Before I can help anyone else I must first be able to help myself.
“Earthquakes are dangerous and people need to know more about them.” That was my first thought when I began to consider which topics my emergency planning website would feature. It had to be earthquakes because they were deadly and occurred all over the world. And then I watched tsunamis pour death and destruction over Fukashima, Japan and that tsunamis could reach the Washington coast. So I needed to include them in the website.
Over the next few weeks I subscribed to Google Alerts and as many natural disaster websites as I could find. From federal government sites with thousands of pages of content to neighborhood sites with a few posts and a promise – never fulfilled – of updating the site soon.
I was overwhelmed with links, tweets and emails. I had notes from articles and books I had read. I had lists of directions for creating a survival kit – over 20 lists and none of them contained more than two of the same items. I had information for rescuing dogs, cats, gerbils, snakes and even cows.
But I didn’t have a story to tell. I had one thousand stories to tell. Michele Nicolosi came to the rescue. She told me to focus my attention. And I did. I realized the best story about natural disaster planning was my own story. I would use my project site to share my experience at each step of my plan. Users would not have to wander through vast government sites trying to find a relevant link. They could visit Plan B and discover my progress. Some of what I do would be perfect for my neighborhood – my region, my climate, the threats faced in this area. Users could model my behavior when making their own plan and refine it for the conditions that impacted them at home, in their neighborhood.
It was a great pivot point. Turning from complex to simple. At first my pivot was more like a spin! But eventually I slowed down and began to find a voice for Plan B.
My first attempt at building a WordPress site was underwhelming. Or overwhelming. More accurately it was this fact I needed to bump into nine or ten times before I got it – WordPress isn’t InDesign. I had to take a few deep breaths to relax. I learned to accept WordPress for all the great possibilities it offers to an online publisher.
Building the first iteration of the site was frustrating in other way. After loading my first post I learned that the 500-800 estimates for an average post’s length was much too generous. In Word and 800-word post seems just perfect. However, once published an 800-word post looks like an 8,000-word post. I needed to be brief. So I cut 300 words out of the first post. I rethought the About Page – more useful content, less me getting all emotional about being lost in a storm.
I’ve shortened the page titles and started to outline shorter lists of content. My biggest project now is developing an editorial schedule. I want to publish posts every week or two. I also want to keep the content on the static pages fresh. To that end the editorial schedule will include regularly scheduled updates of original and copyright free content.
As I consider the design of the site I begin to think about interactivity and visual resources. An 800-word post could be turned into a 10-slide presentation. It would be easier for users to get the information they need. Infographics outlining the preparation process – “How to use your bathroom without water” (it involves kitty litter and heavy duty trash bags) might help everyone learn faster.
So, here I am at the end and the beginning again. I’m working on Plan B for myself. I’m inviting everyone to share it with me. In 2-3 months that is.
Plan B: Building Community with Social Media
On the first day of kindergarten I got into the car with my mother. After about 15 minutes my mother pulled over in front of a small blue house. She helped me out of the car and left me there. Forever.
Well, not exactly forever. I didn’t understand that when you went to school you went home later in the day. I made my first friend during snack time. Turns out that my chocolate covered graham crackers had the highest trade value. I shared them with Kenny. He saved me a swing on the playground. I was suddenly part of a community. I wasn’t scared any longer.
I want the Plan B community to be as exciting too. It’s designed to take away fear and replace it with understanding. Plan B starts with me. I’m sharing my natural hazard emergency plan as it develops in real time. My posts will examine some of the emergency training I’ve had from my local Red Cross – fire management and emergency first aid without a first aid kit. There is so much to share. But if no one’s listening I’m going to be talking to myself. I need to use social media to tell my story.
Imagine my Plan B site as a table in a coffee house. Soft music plays in the background. Coffee and cinnamon scent the air. Sun is streaming through a window. And across from me is you. I’m kind of nervous because you’ve noticed my table. Some information about natural hazard planning is arranged in front of me. A book cover catches your eye. I nod a silent hello. Make no sudden movements or interrupt your search.
