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VOST — It’s like the SWAT team for social media

Everybody needs situational awareness — that’s what they call it in the military — knowing what you need to know to make the best decisions. That is particularly true for emergency managers.

Earlier this week, we spoke to Adam Crowe who suggested that emergency managment as we now know it is dead.

His argument: social media has changed the landscape of crisis. Now people on the scene are sending out tweets and posting on facebok. One of the ways the government is trying to harness the power of social media in these situations is with Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOST).

Jeff Phillips is the emergency management coordinator for the Village of Los Ranchos in Albuquerque New Mexico. He started the first ever VOST team.

He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER show how VOST teams operate.

VOST’s are popping up all over the country — see if your city has a team here.

“Social media has changed the landscape for government to citizen interactions. It would be impossible to keep up that level of interaction during a disaster without these teams,” said Phillips.

How to develop your own VOST team

  • Best if teams are developed and trained in advance
  • Objectives and tasks that need to be accomplished for a particular disaster determine the size and scope of a team
  • Coordination and availability are the difficult part — you need a strong relationship with the PIO on the scene
  • Develop incident documents and protocols
  • Not an expensive investment in terms of money but in time

Measure Succes: During an event like the wildfires in Colorado this summer, you can track the analytics with how many people are following and liking your posts. But you also need to measure the quality of the responses, if people are sending in pictures and information.

“It’s just like in a Field of Dreams, if you build a platform of information for the public during a crisis they will come,” siad Phillips, “the want the best and most accurate information.”

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Jessica Day

So interesting that they are developing ways to organize around this information in more formal ways. It makes me think of the Arab Spring and the contributing role that social media and crowdsourced information played in coordinating vast crowds of people.