Sharing this blog post by Kim Stephens about the amazing work being done by the new(ish) SMEM person at MEMA. Very proud of how you have developed things at MEMA Kasey!

idisaster 2.0

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (@MDMEMA on Twitter)  has recently taken their social media communication’s strategy to new heights–even incorporating a module about the tools into their Public Information Officer training.

I had the opportunity to meet the MEMA  Social Media Coordinator, Kasey Parr, when we both served on a panel at the Social Media Week in Washington DC (a big thank you to Michael Clarke of International Media Solutions for organizing our session). I  asked Kasey in a written follow up for a little more detail about their social media plans and current processes. Below is the result of the Q&A with both Kasey and Ed McDonough,  the MEMA PIO.

Q1. What type of Social Media content is included in the PIO training?

A1: Kasey: The first training we conducted on “Social Media in the JIC” was right before Hurricane Sandy, forcing me to cut down on my…

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Google Public Alerts

Posted: January 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Google Public Alerts is nothing new. has been working on the Public Alerts program for quite some time through this dedicated public alerts map that aggregated data from the USGS and NWS.  Over time Google began to incorporate this data into the results for Google searches so that searching for “Tornado” within an area covered by a Tornado Watch or Tornado Warning would provide a link to that warning. This was one step closer to bringing alert information into the main stream.

Google has recently taken another major step with their Public Alerts project by making Public Alerts part of the Google Now application that is included within Android 4.1 and 4.2. With this functionality any phone that supports Google Now can receive notification of Public Alerts in their area. In reality, much like the concept of many commercial applications, this provides a Location Based Service for public warning. The great part is that all is required of an alerting authority is to publish alerts in an acceptable format that contains geospatial information (ideally using the Common Alerting Protocol) and then working with to allow them to fetch this data. If you didn’t catch the big point here, there is no cost to the agency (or taxpayer). 

Here is a little taste of Google Public Alerts

In a follow-up to this post we will look at Google’s Crisis Map.

IPAWS Adoption

Posted: January 23, 2013 in IPAWS, PublicWarning

IPAWS has been operational for some time now however adoption by alert originators has been somewhat slow.  This infographic represents the current adoption of IPAWS within the United States. You can find a full list of those agencies currently using IPAWS or in the application process at: If you haven’t adopted IPAWS yet, we would love to hear from you and learn what barriers you are facing.


What a vacation…

Posted: January 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

It has been a very long time since I have posted anything here however that will slowly be changing. After starting a new job in early 2011 I wanted to be careful to avoid potential conflicts of interest and the challenge of my personal opinion conflicting with official departmental positions. I feel now however that it is finally time to start blogging again. Some posts in the very near future will include public warning and GIS related issues. A major project that I am currently undertaking is one of using GIS for integrated facility pre-emergency planning (to include interior georeferencing) as well as using geoaware based applications for real-time decision support.

Today Google announced on their blog major updates to their Social Search technology. This update will rank posts and links shared by people in your social circle on Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, and Quora higher in your search results when you are searching for a related topic. For example, if a friend or connection on Twitter shares a link to a a local hotspot or has created a review of a of that hotspot in Google Hotpot, you will see that link and/or review will show up when you search for that hotspot or related term.

So, why is this relevant to the public safety community? It provides even more reason for public safety agencies to engage in social media. Studies have shown that people turn to the internet more and more for relevant information in an emergency and Google continues to dominate the search engine market and is the “home page” for a large number of individuals. If your agency has engaged in social media and updates it regularly with relevant information during an emergency than your posts to those social media sources will likely be served to any citizen that is socially connected to your agency and searching for related information on Google.

To put this in a little more perspective, a Tornado Warning has been issued for your area and spotters report that a tornado is on the ground. Your agency posts to Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, and other social spaces that a tornado is approaching Main Street and the nearest shelter in the area is located at the Elementary School and provides a link to the National Weather Service’s Tornado Warning. Hearing that a tornado is in the area, an employee at your local hardware store goes to her computer and searches for the word “Tornado”. Do to Google’s ranking of relevance, based on social circles and location, the hardware store employee sees the link to the National Weather Service’s warning along with your comments regarding shelter locations. The employee makes the decision to close the store and direct all other employees and customers to the shelter.