After a few minutes you say, “This book looks interesting. I’ve been meaning to learn about natural hazard planning but I rarely get beyond writing a short list of things to do. And that’s only after I’ve heard about an earthquake in the news. How do I start making a plan that works for me?”
That’s the question I was waiting to hear. I’m ready to shove a hundred different resources into your hands – each covering every single topic that could possibly relate natural hazard planning. Lucky for you my coding includes common sense. I’ll ignore that impulse. Too much information at one time will overwhelm you and make my website seem extreme. I’m not going to risk turning you away from your search and our first conversation.
While you’re sitting at my table I’ll point out some resources you might find interesting. You’ll learn were to find planning forms and brochures. There’s a notice about our monthly newsletter on display.
There’s also a display of Plan B’s social media platforms. They allow our community members to access information whenever they want it using a desktop computer, laptop computer, tablet, smart phone or reader. Here are some of the options and social accounts that you can engage with Plan B:
Twitter is an ongoing dialog. It’s a perfect social media platform for Plan B – a social media tool that favors real time conversations. Using Twitter the Plan B community will share comments during live webinars or programming related to natural hazards and planning news. A family could hold a drill and practice their response to an emergency event. Neighbors could use Twitter by designating a central Twitter account for their neighborhood and share status updates about medical supplies and emergency services. Residents could tweet calls for assistance out to a larger area and use direct tweets to push eyewitness accounts.
I plan to explore using Twitter to create contact centers outside of affected natural hazard area. People in the crisis area will share their local information with a group outside of the crisis area. This long distance Twitter center could receive tweets from locals separated from each other and act as a “meeting area” for separated families and friends.
I need to investigate how Twitter functions during a crisis. What are the best practices for using Twitter during an emergency? How can people with limited power or battery life use Twitter effectively? What happens if cell phone towers are damaged in an area or if Wi-Fi is down? I need to better understand this technology ensure that Twitter will remain useful during a crisis. A review of social media use during Super Storm Sandy might provide some useful insights for integrating social media into natural hazard planning.
Tumbler is a visual experience. I’ll use it to subscribe to natural hazard organizations and news resources related to emergency planning and emergency skills training. I created a second Tumblr account today – using my older Tumblr site – and found it rather frustrating.
Finding Tumblr blogs related to natural hazards and emergency planning was difficult as well. The Tumblr search feature is disappointing. I searched with and without a hashtag and each search delivered posts related to my search by word use only. These posts were only slightly related to my interests and too personal or too unprofessional – bad writing, dubious research and racist or culturally insensitive content.
I was hoping to use Tumblr as a sort of passive feed to expand Plan B’s social media profile and lead users to the Plan B WordPress site. After working with Tumblr for several days I’m still uncertain how useful it will be. I’ll check Pew statistics to see how Tumblr fits into overall social media use. I also find it limiting that a Tumblr blog can only follow another Tumblr blog. I can’t link it to my WordPress blogroll.
What’s the best use for Tumblr? It would be a good platform for sharing repurposed content and curated news items about Natural Hazard Planning. To make content management easier I would automate Tumblr posts and if possible schedule one or two a week every month. I need to find out if posting frequency impacts where the Tumblr blogs appear in search, which introduces a larger question about integration analytics and SEO in the Plan B profile.
I chose a rustic theme for my Plan B Tumblr blog but it’s just a placeholder. I want the design to be consistent with the WordPress site if possible. I’m also concerned that my naming conventions for Plan B are getting diluted because I am being inconsistent in the use of Plan B. I can’t get the exact naming for each email account that I associate with each social media platform.
Be on the lookout for my next Tumblr update.
YouTube is an asset for Plan B because it provides access to instructional videos related to natural hazard science and planning. I created a YouTube page for Plan B and subscribed to several organizations feeds – Red Cross, FEMA, USGS.
Plan B’s YouTube page will be a friendly schoolroom for people interested in learning the science behind natural hazards such as earthquakes or floods. Once you understand the science – how a super storm functions – then you will know how to prepare for the specific impacts your neighborhood will face.
