Category Archives: Emergency Response

radiation + north pacific gyre = bad

I don’t think we are even close to fully understanding the Nuclear crisis unfolding in Japan. Just read this on CNN:

Radiation in water rushing into sea tests millions of times over limit
Tokyo (CNN) — Another attempt by Japanese officials to stop the leaking of highly radioactive water from a nuclear reactor into the ocean failed Tuesday, the country’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Both the utility and Japan’s nuclear safety agency say they don’t know how much water is leaking into the sea from reactor No. 2. But engineers have had to pour nearly 200 tons of water a day into the No. 2 reactor vessel to keep it cool, and regulators say they believe the leak originates there

Earlier Tuesday, Edano apologized for the decision to intentionally dump 11,500 tons of radioactive water into the sea — all part of the effort to curb the flow of the more toxic liquid spotted days ago rushing from outside the No. 2 unit.

Yup, they don’t know how much water is going into the ocean. Although I’d guess it is about the same amount as has been dumped into the reactor from helicopters and fire hoses.

Here is the problem for those of us in the states. The North Pacific Gyre is the largest ecosystem in the world and it circles between Asia and the West Coast of the US of A. So when you hear “don’t know how much water is leaking into the sea” and “had to pour nearly 200 tons of water a day into the No. 2 reactor vessel” and “intentionally dump 11,500 tons of radioactive water into the sea” it starts to become our problem very quickly.

We have some experience recently on trying to take the pee out of the pool. The use of chemical dispersant apparently helped. As did microbes that eat oil (who knew?). The problem with Radiation in the water is a bit different for a number of reasons.

  1. Currents. The Deepwater Horizon was in the Gulf of Mexico which has a loop current, but for the most part the oil didn’t make it even to Florida. The Pacific also has a loop current but the loop goes between Asia and the United States quite efficiently.
  2. You can’t see radiation in the water. You can’t fly a plane over the ocean and see a sheen like you can with oil. You can detect radiation, but only people with the right equipment. Thus citizen journalism and distributed responses aren’t possible from civilians.
  3. You can’t control fish. They swim where they want to swim. And many swim all over the world. So beyond the currents dispersing the radiation, you have radioactive fish. Does Pike’s Place Market put in a Geiger counter? How long till Amazon is sold out?
  4. Japan makes a lot of stuff. We like to buy stuff. But we prefer if it is radiation free. Not sure how the economics on this play out.
  5. Japan makes a lot of pharmaceuticals. Will consumers continue to trust these products? From wikipedia:
    1. In 2006, the Japanese pharmaceutical market was the second largest individual market in the world. With sales of $60 billion it constitutes approximately 11% of the world market.[2]
  6. China makes a lot of steel. We buy it. They unfortunately share an ocean with Japan. And even more unfortunately a tremendous amount of water is used in the steel manufacturing process. Is the source freshwater or ocean water? And if ocean water then how does this play out in the steel market.
  7. Culture. In Japan shame is handled quietly according to everything I have read. As Gladwell explains, a culture of deference can be deadly in a crisis. So what little we know coming out of the crisis right now is suspect. It is not that the facts they are telling the world aren’t true. It is the “what are they not telling us” that scares me.

And now I guess we should all check the WSJ to see when Berkshire Hathaway buys the leading non-Japanese manufacturer of Geiger counters. Because sadly the ones from Japan might be detecting themselves.

What do I think will happen?

I don’t really know. What I hope is that given the majority of the planet is ocean, that the amazing creature that is our living ocean will be able to absorb the radiation and disperse it to safe levels. What I hope is despite the folly of man, nature will once again protect us. That is what I hope. And I continue to pray for Japan. Both for the victims of the Tsunami and now as victims of a nuclear disaster.

 

Technology and Crisis Communication Panel at SXSW. Vote?

SHORT VERSION:

Please vote for my panel at SXSW DON’T PANIC – The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis

LONG VERSION:

A little more than four years ago I wrote my first blog post. It was about the need for a form of Emergency RSS. We can share celebrity gossip headlines through feed readers faster than we could use technology to respond to a crisis. And this was an important point as I started blogging in 2005 right after and in response to a need to share after Hurricane Katrina. Katrina Lower 9th Ward PhotoCrisis response and crisis communication has always been a passion of mine, and seeing our government’s mostly failed response in New Orleans compelled me to start blogging and contributing where I could.

Running the company I chose to stay in town during the Hurricane Rita evacuation. While Rita did not hit Houston, instead crushing the gulf coast near Beaumont with little news coverage in the wake of Katrina, we did learn from the Rita evacuation. We used a wiki page on Tendenci (our software) to track down all employees. Employees on the road, which for some of them was 10 to 20 hours during the evacuation, would text their manager’s who then updated the wiki to account for everyone. We quickly knew everyone was OK.