UPDATE: A short video provided by Google on Social Search:

Battery Care Myths Busted

Posted: February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

As more and more gadgets are added to our emergency management toolboxes we may find ourselves with more battery chargers than we typically have outlets available in our office without the need for multiple power strips.  Each of those chargers and the way that you use it contributes to the overall life of the battery within each of those devices.

Many of the lessons that we have learned over the years about caring for rechargeable batteries however may no longer hold true. Most modern devices from cell phones and laptops to two-way radios now utilize Lithium-Ion batteries and these batteries must be cared for very differently than the NiCad batteries of days passed. Common ideas of battery care tell us:

  • Always keep batteries fully charged in storage Myth
  • Keep batteries cool in storage True
  • Always fully discharge batteries between charges Myth
  • Keep your device plugged in whenever possible Myth

As you can see, much of the conventional wisdom of battery care simply doesn’t apply to most modern batteries. In fact, if you follow those traditional care strategies you may actually be hurting your batteries. A few simple rules to remember:

  1. Always keep your batteries in a cool place when being stored. The closer to freezing the better.
  2. Minimize full discharges of batteries by keeping a spare on hand and switching them out as they get low.
  3. If you are using a device such as a laptop off of it’s power cord for an extended period, consider removing the battery after it is fully charged.
  4. While our industry dictates we keep charged batteries in a ready state, keep any surplus batteries beyond your ready reserve charged about halfway for extended storage. A possible solution is to keep third tier spare batteries on chargers attached to power strips. If it looks like you may need them due to a major event, flip the power switch on the strip to begin charging to full capacity.
  5. Since Lithium-Ion batteries have a limited shelf life, consider emergency contracts to immediately obtain additional spare batteries from local vendors rather than maintaining your own surplus.

Additional information regarding the care and storage of batteries can be found at

A case for Twitter Fast Follow

Posted: February 14, 2011 in SMEM

More emergency management organizations are beginning to engage in social media every day.  By leveraging services such as Twitter and Facebook organizations are able to reach entirely new demographics with both emergency information and preparedness messages. A very large portion of our society is actively engaged in one or more of these networks.

As emergency managers we are very accustomed to carrying our Blackberry or other assigned smartphone with us 24/7/365. We are also used to regularly seeing 12 year olds updating Facebook on their iPhones at grocery store checkout lines. Everyone has a smart phone these days, right? Not so fast… As FoxNews reports, market surveys from last year show that 73% of all cell phone sales in the United States were “Feature Phones”. Feature Phones, also now referred to as “dumb phones”, do not support applications or true web browsing.  Users of these phones do not have access to data plans, Twitter, or Facebook.

So if we are utilizing social media platforms as a primary distribution method of our agency’s content how do we reach this 73% of the cell phone carrying public?  The answer comes to us directly from Twitter.  In the summer of 2010 Twitter began to offer a service called “Fast Follow” that allows an individual to send a text message to a short message code and receive your messages as text messages on their handset. There is nothing required of your agency in order to support this service however it would be highly beneficial to ensure that you market the service on your agency’s website and any printed outreach materials.

In order for an individual to subscribe to your agency’s Twitter stream via Fast Follow they simply need to send a text message to “40404” with “Follow @AgencyTwitterAcct”. The end result is a free text notification platform that can be utilized to augment traditional social media followers and/or provide a free stand-in for a full featured emergency notification system for jurisdictions that do not have the funding to procure such a system. The Arizona Division of Emergency Management has done an excellent job of marketing Fast Follow as a way to reach those without smart phones and/or without Twitter accounts. Realizing that people that would likely subscribe using the Fast Follow feature may not have unlimited text messaging as part of their cellular plans, Arizona actually has created a separate Twitter account just for their more significant tweets to be passed to Fast Follow users. I commend Arizona for leading the way in the marketing of this feature and highly encourage all other agencies to also incorporate it into their outreach efforts.