UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Preparing For Major Incidents – How Are We Using Online Technologies?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 Apr 2013

The combination of twitter, streaming live police radio, and google maps is pretty amazing tonight

Tweet posted on 20130419On Monday night I was listening to live music in The Bell, Bath when I noticed in my Twitter stream the tweets about the Boston bombings. At 7 am this morning I came across another flurry of tweets from the US< this time about today’s Boston bomb incident, which seemed to have been described using the hashtag #watertown on Twitter, as can be seen from a Twitter search for this hashtag.

When I first heard the news I was surprised that there was no mention on the BBC or Guardian Web sites. However Danny Sullivan, an American living in England who spoke at the IWMW event back in 1999 was my trusted source, who provided links to news sources from the US. One tweet which caught my eye was the comment from Bill Amend that:

The combination of twitter, streaming live police radio, and google maps is pretty amazing tonight. #watertown

As described in an article on “The best place to follow the news as it unfolded: Twitter” and Mashable is compiling real-time updates of the incident on Storify.

It’s all gone horribly wrong: disaster communication in a crisis

How would we respond if there were similar incidents in campuses in the UK, I wonder? This was a topic Jeremy Speller addressed three years ago in a talk at IWMW 2010 entitled It’s all gone horribly wrong: disaster communication in a crisis.

Jermemy Speller at IWMW 2010The abstract for the talk highlighted the importance of IT in responding to major incidents:

How do you communicate with your staff and students and the wider world when it all goes horribly wrong? Is your IT/Web related response aligned with your institutional Major Incident and Disaster Recovery policies?

Over the past few years a number of experiments have been undertaken by various institutions to address these issues. Externally hosted websites are one solution and some have used SMS messaging and third-party services such as Twitter. This talk covers ways in which communications can be disseminated via as many channels as possible while allowing simple access to tools for those in MI teams who need to make announcements.

One day it will of course go so wrong that the only solution is a walk around campus with the megaphone – short of that we owe it to our users to provide information in as coherent and effective a manner as possible.

In his talk Jeremy recollected how IT had used during a major incident which took place during the IWMW 2005. On the 7/7 2005 the IWMW 2005 event was taking place at the University of Manchester. This was the first IWMW event for which a WiFi network was available and about 20 people were able to use their laptops to engage in discussion using IRC (this was in the days before Twitter). Afterwards an archive of the IRC log was kept so we have a record of the discussion:

Jul 07 10:08:02 <Tim>explosion on london underground. entire network closed!!
Jul 07 10:09:04 <--DavidBailey has quit (Quit: CGI:IRC (EOF))
Jul 07 10:10:06 <JeremySpellerUCL>explosion where?
Jul 07 10:10:15 <Tim>liverpool street
Jul 07 10:10:35 <JeremySpellerUCL>Grief
Jul 07 10:10:40 <Tim>metropolitan line, two trains collided, several wounded
Jul 07 10:10:58 <stuart_steele_aston>Tthe bbc site is grinding?
Jul 07 10:11:02 bbc news site not responding - u saw the news report? prrsumably everyone else is trying to now.
Jul 07 10:11:04 <--MilesB has quit (Quit: CGI:IRC (Ping timeout))
Jul 07 10:11:16 <Tim>try the blessed guardian

Jeremy recollected this incident in his talk at IWMW 2010. In addition to his slides being available on Slideshare, a video recording of the talk is also available, together with a mashup of the video recording and the tweets posted during his talk, as illustrated.

What’s The Current State of Play?

How are institutions preparing for major incidents today, I wonder?

The University of Bath has used its official Twitter stream in the winter during heavy snowfalls to alert staff and students when the University was closed, due to dangerous conditions on the roads on the steep hill leading up to the University.

But if social media will have an important role to play during major incidents, how should social media services such as Twitter be used? Equally important, how should concerns that incorrect, misleading or even fraudulent tweets are posted?

On a weekly basis the final alarms on campus are tested and their are occasional fire drills in which staff and students need to leave the building and assemble at designated assembly points. Do we need similar drills in use of social media, I wonder? But if this is not possible, do institutions have plans for use of social media during major incidents? And are institutions aware that, unlike fire drills, they do not have control over use of social media? A post by Paul Boag posted in December 2008 entitled The power and problems of twitter highlights the problems which can happen when a jokey tweet is misinterpretted as a cry for help. As Paul described in the introduction to the post “I take no pleasure in this post. I do not like embarrassing myself in public. However, I need to both publicly apologise and also share a valuable lesson in the use of twitter. If you use twitter, please read this post. It is important that you do not make the same mistake.

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] | View Twitter statistics from: [TweetReach] – []

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