Then last year we prepared for Hurricane Ike which went over our town. When the storm hit the ONLY thing that worked was SMS messaging. No power, no water, no data, no TV. Just radio and text messaging. Hurricane Ike hits at nightLuckily we had set up a product called Yammer, which is like Twitter for your company (and they have a business model) and we were able to keep in touch. Data services, which is what your cell phone depends on to get to web pages, went down. Voice went down. The only thing that allowed us to keep in touch with all of our employees and their families was text messaging sent directly and through Yammer.

We learned a lot about the role of tech in a crisis combined with human behavior. Example – an employee’s cell phone would die. They would use someone else’s cell to text a message to their manager saying “we are OK and staying near College Station”. Except that is ALL they would say. We didn’t recognize the number and had no idea WHO sent it! The solution was to train all of our people to put their NAMES at the end of each text message. Seems like a small thing. It is. But it makes it possible to do a head count!

Since 2005 our firm now does the web site for the Houston Red Cross and Reliant Park, both of which are key for Houston Emergency Response planning. We have the privilege of working with Firestorm Crisis Communications and Preparedness and long time clients like crisis communicator Dan Keeney. I have attended Netsquared Houston meetings when David Geilhufe taught us about People Finder Information Format. And I work with people like Jonti and Katie who have helped all of us set up our ICE cards for our families.

Now I need your help. I’d like to continue the dialog on Social Media and Emergency Response. What IS the role of twitter beyond updates? What are the alternatives for Yammer? Is there a cost effective solution for businesses and families? We have come a long way, so let’s talk about it.

PLEASE VOTE AND COMMENT on this SXSW Panel I hope to moderate. Without your vote and your comments the panel might not make. And I believe in this topic too much to see that happen. Spare a minute? Please VOTE!

DON’T PANIC – The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis

Are you and the people you care about prepared? Our panelists will share their crisis stories and tell you how to be ready, both online and offline. PFIF, Yammer, Facebook and iPhones – the technology and strategy is there and getting better, so let’s take it to the next level.

  1. How does emergency response and communication relate to the Web? Do developers and small business owners really need to care about Crisis Communication?
  2. How can our emergency teams (fire, ambulance, police, etc.) benefit from standardized data sharing? What can I do about it?
  3. What does the rise of Mobile Web mean for the next natural disaster or other catastrophe?
  4. What tools (Web, mobile and otherwise) are out there right now that my family, friends and company should be using now?
  5. As a geek, what are 5 things you should do TODAY to keep your family safe and your business running when disaster strikes?
  6. If practice makes perfect, what kind of drills and regular training should your business be doing right now that won’t break the bank or kill your billable hours?
  7. What are some of the technical lessons we learned from Hurricane Katrina?
  8. Tech and communication stories and lessons from Virginia Tech, Hurricane Ike and beyond…
  9. What is a crisis to you and how do you strategically and technologically deal with it internally and for the rest of the world to see?
  10. How can you best identify your strongest and most reliable communicators and rock stars during times of crisis? How do you deal with employees that book it and vendors that disappear?

Why am I doing this?

Well, it isn’t for business as I have no financial ties to yammer or twitter or any other messaging services. Tendenci is a content management system that powers associations and sites like the Houston Red Cross, but they are already customers. And ANY emergency response technology must be open source for maximum adoption long term. I just believe passionately in our need to share information and I think technology can help with crisis communication. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter bring a lot to the table. If you, like me, are passionate about this, please vote for the panel “DON’T PANIC – The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis” and I hope to see you in Austin next March!

Firestorm: Plan. Predict. Perform. with General Honoré

Yesterday I had the honor to participate in a hurricane and disaster preparedness Webinar with (client) Firestorm and the distinguished Lt. General Honoré.

Katie live-blogged the Predict Plan Perform webinar on the Schipul blog here:

Families trump business – you must have a plan in place to make sure all of your employees are covered at home. More than 95% of polled employees do not have a plan for their families, or just focus on a single risk and do not take into account more than one potential disaster or occurrence.

Almost 2/3 of companies that have gone through a disaster have lost business. 40% of those businesses never re-open and 25% fail within 2 years after a disaster.

Read the emergency response blog post recap on the schipul blog here.

Tribal Citizenship Behavior

When a crisis occurs, like a hurricane hits your city or the country freaks out about the swine flu, part of a leaders job is to protect the tribe. To do that, the people have to be prepared. The first priority must then be to make sure every member of the tribe is prepared to take care of their family. Katrina made this concept clear:

The New Orleans police chief says some of his officers may still be trapped in their homes and he’s not sure how many walked off the job.

Walk off the job? Police!? Obviously family comes first. Or people won’t show up to work no matter how critical their job is because no job is more important than your family. Step one is to have everyone develop an “in case of emergency preparedness family plan“.

