Yesterday, I talked about how local health departments (LHDs) can use Twitter to communicate about and monitor public health emergencies. I also talked about how to set up your own Twitter account. For nearly a year-and-a-half, I was the Risk Communication Director for the Indiana State Department of Health. I dealt with the media during public health emergencies, and took part in several incidents and training exercises.
A tool like Twitter would have been invaluable, and saved a lot of time and energy in getting valuable information to other first responders, the Incident Command structure, and even the media and public.
Be sure to visit yesterday’s post to see how to set up a Twitter account and what applications will make this extremely useful.
Today, I want to show what a Twitter exchange would look like.
A few more issues to take care of first:
1. GroupTweet.com. GroupTweet is a web-based service that lets you send messages to an entire group, rather than sending something to all of your followers, or typing in their names one at a time. If you need to speak to, say, an entire POD or the entire EOC, set up a group in advance, and assign all the members of that group. Then, when you need to send a message to only those people, follow GroupTweet’s instructions.
2. For training exercises and real emergencies, it’s helpful to set up accounts for the different NIMS roles (e.g. ISDH_INCMD is the Incident Commander for the Indiana State Department of Health). As the shifts change, make sure the new people have the username and password to the Twitter account.
3. If you are using a special term or keyword during the incident, like “ISDH” or “anthrax,” you can use a program like Tweetfeed to monitor Twitter traffic. This will pick up all traffic with that keyword, so you may be inundated with more traffic than just your group.
4. Set up a laptop running TweetDeck or Twhirl (or both), with an LCD projector to show the message windows on the wall. Make sure everyone can see it, but try to squeeze as many tweets on the wall as you can. (Use the display settings in the Control Panel.) Everyone working in the EOC is using the EOC software, as well as their own Twitter account, but they will be able to see the Twitter stream on the wall. They will also be able to respond to the messages from their own station.
5. Have the PIO could have a separate, public Twitter account that he or she can use to contact the media and public directly, rather than waiting for the TV news and newspapers. Updates are immediate and can be made as needed. Information given to a TV station could be obsolete 15 minutes after the news van has left.
Also, use the # hashtag if you’re talking about a more common term AND your timeline is public. This will let other people, like the media and concerned citizens, also monitor what you’re doing. Anyone who is using the #hashtag will show up in the general Twitter timeline through Twitter’s search function at search.Twitter.com or TweetFeed (they show the same feed. There are not separate feeds for each program). This is an important way for the PIO to monitor Twitter traffic on the incident.
Here’s how Twitter can work during an emergency.
Scenario: During a POD deployment in Clark County, you’ve got too many volunteers in one POD, you’re running out of medication at another, and a TV news crew is on site, but the Clark County PIO is not available.
Normally to handle this, the Operations Officer from Pod#1 would have to call the EOC to find out if they need to redeploy the volunteers. Someone else would call to get more medicine. A third person would frantically be trying to track down the PIO, and running around to find her. I’ve been in the scenarios where all these things are playing out simultaneously, and it’s often hard to get an answer because everyone is searching for their own answer, or working on their own part of the incident, and can’t be found.
While Twitter won’t eliminate this problem, it can help alleviate some of this chaos by making information more readily available. Here’s how:
The volunteer supervisor sends a Tweet, followed by a response from the EOC Incident Commander
Clark_VOLSUP: Clark County POD #1 has 12 too many volunteers? Send home or send elsewhere?
ISDH_INCMD: POD #3, First Haven Church, needs new volunteers. Send 8 there. Rest can go home.
Clark_VOLSUP: They’re on their way.
POD#1_OPS:We’re running low on doxycyclin. Will be out in 2 hours. Does anyone have more?
POD#3_OPS:We have plenty. Will send volunteer with 5 cases.
POD#2_OPS:Sorry, we’ve got just enough. Might run short near end of day.
POD#1_OPS:Channel 4 from Louisville is on site. Can’t find @Clark_PIO. Does anyone know where she is?
ISDH_PIO:@Clark_PIO is caught in traffic. I’m on site, and can handle.
POD#1_OPS:We’ve just sent processed our 10,000th person. How’s everyone else doing?
POD#2_OPS:We’ve had 8,000.
POD#3_OPS:We’ve had 12,000.
ISDH_PIO:Can I share this with the media? Any talking points I should give?
EOC_OPS:@ISDH_INCMD says Yes. 30,000 people through PODs, everything running smooth, enough meds for all. All PODs should finish by 10 pm today.
ISDH_PIO:Understood. Will contact @ISDH_INCMD when interview is done.
This short exchange has accomplished a number of things:
- They saved a bunch of phone calls, and chasing down different people to get an answer.
- It allowed for flexibility of someone else answering for the Incident Commander. The IC could have been standing nearby, unable to type out an answer, so someone else was able to do it for them. By using the @ reply feature, the IC can also see that someone has done this. It’s not lost in the shuffle.
- Using the @ symbol also delivered messages to the intended people, but publicly, so others can answer. The person who received a reply answer (@IDSH_PIO) was able to get the information they needed, but so did everyone else. Now, if someone needs to know where the PIO is, they have that information, instead of racing around again, trying to find out.
- It creates a record of what happened, which will help write the After Action Report (AAR), plus it gives a written transcript of the conversation, if needed. Just copy and paste all the Tweets into an index as part of the AAR.
- Each POD Ops director was able to share the number of people processed through POD with everyone. Best of all, they did it without sending an email. The information was immediately accessible, visible, and available to everyone. Emails tend to get buried and forgotten.
- The ISDH PIO was able to pick up some useful information – the number of people through each POD – just by following the general timeline. He would not have found this out otherwise, because the Operations.
- The Incident Commander was able to give the most important talking points to the PIO in a matter of seconds, not minutes on the phone. Or worse, the PIO never being able to reach the Incident Commander on the phone.
There are many more ways health departments and first responders can use Twitter. In fact, there are several social media technologies that health departments can use:
- Ning social network engine to create a closed social network for all local health departments;
- create a blog to give the public quick news updates, post press releases, address any rumors, and serve as a news source to the media. (Blogging can also help you keep the public updated without waiting for news channels;
- and, using a a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki_software”>wikito create and share information (password-protected, of course) among health departments concerning large scale events, such as pan flu.
I’ll write about these technologies in future posts. In the meantime, if you have any comments, questions, or stories about how you’ve used these technologies, leave a comment.