Marina Tymen, Association VISOV General Secretary, also in charge of communication for the association and relations with the ministerial authorities in France, paints a rich picture of VISOV as a vibrant not-for-profit French speaking NGO in SMEM.
In May 2015, VISOV launched a new website built by Ms. Tymen herself. At the same time VISOV published a new Social Media for Emergency Management Guide in French, a work that involved many contributors working diligently together with professional translators over many months.
Based on a document first published in the English language by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology, the Virtual Operations Support Group supported the translation project in a small way by helping to secure the legal permissions necessary for a French translation and adaptation to be published outside U.S. federal borders. Such is the dedication and commitment of the volunteers behind Association VISOV, some members chipped in personal funds to ensure the document’s production values met a high professional standard, and that the finished product could be shared freely with French speakers not only involved with VISOV, also those in the U.S. and throughout the world. It has been very well received with some 200 downloads to date, including many institutions.
The grass did not start growing under the feet of the association after the translation project was complete. On the contrary, VISOV continued to move forward at a pace, achieving all of the following (and no doubt more) in a mere 3 months since:
- Co-launched a Weather Radio Station on the web, La Radio Météo,
- Developed a new methodology and tools by using WhatsApp more intensively
- Activated three times for floods in South of France
- Launched the “WhatChat” SME live chat series
- Won a prestigious Citizen Award in France
- Collaboration with VOST Spain to help build out VOST Europe, including:
Complete details of these outstanding achievements are available on VISOV’s own website in French, and there follows below highlights from some of these unique milestone moments.
Partnership with La Radio Météo – The Weather Radio
La Radio Météo is France’s first web radio station dedicated to weather news. On air 24/7, the station is run by an association of young journalists and enthusiasts, led by Alexandre Bourasseaurun. The VISOV | La Radio Météo collaboration has built an amazing following over a short three month period, around 150,000 cumulative listeners at the time of writing. Like VISOV, La Radio Météo team is entirely voluntary.
Once an orange or red alert affecting a number of departments in France is triggered, entertainment (music) is suspended. The station switches to news weather bulletins every fifteen minutes. Announcers read out tweets, broadcast live reports, and even responding to live tweets and posting in Facebook, using information from verified and official sources and government institutions, including Météo France.
VISOV first coordinated with La Radio Météo to keep the public and firefighter partners informed during severe weather events in July and again in August. VISOV’s public safety messages, such as preventative measures for those affected by the hazards were shared across multiple social media accounts.
On September 7th, when VISOV and La Radio Météo formally signed a partnership agreement, VISOV President Ludovic Lux said (to paraphrase) that this new partnership between the two associations demonstrates to all involved in social media in emergency management that it’s possible to combine media outlets such as web radio with SMEM, resulting in a stronger organization to keep the public informed 24/7.
New Methodology and Tools
There have been significant changes in VISOV’s methodology and tools.
Effort has been focused on establishing closer working relationships between volunteers who do the monitoring, and subject matter experts (SME) who have first hand information of an emergency or disaster situation. A new category of member within VISOV’s organizational structure has evolved to accommodate partners and SME invited to integrate with the rest of the team, although they are not automatically expected to enroll for monitoring and other duties associated with a routine VOST activation.
VISOV’s three main tasks remain as follows:
- Gather information published on the web in a deployment file (Google doc)
- Mapping (two types of collaborative cards used)
- Disseminate prevention messages on social media prior to incidents.
VISOV has also re-evaluated the team’s toolkit for communications and coordination at local, regional, and international levels. VISOV alerts, general discussion, training and coordination are now managed in four WhatsApp chat rooms, with +/- 50 members in some rooms.
- Blue: General discussion forum – members mute chatter as needed.
- Red: Activation alerts and and urgent messages posted by the Board – required for all members. No discussion. No mute. (In parallel, a new WhatsApp group using the name of the activation is launched and available for members to be inducted.)
- Formation MSGU: Training room to focus on monitoring tools and techniques only.
- VISOV Board of Directors and selected advisors.
The VISOV website, Google Group and Docs, plus proprietary geolocation software, are also all part of the basic VISOV operational toolkit. VISOV also still manages a legacy Skype room for members, but this is no longer the platform of choice for most members.
Finally, for the most urgent activations, even during the overnight period, VISOV board members have a special alert app called Vialert (by Cedralis), which enables mobile calls even when the device is switched off or put on silent mode.
VISOV is fully transparent about its membership, complete with a published membership roster, comprising mini-bios for some fifty multidisciplinary volunteers, and there’s more information about the methodology they’re using here.
September also saw the first of a planned series of bi-monthly VISOV hosted evening events, also on WhatsApp, which Ms. Tymen has called “WhatsChat”. This is in addition to the French #smemchat on Twitter, called #MSGUchat. The idea is to invite volunteers with the most expertise to talk about their specialism, which also builds the connections necessary to bring competence to VISOV and the most timely first hand information from the SME member to the operational team if something happens.
The inaugural WhatsChat event featured Remy Bossu, one of France’s most eminent Seismologists. Mr. Bossu is also Secretary General of the Euro-Mediterranean Centre Seismological (CSEM), a not-for-profit scientific NGO and provider of rapid earthquake information which invites eyewitnesses to share their experience and pics. Based in Paris, but working globally, he talked about his specialism and connections with the public authorities, including the atomic center in France. CSEM has developed an independent App called @lastquake, which VISOV members all now have and is available to download from Last Quake.
During the one-hour Whatschat session, members wrote their questions to the guest who answered by voice messages instead. By all accounts, it was a great success.
French High Committee for Civil Defense – Citizen 2015 Award
As part of the recent Expocrise, the only French show fully dedicated to crisis management, VISOV was awarded the Trophy for Citizenship 2015, at the 5th edition of the Corporate Awards for Social Resilience organized under the French High Committee for Civil Defense. This trophy rewards VISOV for the support it provides to authorities in the management of social networks in times of crisis.
The award was handed to Ludovic Lux, President of VISOV by General Philippe Boutinaud of Pompiers de Paris, congratulating the association and its volunteers, saying he considered VISOV as
” ..a kind of citizen start-up that makes us open our eyes to the structural and organizational changes needed in the field of security and civil protection.
Mr. Lux gave an eloquent speech, accepting the award as recognition for all the volunteers of the association, noting the great honor and pride for members of the association VISOV to be the recipients of the Citizenship Award 2015. Extracted from the full text of his speech, and roughly translated, he said:
Since 2012 and essentially on our personal time, we have taken our pilgrim stick to the institutions (ministries, prefectures, firefighters, …) to convince and demonstrate the value of social media in emergency management. Since this summer, we have united with other communities of volunteers also, such as amateur meteorologists and VISOV counterparts in European countries, with the recent creation of a VOST Europe. I conclude my remarks by simply quoting from the civil security modernization law in France, “The citizen is placed in the heart of the civil security system, the first player in their own security and, consequently, that of others. This is what VISOV is all about.”
Photo credit: VISOV