Assuming someone is prepared as best they can be, then what makes them a “team player” as they say. Well, as usual, “they” is wrong in that the phrase “team player” is like comparing the word “violin” to “Stradivarius”. What you REALLY want from your tribe members, peers, friends, etc, whether you know it or not, is far more nuanced that the phrase “team player” suggests. You want someone who is “cool with the tribe” and supports you ALL!

caroline-tribeA bit of research led me to the Distributive, Procedural and Interactive Justice scales by Niehoff & Moorman. If they weren’t academics they would call it a way to quantify employee satisfaction. But that isn’t really what I am after. More digging made me realize that the academics call what I am after, perhaps theirs is more narrow in scope, but they call it “Organizational Citizenship Behavior.” This criticism of Organizational Citizenship Behavior questions if good OCB is in fact in the best interest of the organization! But I’ll leave that to another day. For now OCB is comprised of four elements (from the above link):

OCB has four separate, but related behavior elements that differ in their target and direct objective.  It is believed that the indirect objective of all OCB is the benefit of organizational goals (Organ, 1988).  In a theoretical typology developed by Graham (1989; Moorman & Blakely, 1995; Moorman, Blakely, Niehoff, 1998) OCB categorizes into four types:

  1. personal industry,
    1. (the extent to which an individual performs tasks beyond the call of duty.  Employees who spontaneously work overtime, put in extra hours on a project, or volunteer to take on new projects are engaging in personal industry.)
  2. loyal boosterism,
    1. (the promotion of firm image to outsiders.  An employee that spontaneously compliments his employer to a member of another firm, a friend, or any stakeholder displays loyal boosterism behavior.)
  3. individual initiative,
    1. (communicating with others in the organization to improve individual and group performance) and
  4. inter-personal helping.
    1. (An employee, recognizing that a co-worker might benefit from possession of a piece of information, such as a sales contact, technical information, or market tip, and passing on such information without the other asking for it)

and

To summarize, OCB consist of non-obligatory, informally influenced behaviors.

I translate that last part to say what OCB is referring to, is stuff you do to help the organization that isn’t in your job description. It’s the stuff that makes life pleasant, like buying a Nerf Gun refill pack for your unarmed co-worker to make cubicles-war “fair” again. That stuff.

I think what I’m looking for is really a Tribal Citizenship Behavior index. With the definition of tribe being more loosely defined than just the employees of a company. A tribe that has even low clustering coefficients – meaning loosely bound.

Anthropologist Michel Maffesoli appears to have coined the term Neo-Tribalism which Wikipedia defines as:

Neotribalism is the ideology that human beings have evolved to live in a tribal, as opposed to a modern, society, and thus cannot achieve genuine happiness until some semblance of tribal lifestyles has been re-created or re-embraced.

Tribes are not organizations, at least in the context of OCB as I understand it. An easy example; in tribes people have distinct roles including that of the cynic who provides constant creative tension. Yet the cynic DOES add value in times of crisis because they foresee the need for batteries, chain saws, and medical masks before a crisis. While not wildly popular perhaps, they fix the weakest link in a tribe at specific times. Maybe a score of 5/10 on a day-to-day basis on the OCB scale, but a 10/10 for Tribal Citizenship Behavior when the *&@#! hits the fan! This need to remain loosely joined (a clustering coefficient closer to zero) quickly snaps back into place during a crisis (a clustering coefficient closer to 1 – we ALL know the guy with the generator after a Hurricane!).

I’ll keep thinking about this (of course) but I wanted to highlight two other concepts from OCB that we can borrow for TCB are dominant coalitions and technological change as a tribe restructuring catalyst:

Dominant Coalitions

A dominant coalition consists of the network of individuals within and around an organization that most influence the mission and goals of the organization (Cyert & March, 1963).  In theory, the goals of an organization flow from the chief executive officer, board of directors, or top management team.  However, the dominant coalition maintains an influence on goals through informal, rather than formal, channels.

When it comes to social media, public relations and tribal behavior, you have a unique problem. It is considered “uncool” to call yourself a “Social Media Expert“. And indeed like any other trend that goes mainstream, every new kid on the block joins in when their last trendy business dries up and becomes an “expert”. I overheard a conversation the other day that was “I didn’t follow her back (on twitter) because her description said ‘social media expert’ and she only had 22 followers!”. I wouldn’t have followed back either so I am part of the problem in a way.

The point is the “cool kids find it cool to deny being cool.” Or, the dominant coalitions in tribal citizenship behavior deny being influencers in the first place.

which ties into technology as follows

A technological change within an organization may provide the impetus for power changes within the organization.  Burkhardt and Brass (1990) studied the introduction of a new computer technology into a governmental agency.  They found that early adopters of the technology gained a significant amount of informal power in the organization, which could be used to join or enhance one’s membership in the dominant coalition.  Thus, such changes in technology could result in altered membership in the dominant coalition.

