From the 15-17 July 2014, some of the most inspiring and knowledgeable people in the social media in emergencies field assembled at Mt Macedon for the Australian Emergency Management Institute’s Connection Week 2014.

I enjoyed every presentation and spent the week meeting many fantastic people. Here are 50 thoughts, concepts and quotes from the event.

  1. Col Joey Booth from Louisiana University said Australia and the USA have much in common: both among heaviest users of social media.
  2. He also spoke about the importance of refuting myths and false information as soon as possible during an emergency to prevent it gaining credibility.
  3. Craig Lapsley, Victoria’s first Emergency Management Commissioner, gave us this gem: don’t come in and ‘do’ the response to the community – do it with them.
  4. He added “in emergency situations it’s important to connect to communities that already exist” such as community groups.
  5. Craig Thomler: Australia is a social nation and very much a Facebook nation.
  6. Craig Thomler: People in Asia spend more time than us on social media, it’s inevitable we’ll use social more and more in Australia.
  7. Get staff talking more on social media as people trust them says Craig Thomler. (We did this during the Straddie bushfires using Bambuser live streamed videos)
  8. Craig Thomler: You can’t establish a relationship with the community the moment an emergency strikes.
  9. Kym Charlton, former Executive Director of Communications with the Queensland Police Service, said QPS already had a relationship with the public on Facebook before disasters hit in early 2011.
  10. Kym also spoke about the importance of setting information free: making it available online to whoever wanted it, not just the mainstream media. One by-product of this during the 2011 Queensland floods was QPS information being translated into many different languages and reposted on the internet.
  11. “We place trust in 000 emergency calls (US 911 / UK 999) – why don’t we place trust in social media posts?” asked Kym.
  12. Kym Charlton: using social media in disasters actually reduces number of enquiries, being proactive versus reactive reduces the workload.
  13. Facebook Australia’s Mia Garlick gave a good presentation urging us to “Take advantage of the power of word of mouth at scale“.
  14. Doing social media in emergencies is NOT like doing it for brands. You don’t need to keep it short or post a photo.
  15. Mia suggested we consider the following Facebook tools in emergencies: notifications, interest lists, page insights and geo-targeting.
  16. Jet from Hootsuite: empowerment or containment – which social media strategy will your organisation choose?
  17. Jet also used the #mythbuster hashtag on the theory that Facebook penalises posts from 3rd party apps.
  18. John Sheridan: Getting involved in a slanging match as a government agency on social media will never have a good outcome.
  19. He also spoke about social media being just one tool and about social media strategies: “a carpenter doesn’t have a hammer strategy”.
  20. After lunch on day 1, Craig Thomler led us through a fantastic practical exercise using Crisis90 simulation software. Working in groups, we workshopped how we would respond to a social media post about a fictional bomb threat to a well known Australian sports stadium.
  21. Twitter is live. Twitter is public. Twitter is conversational. Twitter Australia’s Danny Keens gave two presentations.
  22. Even if you’re not on Twitter, you’re exposed to Twitter via tweets on TV and other media.
  23. Twitter is the second screen to major events as they unfold in real time.
  24. You can also change the channel you’re watching straight from Twitter with the new “see it” buttons.
  25. Twitter is now in 35 languages and has instant translation.
  26. Have you tried adding four photos to a tweet? It’s a great new feature on Twitter. Here’s 4 photos in a tweet I did earlier. You can also tag people in the tweet and this doesn’t chew up precious characters.
  27. I don’t know where Caz Milligan gets her tights from, but I want some.
  28. Caz Milligan did a fantastic exercise with us, showing a series of words and then asking us to recall as many as possible. Many people in the audience had written down words that didn’t appear – proving the concept of false memory under stressful circumstances.
  29. Caz Milligan: Social media can be vital in augmenting existing information already in the hands of decision makers.
  30. Caz Milligan: In times of crisis people turn to social media where they can find information by the people and organisations they trust.
  31. Caz did  a fantastic presentation on VOST: Virtual Operations Support Teams. It’s a way of making use of new technologies, allowing trusted agents help those at the scene who may be overwhelmed by the volume of data. Find out more about VOST
  32. It was a real pleasure listening to Darren Whitelaw, one of the many concepts he spoke about was JBDI: just bloody do it. This is something we can still mostly get away with in local government.
  33. Social Local Mobile: this is where the next 5 years will take us says Darren Whitelaw. He posted up a cool GimpShopped photo of what a Melbourne street could look like through Google Glass.
  34. Move fast or get left behind: when government fails to act, citizens will step in and do it themselves: Darren Whitelaw
  35. This concept was proven by Melanie Iron’s Tassie Fires we can help Facebook page which played a major role in the 2013 Tasmania bushfires, both in the initial crisis, as well as in the immediate and ongoing recovery.
  36. A post-event survey from this page suggested the public don’t find traditional media (except the ABC) helpful in rapidly changing situations.
  37. Jason Pemberton gave an inspiring talk about the Christchurch Volunteer Army Foundation. He spoke about allowing people to self-mobilise for a common purpose. This happened seven times in Christchurch by the largely student Volunteer Army and nothing went wrong.
  38. Jason said simple instructions are best: If you want to help, turn up at 8am.
  39. Jason quoted this great talk by Ernesto Sirolli “Want to help someone, shut up and listen“. A great quote not only for disaster management but also for life.
  40. How would your organisation deal with a community-led recovery site on Facebook? Help them? Work with them? Try to shut them down?
  41. is an out of the box solution that helps communities recover after a disaster – it looks pretty good.
  42. Don’t treat social media as a vertical in your organisation (one department), treat it as a horizontal (across many departments): Craig Thomler.
  43. The AEMI staff were fantastic, friendly and did a brilliant job. Thanks so much for the emergency chocolate rations!
  44. Australia needs AEMI: it’s an important facility not only in the Australian emergency management field, but internationally.
  45. Most Aussies cannot tell the difference between sleet and snow.
  46. Craig Thomler’s troll handling strategy #1: Sometimes a phone call from someone in government scares the crap out of them
  47. Craig Thomler’s troll handling strategy #2: If they are a particularly abusive troll, let their employer know about their behaviour. Is it line with their social media policy?
  48. Martin Anderson gave a great talk, here are his top 5 social media tips:
    1. promote social media as a tool, not a specialist skill.
    2. Treat social media as a given.
    3. Regular down-to-earth reporting with analysis.
    4. Devolve responsibility / accountability / access.
    5. Ongoing funding and resourcing.
  49. Make sure information is very easy to understand during emergencies: people are under stress and need simple advice and instructions. 
  50. Think big. Start small. Fail fast. Fail cheap. Then learn from it and go from there.

Here’s a few bonus links

 Photo credit: Heron Lagoon by Redland City Fire Management Team

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