However, a wide range of YouTube channels serve content counter to Plan B’s core values. A search for emergency planning or natural hazards can lead to a variety of well-designed pages that appear to be professional. Unfortunately, many of these pages focus on conspiracy theories and controversial views on government and science.
To maintain message clarity all of the links on the Plan B YouTube page will be curated and checked on a regular basis. I hope to embed some of the videos from the Plan B channel to the Plan B WordPress site. The Plan B YouTube channel will encourage Plan B community members to post their videos and share their experiences with other community members. They can ask questions there too and perhaps solve planning problems together.
There are some areas of concern. I need to know if the owner of a YouTube channel can manage posts and comments. Do I need a brand channel? I need to know if there is a bandwidth limit for a YouTube channel. The Plan B WordPress site should include some tutorials for the best way – safest – to use social media for natural hazard planning and learning.
Google+ and Some Big Questions about Project Identity and Dispersion
I created a Google+ Page for Plan B several days ago. I subscribed to several feeds (see my previous post). However I’m concerned about my growing number of social media accounts sharing emails, passwords and inconsistent user names and URLs.
I’m afraid that having too many social media platforms supporting the Plan B website program might steal focus from the Plan B WordPress account. The larger question I’m asking is how we define the location of an online entity like Plan B? I want users to view the Plan B WordPress site as the primary location for information, resources and community building. But what if the users have a mind of their own?
Some users might prefer Google+ or Tumblr rather than the WordPress site. Some users might want a plain text feed and not HTML. Some users may access the site from a mobile device. Others may use a desktop commuter or a tablet. Can all of the various social media platforms I want to use actually run on all the devices available?
Developing a content-rich, user-focused, communitarian website and blog is turning out to be a lot more complicated than I thought at the beginning. I realize now that I can’t expect all users to be satisfied with one online experience. Favoring a single platform or style of information sharing could prevent users from interacting with Plan B simply because they don’t like WordPress.
The goal of Plan B is to provide resources and information to users in a friendly and dependable manner. I can design a social media presence for Plan B with my WordPress site in the center and other social media platforms in subordinate positions. But each of the social media platforms must provide access to all of the information on the Plan B site to prevent alienating users and reducing possible community growth.
There is hope at the end of the URL. I believe Google+ will have a positive impact on Plan B. After a few days reading about and playing with Google+ I’ve learned that it’s a very powerful platform and integrates social search effectively.
I’m having second thoughts about flickr. It’s about user unfriendliness. As I continue to add social media accounts in other platforms and create distinct Gmail accounts for each of those social media accounts I find that I’m managing a variety of accounts that may not play well together.
Flickr is a Yahoo product that I seem to connect with using a Gmail account. I would like to use my Plan B Gmail account to connect with flickr but I’m using an older Gmail account.
When my flickr profile page is displayed the natural hazard groups that I’ve joined don’t display or display only as a list of groups – thumbnails don’t show. The flickr account that I’ve attached to my Plan B project includes other image collections not related to Plan B.
At first I wanted the flickr community to see all of my images because it would show that I’m a well-rounded person and have a range of interests. However, when I view my public flickr page I’m not happy. It displays my personal images and you have to click through to my profile page to find the list of the groups I belong to. So now I think that people in the natural hazard community will see my flickr page and think I’m just wacky and not serious about natural hazard issues. I think I’m going to have to create a flickr account exclusively for Plan B.
In fact, after reviewing all of the issues I’ve had with setting up a community of social media platforms for Plan B I believe I need to create a “Plan B Social Media Inventory” and diagram how Plan B will interact with social media on various platforms.
You Send Me
There’s a social media platform we use at least once and often multiple times per day. It’s infiltrated our daily lives to such an extent that we don’t actually experience it as social media: email.
I’m partial to Gmail and admit that the number of emails I have reviewed or have left to review, in part, defines my workday. Each message in my email account represents at least one task and generally several related tasks – write something, edit something, share information with someone, research something, read something, watch something or listen to something.
According to Pew Research 92% of Americans use email. So why would I create a social media program for Plan B that didn’t use it? I have a large address book and with thoughtful editing I can leverage my contacts into a source for Plan B users. An upfront letter about my project might actually create some enthusiasm for the project.
