The “V” Word

Guest Post by Cheryl Bledsoe SM4EMFSU_VOST

You may have read another great article this past week in Emergency Management Magazine about the Virtual Operation Support Team concept and its implementation at Florida State University.

I loved reading about how FSU is harnessing the power of students to monitor social media, but I want to talk, for a moment about the “V” in VOST.

VOST stands for “Virtual Operations Support Team” though often the V is misunderstood to mean “volunteer.”

And although many of the present VOST team members across the world are doing so in a “volunteer” capacity, it is important to note that this type of resource may or may not necessarily engage volunteers.

Having worked within the VOST community over the past 2 years, here is what I have observed:

  • VOST Teams can be comprised of folks from a variety of backgrounds including intel analysts, public information officers, emergency managers, college students and social media savvy & interested community supporters,
  • If you have a solid presence and ties in social media, it will be easier to find VOST members who will support your missions,
  • Nearly every after-action report for VOST teams identifies the need to recruit and train more members for VOST teams, and
  • VOST Missions that require more than 1-2 people AND exceeds 2-3 days may struggle to find volunteer commitment (because many prospective volunteers have other full-time jobs and/or commitments)

VOST teams are very similar in nature to deployable Communication Unit Leaders but in a virtual context.  Nationally, we don’t aim to recruit COM-L staff from only volunteer ranks.  In fact, most COM-L positions are cross-trained from within 9-1-1 communications and our public safety communities.

If you are interested in establishing a VOST team for your local community, I’d encourage you to recruit team members from a number of positions that have a relationship to social media, public information and situational awareness.

Someday, social media monitoring will be as natural as using our email on a daily basis.  But until that day exists, agencies that aim to utilize VOST teams to monitor and engage in the social sphere need to remember that V means VIRTUAL and not necessary VOLUNTEER.

You’re lucky if you have access to volunteers who can support your VOST capability, but it’s time to understand that you’re limiting your team if you aim to sustain this capacity solely on the backs of your supportive volunteers.

Este artículo también ha reblogueado en español aquí par @iRescate: #VOST no deberían nutrirse solo de voluntarios, señala @CherylBle

Read Ahead: #SMEMau Australian Disasters Conf Participant Info 2014 May 8, 2014 1900 to 2030 US EDT / May 9, 2014 0900 to 1030 AUS AET

Adjust for your time zone here: 90 minutes

This week, Virtual Operations Support Group, will facilitate a discussion on the role of social media in the management of Australian emergencies and disasters. The first #SMEMau Special #SMEMchat event on Australian Bushfires, was hosted by VOSG in Jan 2013. Since then, the importance of new technology to manage all aspects of emergency and disaster communications most effectively has been a daily reminder. Latest hot topics include #VOST, Virtual EOCs (Emergency Operations Centres), Twitter Alerts, Digital Humanitarian Support and more, including the use of Partners tasked to help manage situational awareness and public engagement in complex environments. As this social convergence is taking place, what exactly is the role of new technology in Australia, how it developing and what are the challenges?

Join us on the #SMEMau tag as we explore the issues.

Here’s a list of some of the major incidents experienced in Australia since our last event, as provided to us by the Emergency Management Agencies in Australia, coordinated by VOST Vic for the Virtual Operations Support Group.

10 Questions (example only – actual questions may change).

  1. How has the use of social media in emergency management in Australia changed in the past year?
  2. Social media lends itself well to community recovery. How can we encourage its use to enable people to help each other?
  3. Many people reach out for help with pets/livestock.  How does social media assist in the management of animals during disasters?
  4. Emergency hashtags are an often-overlooked component of a communication strategy. Is your organization prepared with an emergency hashtag strategy?
  5. Do you use infographics to communicate with the public?
  6. Do you use press releases and infographics during your activations to inform the press/ public?
  7. What social media tools do you provide the public to help them prepare for disasters?
  8. Do you engage digital volunteers during a disaster? If so who?
  9. What social media tools do you promote to help the public help themselves and each other in the recovery phase?
  10. …. UAV use, Twitter Alerts, Project Self-Serve and more.

Additional questions? You can submit those in advance here:

Further Information and useful AU Resources

The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub provides research, resources and news relevant to Australian emergency management and includes statistics and information, photos, video and media about past disaster events.


The Tasmanian Government accepted 72 recommendations and approved-in-principle the remaining 31 recommendations; further consultation will decide how they are to be implemented. Of the 103 recommendations, 31 have been prioritised for immediate implementation and, where possible will be implemented before the end of 2013.

  • Recommendation #71: That Tasmania Fire Service and Tasmania Police review their use of modern forms of communication with the community,  including social media, and commit resources to fully use this capability where appropriate.
  • Recommendations #43: That emergency management plans specifically include processes for effectively engaging with local communities and using community resources, including volunteers.

