this is not true for third world countries. The worsening storms and unchecked development is causing more and more people to be vulnerable. Island nations are eroding away. African farmers can’t find enough water to give their plants. War is damaging the land and local economy. Refugees stress host nations. No one has enough money to migrate. There’s no where to put them if they could. All of this long-term suffering makes it harder for people to withstand disasters when they do strike. And since they’re striking more frequently, they can hardly recover before the next one comes. I’ve already discussed this here, so I won’t go on.
Climate change has made flooding much worse in Vietnam. A better dam helps.
Take Care of the Environment and it Will Take Care of You
Last week my Crisis Communications class looked at the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings as an example of government using Twitter effectively to communicate with the public. What I noticed most was that the author’s attributed Boston PD’s adept handling of social media to the fact that they had had a standing relationship with a Twitter audience already–long before the marathon even happened. Granted, their followers were fairly few, but when people flooded to their stream (heh, pun) they had the culture and infrastructure in place to handle the misinformation, the safety concerns, and the expectations of the public. [If you want to read what the academics are saying about the event a year later, check out these summaries of journal articles. Fascinating.]
All this prompted me to think about the public’s relationship with the government and how unusual it is to find a government (or sometimes even private business) entity that does Twitter well. As an Emergency Manager, part of my job is making sure people get warned about impending doom and more and more, people are getting warned through breaking news on Twitter. So I want to make sure that the information people get from their social networks is high quality information: useful, accurate, and timely. By the way, my textbooks tell me that according to a recent survey, about 80% of you expect someone to be monitoring Twitter during a disaster for distress calls. That’s an important expectation for us to respond to. I have a vested interest in making sure that the communication that happens over social media is effective and that the public develops a good relationship with high-quality informers BEFORE a disaster happens. Because after a disaster happens, we’re in the “fog of war”.
That’s a lot of build up to say that basically, I went forth onto the Great Information Highway and collected tips for you. Free of charge.
How to Find Quality Disaster Tweeps:
1. Twitter Alerts. Before you do anything, I want to talk about Twitter Alerts. Go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) twitter page. These are the storm people. NOTICE: on the left side under the “Tweet to NOAA” button there’s a little statement that says “In times of crisis this account helps share critical information with Twitter Alerts. Be Prepared“. Accounts with that statement are top priority. If you’re only going to follow one person, make sure it’s a person with that statement. Click the Be Prepared link and Twitter will take you to a page that explains how Twitter Alerts works and allows you to sign up to get alerts from NOAA. It’s sorta like a mobile version of a reverse 911. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Ok… now when we talk about other accounts, watch for that little statement.
2. Quality Accounts. Here are a few people already doing a stellar job in the Twitterverse.
* Craig Fugate, FEMA Director. If you’re still thinking about the last director who some believe tanked the Hurricane Katrina response, don’t worry. This guy is new, experienced, and pretty hip. His site has cool new facts, FEMA programs (like this partnership with Disney’s Big Hero 6 movie), and a nation-wide/birds-eye view perspective.
* Besides NOAA (above), you also might like the National Weather Service. They also provide information about storms and unexpected freezes.
* Bill Gates, entrepreneur/philanthropist. You never hear much news about Bill Gates anymore and that’s because he’s traveling all over the world doing work for his foundation. He just met with the House of Lords in England and Germany’s Chancelor, Angela Merkel to garner support for Ebola aid in Africa–and more broadly–world health. I’m a huge fan of his work. You might like to follow him if you want a world-large perspective.
* I like Ready.gov ‘s account because it retweets from the Fire Department, National Guard, Homeland Security, and almost anyone else talking about preparedness. It’s nice because people like the Coast Guard don’t ONLY talk about preparedness, but when they do it’s important. So Ready.gov is like a filter for all the non-emergency news. They also have some content in Spanish. It might be a good starting place to see who else you like.
* FEMA en espanol. Pretty much the only Spanish-only Twitter Alerts I could find readily. If you know someone who speaks Spanish as a first language, send them here.
3. Local Accounts. How to find people near you.
In America, it’s the local authorities who are in charge of the disaster response (and the national authorities who send the money). When a disaster happens, you’ll want information from the people in your jurisdiction just like Bostonians wanted the BPD’s info. Here’s how to identify quality local accounts.
* WeFollow.com is a user-generated director that collects Twitter accounts into hashtags. Best of all, it displays them based on influence and/or follower counts so you can get an idea of who’s awesome on Twitter. Furthermore, the little search bar on the side lets you search by location so you can find quality people near you. Check out these Emergency Managers. Notice the grey bar at the very top suggests other key words to search with.
* Go to Craig Fugate’s Following list. Hit ctrl+F or find your browser’s search bar then type in your state’s name. He follows all the state’s Offices of Emergency Management, but they’re not all called the same thing, so it’s sometimes hard to find them. Chances are your state’s OEM (or EMD, SMEM, etc.) will be following local entities worth noting. For instance, my state’s –Washington Emergency Managment Division– follows the National Weather Service, Seattle branch.
*FEMA Regions. FEMA breaks up the country into regions and those regions have their own Twitter accounts. The posts often overlap with the national account, but they sometimes have good regional information like storm-specific preparedness tips (not a lot of Tornadoes in WA state.) or tribal news. Look at the map below to see which region you belong to then go find that account by searching Twitter’s search bar.
* Search your local city hall, state government, police/fire departments and anyone else you can think of to see if they’re on Twitter.
* Make sure their profile is fully filled out
* Determine how frequently they tweet. If they’re last tweet was a week ago, ditch them.
* Determine quality of tweets. Do they retweet relevant material? Do they balance their retweets with original content? (If they only retweet, they’re lazy. If they only post original content despite what everyone else is talking about, they’re not good listeners and probably won’t be too helpful during an emergency) Do they participate in the conversation or do they treat their account like a bulletin board? Can you tell if they’re responsive to other users?
* Who do they follow? Maybe it’s someone useful. Make sure they follow a wide range of relevant people. They shouldn’t be following everyone who follows them and they shouldn’t be too insulated by following only people who they agree with.
4. Preparedness accounts. Other honorable mentions. These people don’t necessarily post emergency updates, but they do talk about preparedness topics.