My Gmail account will also be the platform I use to distribute the Plan B newsletter each month. Email is a powerful tool for reaching potential users. However, I recognize that email can feel very personal – it’s a private space, personal property. If someone sends you an unwanted email you’re annoyed. We hate spam. We hate phishing. Plan B will have to use some kind of service that allows users to subscribe and unsubscribe to email delivered by Plan B.
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A Blog for Plan B
Plan B is a website offering the expertise, resources – contacts and contexts – required to create a personalized natural hazard preparation plan. A blog is an essential component of Plan B’s development schedule. It’s a primary tool for connecting me with other people interested in becoming self-reliant in the face of a crisis.
Early searches for web-based natural hazard planning content delivered a landside of newsletters, websites, books, white papers, maps and PDFs. Excavating my e-mail inbox and Google Alerts for useful content helped me understand that basic tropes of natural hazard planning. My ongoing research demands hours of clicking, linking, reading and evaluating my findings. It soon became clear that much of the online information was redundant, inconsistent and unrealistic in its estimates of the resources required by a family after a calamitous event.
My search also revealed a wide range of emergency planning loners. These “experts” in emergency planning were often living alone or with a dedicated group of followers stocking bunkers with tubs of dehydrated beef stew, a variety of deadly weapons and a world view that categorizing neighbors as threat or protein – not partners working together. That’s when my approach became clear. Plan B is about community. Plan B starts with me.
I could never organize all of the online resources I found for everyone and every possible situation. I need to create a plan that works for my particular, quirky individual needs. I’m going to build a plan that responds to the specific details of my home and my neighborhood.
And that’s why a blog is the perfect tool for my website. I don’t need to be expert in all areas of natural hazard planning. I can simply be myself and use the Plan B blog to share the birth and growth of a plan that works exactly right just for me.
As posts are published I’ll share my struggles and successes. Posts will be accompanied by resource uploads – downloadable PDFs featuring planning forms, checklists and tips about food, first aid, pets, water and sanitation. My posts about navigating online government resources will feature curated links providing access to resources with the best web design, the best user experience and the best information.
Social media is a core technology and lives at the heart of Plan B. I have imagined my blog nurtured and growing, joined by hundreds from around the Pacific Northwest, across the country and perhaps around the world.
Imagine this scenario – a major earthquake has hit Seattle. One of my neighbors is seriously injured. Our neighborhood’s first aid team who has completed a Red Cross online emergency first aid course has stabilized him. I post an update on my blog about our need for emergency services. A Plan B community member in Boston has been monitoring the site, reads my post and tweets a request for medical care to an emergency response center in Tacoma. Within minutes a medevac unit is on its way to the designated rescue area. Plan B’s community outside of the danger zone advocates for our needs and provides a link for families in crisis.
Plan B starts with a simple story. I’m trying to figure out how to protect my home and serve my family, my neighbors, my friends and my community. My blog is essential to Plan B. It’s how I begin my simple story. It’s where I watch it grow into a robust online resource. I hope that my blog will engage visitors and turn them into users and ultimately into active community members sharing each unique journey of self-discovery and self-reliance.
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Mark’s Project: Plan B. Plan Better.
Plan B Updates
If you’re interested in the latest information about Plan B you should remember to visit this page often. It’s the best place to find the most current – and thought provoking – ideas about natural hazard preparation. The latest update to cause quite a stir has this title: You Must Know What You’re Blogging About in Order to Pick the Best WordPress Theme for Your Blog
Plan B. Plan Better. Natural Hazard planning made friendly. Not frightening.
Plan B is a website designed for people who want to learn how to be safe before, during and after a natural hazard or emergency impacts their home. Hundreds of websites offer guidance online. It’s confusing and scary to think about earthquakes or tornados. Plan B is different. It starts with me. One person sharing this idea with my neighbors: we must carefully plan for any emergency that might impact our home or neighborhood.
Most emergency websites encourage people to have 72 hours worth of supplies. The impact of Super Storm Sandy has shown us that we could be without help for up to 2 or 3 weeks. Plan B is different from other sites because it encourages users to plan for themselves and their neighbors and to use social media to set up networks that reach out off your region and extend your resource reach.