Goals and Objectives (Click for complete information)

Q&A Format

Questions will be posted by @VOST1 using the convention Q1, Q2 etc. Since multiple conversations may be happening simultaneously, please preface your answer with A1, A2 etc. Answers can be given in real time or at a more convenient time and archives will be posted after the event.

With Thanks to Our Partners

Project EPIC


VSOG #SMEMau Event Committee

Moderator: @VOST1 Facilitators: Joanna Lane @joannalane, Robert Dunne @Academy911, Daniel Eshuis @deshuis, Brad Lemon @tyabblemons, Caroline Milligan @Caz_Milligan, Eileen Cullerton @eileencullerton, Nathan Hunerwadel, Cédric Moro @MORO_CEDRIC, Lise St. Denise

Photo Credits:

tags: #SMEMau, #emau,

#SMEMau Australian Disasters – 2nd Annual #SMEMchat Special Event

Open Invitation


On Twitter, event hashtag: #SMEMau

For those new to twitter, follow the discussion at
or search for the #SMEMau hashtag


Friday 9th May 2014 – 0900 to 1030 Australia AET

Thursday 8th May 2014 – 1900 to 2030 US EDT

For other time zones:

“Read Ahead” Participant  information posted here

Some of the major incidents in Australia 2013 – 2014 are listed here 

The purpose of the #SMEMau Special Event is to create an open learning forum about the role of Social Media in Emergency Management in Australia and to assist Australia to become a more proactive, disaster resilient country. Challenges in Emergency Management (AU) include:

  • Incorporating social media into catastrophic and large-scale events
  • Maintaining situational awareness in complex environments
  • Coordinated operations and integrated doctrine
  • Exploring models (such as VOST) to surge capability and capacity
  • Exploring partnerships with NGO & private sector

Map courtesy of Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Participants are invited to share lessons learned, accomplishments and new initiatives in the context of all incidents including recent wildfire, cyclone, tsunami and other severe weather events, from across Australia and beyond.


  • To provide clarification of the effectiveness of social media in disasters and its contribution to relief across the full spectrum of preparedness, response, and recovery mission efforts.
  • To provide participants direct insight from practitioners “directly engaged on the ground” in Australia as to how and when Social Media is being employed in their efforts.
  • To provide participants a forum to ask questions and offer comments or solicit additional feedback in real time based on their understanding of how Social Media is being implemented.
  • To identify best practices and share lessons learned in the use of Social Media in a regional or nationally significant catastrophic event.
  • To demonstrate the use of real-time Twitter search to find disaster traffic, as proposed by Project Self-Serve.


10415767646_15928ae175_bAt the conclusion of this #SMEMau Special Event participants will gain new insight into the utility of Social Media in Emergency Management and understand how and when it can be most effectively utilized based on a real world event. New techniques, learned over the last 12 months, will be shared.

Participants will better understand the barriers and challenges to the effective use of Social Media and how; or if those obstacles can be successfully overcome while simultaneously managing a regional or nationally significant catastrophic event.

Based on the insight and knowledge gained through engaging in this #SMEMau Special Event, participants will be better prepared to plan and execute a Social Media Emergency Management Strategy and Plan in their local areas for disasters which they are directly impacted by or responsible for.

Participants will recognize the benefit and value of #SMEMau as a premier source of information, knowledge, and insight into the emerging and evolving field of Social Media in Emergency Management, and will return often to both participate and contribute, and expand the base of participation by inviting those in their own networks to become involved and participate as well.

Who Should Attend

13782083785_530c785cec_bAnyone curious about or engaged in social media for emergency management in all phases of emergency and disaster, including:

  • emergency managers
  • public information officers
  • media journalists and bloggers
  • SMEM and VOST practitioners, consultants and trainers
  • social media operators
  • health professionals and hospital crisis managers
  • media liaison staff
  • councils / shires
  • animal welfare agencies
  • elected officials from VIC / NSW / QLD / TAS / SA / WA / NT / ACT
  • non-government organisations
  • digital volunteers
  • technology partners


Please use this form to submit questions in advance:

Further Reading

Links to what we did last year. 2013 #SMEMau Australia Bushfires Complete Archives: 2013 Storify:

vosglogo-120hVOSG 2014 Event Committee: Joanna Lane, Robert Dunne, Brad Lemon, Daniel Eshuis, Eileen Cullerton, Caroline Milligan, Cedric Moro, Nathan Hunerwadel, Lise St. Denis


Please join us!

Photo Credits

Injured wombat and kangaroo joeys rescued from the Riddles Creek fire convalesce at Pastoria East Wildlife shelter. Picture: Rob Leeson Source: News Limited:

Map Jan 2014: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Bushfires Oct 2013:

Tropical Cyclone Ita Off-Shore Queensland, Australia: NASA/NOAA via NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory Credit: NASA/NOAA via NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory