During the summer months in Australia, November through May, the VOST Vic team is in permanent operational status, broadcasting information on Twitter about running wildfires, and other emergencies, reporting to the State Control Centre. The Fire Services Commissioner’s Office does not run a Twitter account, but other agencies do. They have four different agencies for fire in Victoria, namely the Department of Primary Industries (DEPI – @DEPI_Vic), Country Fire Authority (CFA – @CFA_Updates), Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB – @MFB_NEWS), and Parks Victoria (@ParksVictoria). All these agencies report to the Minister for Emergency Services via the Fire Services Commissioners Office, who oversees all the other agencies. So the VOST Vic team is not working directly with any single agency, rather their information is provided to the State Control Centre, where the Situational Awareness Unit receives their “job notes” and extracts information valuable to them.
Essentially, the team monitors social media traffic, and logs milestone moments, important public feedback and questions. Consisting mainly of captures of social media and other traffic for later analysis, these notes are not distributed to the public (unless the job is significant), but are released to the State Control Centre (run by Fire Services Commissioner) and to selected media outlets for research purposes.
Members of the team have been engaged in #SMEM since 2009, and VOST Victoria was born out of the ‘1SB Conference’ held in Melbourne in September, 2013, Brad reports. Their original mandate was to provide support for a handful of active SMEM practitioners, but it soon became clear that there was a reporting role for them working with the Fire Services Commissioner’s Office.
The current team has replaced an earlier team, the first VOST initiative in Australia set up by Martin Anderson and colleagues. Daniel Eshuis is a founding member of both teams and all inquiries to the original VicVOST team are now redirecting to the active VOSTVic team.
Although the Team’s primary mission has been to support the Response phase, given the recent significant fires in Victoria, VOST Vic has found it necessary to bring their schedule forward to now support Recovery as well. As of February, 2014, VOST Victoria has developed a recovery role, assisting the community long after the emergency has passed, maintaining a Donations Register: http://bit.ly/VOSTregister
Brad told me,
While we reportedly live in the most fire-prone place on Earth, social media acceptance is slow in Victoria. Social media is not entirely embraced as a tool to fight fires in Victoria. There are still many people who are reluctant to accept this strange and confusing world, and we have much room to grow. The public will turn to Twitter for real-time information in an emergency, and while they are always directed to the various feeds from the authorities, VOST Vic volunteers provide further detail on the incident.
VOST Vic is in touch with other teams around the world and this month joins the VOST Leadership Coalition, where they hope to share ideas and lessons learned at the end of the fire season when not so pressed. There is also talk of repeating the hugely successful #smemau twitter chat event that VOSG.us hosted last year, although no date has yet been set.
By Joanna Lane