Or “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.” If this premise is true it not only changes the complexion of the dominant coalitions and the tribe itself, but it is a biased change. By that I mean tech people are more introverted than extroverted, more logical than mathematical, tend towards aspergers, etc… In other words a different personality type has joined the dominant coalition. Perhaps a good thing! But a change to be noted regardless.

In conclusion, Tribal Citizenship Behavior (TCB, heh) can borrow heavily from Organizational Citizenship Behavior. Like OCB we can borrow personal industry, loyalty, initiative, people helping people.  We can try to measure dominant coalitions in a tribe. Measure intention which is always critical. But these aren’t enough because a tribe may not have a stated goal like an organization, beyond preservation of the tribe. Which, again, is why we start by personal emergency planning.

More posts on the topic of Tribal Citizenship Behavior as my thoughts evolve. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic?

Hurricane Gustav Comes to the Gulf, Invited or Not


1978 shipwreck
Originally uploaded by eschipul

As I type this, Hurricane Gustav is approaching
the coast of Louisiana, New Orleans has been evacuated, and Texas to
Alabama are on watch. It has not made land fall yet, but social media
mavens are supporting solutions ahead of time. Social context charges forward, Obama made history and McCain inexplicably chose Palin as a running mate. And Palin rumors are spreading.

But what started this blog? It was being incensed by the crappy response to Hurricane Katrina. And a simple blog post saying, in 2005, that we don’t have an "RSS for emergencies that is widely accepted." From my Emergency RSS post:

To that end I want to state that we need a simplified RSS type system
to track data in an emergency.  No one site can handle all emergency
response.  Even if it could it would create a single point of failure.
We need something as simple as RSS, call it emergency RSS or ERSS, to
handle the needs that arise in an emergency.

It’s pretty clear I was a newbie blogger. No outbound links, but the
thoughts still hold, and the need still has not been met. The post on Emergency RSS continues:

With Katrina, which hit in 2005, what I observed were numerous sites
heroically put up, only to go down once they were picked up by the
blogosphere and the media.  Go here for help … everyone does globally
including the curious from other countries …. Server dies.  Nobody gets
help.  Next site is suggested.  Repeat the process.
…..
I am not inventing anything here.  I am just screaming that we should have this in place for times of crisis already.

Since 2005 many many things in my life have gotten progressively better. But my original call to action for blogging is still unmet. And CAPS (Common Alerting Protocol)
is just too complex. If only Dave Winer lived in New Orleans, THEN we
would have a simple solution. Perhaps I am unfit for the task on this
one given it is now three years later.

In closing, thoughts, prayers and good wishes for the folks in the path of Gustav. Stay safe!

Note: That photo? It is a shipwreck blown ashore by a hurricane in 1978 in Dominica. The ship is still there. Not only have the lessons not been learned, but the ship remains on shore. Sad really.

Emergency Simulation – learning from exercises


  VIEW-MASTER: EMERGENCY 
  Originally uploaded by HoldThatTiger

Currently as I type this we are in the last few hours of our emergency simulation exercise for the second quarter. I do know that I have already learned a HUGE amount. Good and bad.

What is interesting about running exercises is how your adrenaline actually rises. And how obstacles you ignore for years become OBVIOUS. Which is the point of running an exercise I guess.

So will they complete by 5? Not sure yet.

I’ll post a write up in a few days. It will  have great commentary on emergency simulations like

"telemarketers who call on unknown numbers keep beeping in and you can’t tell if they are part of the simulation or not. So you have to answer. And it is very hard to keep your cool. This is compounded by the fact that they were calling on an IP phone from India and had no idea what I meant when I said "I am in an emergency simulation and can’t talk right now!" (they called back three (3) times)

Tornado Scare at the Pub


Tornado Scare at the Pub
Originally uploaded by eschipul

Fort Smith Arkansas. Killing a bit of time before going back to the hotel. Walking around taking pictures on Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith (see previous in series). It starts to rain a bit so I dash into the one open pub – Roosters.

The rain picks up a bit, but being from Houston I respectfully submit that I am more familiar with rain than the folks in Arkansas. We live in a swamp that got paved over for heaven’s sake! So there I am at the bar drinking a bud light. Listening to the locals and … well doing nothing.

A guy comes running back into the bar and hollers “Man, look at that!” referring to the rapidly picking up wind. The door to the bar being pulled open and the rain went horizontal in less than a minute. The speed was scary.

Next man says “funnel cloud” and “GET IN THE BASEMENT Y’ALL” – and (the rest of the story is on flickr here)