Plan B community members will explore original content, interviews, curated links and government resources to build an emergency plan that works or them and their family. They will be able to share ideas about planning and building strong neighborhoods in their Plan B online workbook. You will understand natural hazards as part of our world and though dangerous they can be managed.
Plan B will help you and our neighbors – across the street and across the country – to become smart and safe and protective of our natural world and its wonders.
The problem with developing a content plan or Plan B is that there is just too much content. The overabundance of content helped me to realize that the public needs an online source that has reviewed the vast number of websites and only links to sites that have proven experience in science and emergency preparation.
Point of view is equally important on the Plan B website. Many emergency preparedness websites have a right wing political agenda and some are openly racist. This site has a progressive political philosophy and builds diversity in its online community.
Additionally, Plan B encourages building community relationships and resources before and event so after a disaster your neighbors are part of your survival plan – not people to be feared. (NOTE: The last part needs to be revised. It’s too aggressive. I want to indicate that people have a choice – get friendly now so that after an emergency you’re neighbors aren’t strangers they’re friends.)
I want the site to be designed with a reference to workbooks, journals and newspapers. It should appear friendly and easy to read. There needs to be a good balance of text, visual and white space. Many of the emergency preparation sites currently available have too much information and they’re hard to read:
- Top and bottom navigation bars.
- Natural disaster and emergency planning newsfeeds – one for each layer of community organization: hyperlocal/neighborhood/, state and region (Pacific Northwest), national/international.
- Downloadable checklists and planning tools.
- A section on integrating social media into your emergency plan.
- A section on water use and sanitation.
- A section on food, food storage and food preparation.
- A section on pet preparedness.
- As section on building emergency survival kits for home, car, work and school
- A password protected system that lets users upload content or write into an online journal.
- Links or embeds of interactive maps from the US Geologic Survey and other trusted sources.
- A possible section about first aid – I’m not sure what the legal issues are.
- A section the science and natural history of natural hazards.
- A blogroll with links to planning sites and sites that teach emergency skills.
- A section or articles on the psychology of disaster and human behavior – this is where we discuss the human reaction to plan haphazardly – only after an event makes national headlines. Within a few weeks promises to plan fade away. This section empowers people to know how their brains work and to make real plans that they can complete.
Readers looking for emergency preparedness go everywhere on the Internet. They visit government sites and private sites. They visit online stores that sell 50 pound buckets of dehydrated beef stew and radios powered by hand cranks. The problem is they don’t remember where they go or how the got there or why they went. Plan B provides users with an online journal so they can record details of their plans and save links that work for them. They will learn that the curated emergency preparation links provided on Plan B have the best information and resources available.
A competitive analysis for Plan B – The Better Emergency Planning Website
Plan B will feature a blend of new content that I write or have written by contributors. There will be a feature article on the home page and will be updated every two to for weeks. Shorter bulletin type of stories will be added more frequently with content sourced from Google Alerts and other aggregation tools. About half of the remaining content will be sourced from government sources. There are many government agencies with extensive resources that are free for use. Some content will be sourced from the public and site visitors. An editorial schedule will be developed in the next phase of this project.
In order to promote Plan B I will be developing content to share with similar sites and organizations. I will offer to share space on my site in return for Plan B listing on their site. I will attend local events and trainings and engage local community involvement and pursue useful partnerships
- FEMA Region X Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington
- FEMA Youtube channel
- Office of Emergency Management, City of Seattle
- National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service, NOAA
- NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (Weather and Emergency Information)
- NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards King County and Seattle
- USGS Real-time Earthquake Map
- USGS Real-time Feeds and Data (earthquake)
- Emergency Management Division Washington National Guard
- Oregon Office of Emergency Management
- British Columbia Emergency Management
- British Columbia Surfical Geology and Hazards
- Earthquakes Canada
- Tsunami Information
- Volcano Information
- Pet Preparedness
- ASPCA Disaster Preparedness for Pets – Including Birds, Reptiles and Mice, etc.