All organizations these days are subject to crisis and emergency management disasters. Those that take the time to plan for their worst-case scenarios and be prepared in advance will survive and even thrive. Those that believe it “can’t happen to us” will not.
Perhaps equally important, whether they are nonprofit organizations, local, state or federal agencies, large or medium size businesses, or universities and colleges, those folks that don’t understand the impact that social media can have on crisis and emergency management are destined to suffer even more serious consequences than they may realize.
It has been said that imagination is the true sign of intelligence. When it comes to technology and crisis and emergency management, which is evolving daily at speeds often beyond our comprehension, there can be no argument that imagination often makes the difference between the mundane and the next level of creativity.
Recently we teamed with a relatively new company based in Denver, Colo., Nusura, Inc. – “nusura” is a Swahili term meaning “one who survives” – this company is one of the newest innovative companies on deck offering a way for organizations to test their social media and public outreach skills through the use of a training tool they call SimulationDeck.
SimulationDeck is a secure Web portal that replicates online communications tools, including such social media as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as organizational websites and blogs.
As many of my readers know, for years my firm has offered strategic crisis planning and issues management alongside emergency operations planning, training and webinars. When we were asked by a client to consider how best to bring them into the real world of social media we sought out and found Nusura, Inc. The teaming partnership has resulted in a significant contract with a federal agency. We believe our combined resources, talents and experience and a similar set of values on how to handle clients and business in general brought us to the front of the bidder pack.
Nusura’s president is Jim Chestnutt, an experienced public information officer formerly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Chestnutt and his team of former FEMA employees set out to train people on how to get information out to their stakeholders in a timely, accurate and coordinated fashion during emergencies.
We saw benefit and value to application of their technology for not just life-threatening situations, we also saw the benefit to planning for the always prevalent developing crisis around such internal issues as reorganizations, downsizing, sexual harassment charges, ethics charges and legal entanglements that any organization can face.
Chestnutt and I both found that in after-action reports from actual and exercise events – be it an internal crisis or an external emergency – that the public information function in major exercises was not being tested in a realistic way, which is what set me out to find a way to correct the issue for my clients.
Chestnutt says that the pressure created by mock media and those tasked with testing the public information element in mock exercises didn’t compare to the reality of handling even a small emergency.
Nusura, Inc. has former public information officers and field agents from all levels of government who have experienced all sorts of internal and external crises and emergencies. SimulationDeck is the creative offspring of this group of talented professionals to mimic what happens online and in the media during an actual crisis or emergency.
The simulation Web portal has nine websites which emulate social media sites: SimulationBook includes Facebook’s core features; Bleater simulates Twitter; the blogging platform is called Frogger; their YouTube look-alike is Ewe Tube; there is a site for agency or organizational news; incident information; the Exercise Times Daily, a Web-based newspaper that features live reader comments; SimDeck News, a Web-based TV station; and KEXN Radio.
SimulationDeck doesn’t require special software, so it can work on any platform or Internet-connected device. Chestnutt notes that one person working the SimulationDeck could act as 10 people. This person can file a newspaper article, then post on the agency’s website and then act as the Governor’s press secretary and announce a surprise press conference.
Chestnutt told emergencymgmt.com that “Things happen instantly, and any simulation player can generate an enormous amount of injects, as fast as they can type and enter it.”
The tool was recently used during the Vibrant Response 13, a U.S. Army North national-level field training exercise that had 9,000 service members and civilians from the military, as well as state and federal agencies.
Dan Manuszewski, Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army North, told the editor at www.emergencymgmt.com that it’s increasingly important to practice all forms of communications and that includes social media as it becomes increasingly popular.
We note that many of our college and university clients, who have been reluctant to engage in social media as a communications tool, are becoming aware of its importance when they see that their students and staff are more quickly informed through Twitter and Facebook Smartphone communications than the organization’s systems. We see great opportunity to bring these folks and many other organizations and agencies into the real social media and mass media world through such applications as SimulationDeck.
Like it or not, social media is becoming a major communications platform, especially for the current generations. Those organizations that fail to train their employees in the proper use of social media are doing a disservice to the employees and their stakeholders.
Manuszewski says that we need to make sure we understand the entire information environment – from the traditional media to the media that people are using now, like social media.
Chestnutt says that the company is listening carefully to feedback from its users and continually making improvements.