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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Mock Disaster – Social Media Exposure

Having just returned from the DRJ Fall World in beautiful San Diego, I have to tell you that I am very proud of the team that put together the PPBI Mock Disaster. This was a complex undertaking, with a ton of planning and activities behind the scenes to make it all happen.

The exercise was coordinated by Ken Schroeder of CorporateOne FCU following approval of DRJ to offer PPBI the opportunity last April. Schroeder put together an Occupy Harbor Island scenario and had a bulls-eye on the objectives: maximize training on using the principles of ICS to facilitate crisis management; develop an understanding of the advantages of public-private partnerships to improve likelihood of success managing a crisis; create an appreciation by the participants of the uses and pitfalls of social media during a crisis; introduce principles of media management to the participants, and demonstrate the advantages of a partnership prior to an event; demonstrate how risk management procedures may fail to identify the “black swan” event—how some event or group totally external to the organization can create total chaos and force implementation of business continuity plans; emphasize the need for a command succession plan; instill an appreciation of the complexities caused by multiple, unrelated disaster, and he and his team hit them squarely in the middle!

This success was not without some very hard work from a number of PPBI board members and many partnerships forged through an investment of time, many communications, discussion and much accord as to the quality of the exercise.

To give you an idea of the complexity, I would like to mention a few of the partnerships. These included PPBI Board members including myself, advising Schroeder and the team and working as a liaison with the DRJ’s Bob Arnold and Patti Fitzgerald on the venue and Curlystitch to provide the facilitators and protestor with shirts. I also played the role of the PPBI Widgets CEO, Iam D. Bosse.

I would also like to thank Lynnda Nelson, president of ICOR, who has always admonished PPBI to invest in our social media capabilities. Kevin Schaller a senior consultant with Virtual Corporation (and a retired deputy sheriff in Nevada), coordinated activities with the San Diego Harbor Police and organized the protestors into a formidable obstacle. Schaller also brought his motor home to serve as the mock exercise command post. Lee Goldstein, a principal in the Business Contingency Group, beat the bushes for protestors and helped facilitate the exercise. Marianne Guinee of HSBC, developed many of the Facebook screens, and made the live injects and homepage hijack real-time from her home in Chicago. Schroeder developed the Twitter ID’s and initial injects, with the team facilitating the programmed (and ad hoc) injects from a busy table in the mock room. John Jackson of Fusion Risk Management recruited journalism students from the local schools with help from Dr. Eric Frost from SDSU Sciences and Kathleen Hessert , president of Sports Media Challenge and BUZZManager, a social media expert. David Ziev of HP developed the presentations and facilitated the exercise. Equally valuable were the partnerships Schroeder and others developed in the short six months between venues, bringing talent, understanding, passion and compassion to the mock! Schroeder reached out to Dr. Roberta Flynn for her expertise in protecting our most valuable assets, each other. Dr. Flynn who works with several organizations including the Red Cross offered one of the teaching moments during the Mock which offered attendees a glimpse into the “Emotional and Psychological Trauma” that affects every responder and survivors with emotional symptoms that may differ dramatically. Her points reflect the advice offered by PPBI in our workshops, “take care of your people.”

“Develop psychological resiliency,” said Dr. Flynn, “use proactive planning, exercises and training, be aware that mental rehearsal affects readiness and resiliency, and remember that you can have a positive impact on a traumatic event even after many years.”

PPBI would also like to thank AGIOSAT for providing their satellite downlink solution to the DRJ mock venue which offered real-time Internet access to the facilitators and participants. Alan Farber and his team of Keith Simonsen and Adrian Maltbie supported the mock for more than three hours in the hot sun after travelling from LA to be a part of the action. Very gracious and AGIOSAT helped to make this a very real mock disaster. Thank you all!

As those of you who attended will remember, the chaos that ensued during the PPBI Widget management retreat was fairly authentic. It appeared at first that there was no one in charge; there was a lack of information about the event; communication with those who should know what was occurring, just didn’t work. The information from Facebook and Twitter was moving so fast and in some cases distracting and in others ignored entirely by the participants. These challenges were recognized by many of the tables each representing a response team included in the roles of incident command and section chiefs as depicted in the incident command system.

One response I remember well was included a group decision to host a press conference with one of the students from John Paul University in her role as a reporter. The reporter (Melinda) did a great job of probing for the pain and digging down into the heart of the incident. The public information officer also did a great job of delivering a press release. He was very articulate, authoritative, had a list of facts and promised a follow-up at a designated time. The problem as I noted, the information was not based on facts at the time in the exercise and no one as far as I could determine had authorized the content for distribution; for example the incident commander.

During the break, the protestors’ who had upset the exercise with a march through the venue chanting for their cause the Cockaded Harbor Island Crab (CHIC), kidnapped me playing the CEO and wanted to bargain my release for their cause. This led to several other sub plots such as isolation of witnesses, succession planning and hostage negotiation. The San Diego Harbor Police, Patrol Division represented by Lieutenant James Jordan and Officer David Lanham (a recent graduate of the SDSU Homeland Security Program under Professor Frost) did what they do best, keeping order and offering another teaching moment with a level set of expectations:

  • Don’t expect a television response
  • Not all resources will be available (SWAT team)
  • Understand command and control (who’s in charge)
  • Establish liaison with on-scene commander

All was well received and understood by the participants and we all offer our appreciation to Chief John Buldoc, San Diego Harbor Police for supporting their participation in the mock!

Next up were a couple of teaching moments that were timely and very poignant. The first was pressed by Linda Locke the principal at Reputare Consulting. Locke was joined by a number of social media “operatives” to help manage and facilitate the exercise. They watched our back as the exercise played out and helped to keep the content and message aligned with expectations.

According to Locke, reputation risk is as real as other risks. Negative reputation exacts a real penalty. Reputation is “owned” by stakeholders. Perceptions develop via three channels – direct experience with the company, what others say about the company, what the company says about itself . Tracking before a crisis enables you to measure time-to-recovery. Emotions are more important than facts in crisis communications.

In other words, the only way to manage your reputation is maintain a high level of vigilance on a combined media presence. Kathleen Hessert from BUZZmanager continued the lesson. Hessert, as you may remember from earlier in this article, is an expert on managing reputation on the Internet and had just returned from the Democratic National Convention, where she had been advising, protecting and monitoring all manner of social media during some very long days. Exercise participants listened intently as this message had a number of recommendations concerning the management of social media.

“Social media is your early warning system,” said Hessert, “ setting new expectations of all stakeholders and even miscreants. In a crisis it adds, accelerates and amplifies the volume of partial information, the degree of inaccurate information and the danger of damaging information with costly implications.”

I believe our participants learned many lessons during the exercise and took home a boatload of experiences from the interaction at the mock. The protestors eventually released Iam D. Bosse (much to the dismay of all participants) and allowed me to return and thank all those who facilitated and participated in the DRJ Fall World 2012 Mock Disaster. A big thank you to all of you again from PPBI. Look for us at ppbi.org. We hope to have the video available soon!

Deidrich E. Towne Jr., MBCP,is a senior technical consultant for Hewlett Packard and chairperson of the PPBI Board of Directors. Towne has more than 40 years of experience in information technology committed to infrastructure management, business continuity planning, disaster recovery and incident management in the areas of consulting, business process re-design, project management, project implementation, documentation, exercise design, execution and training. He has transitioned from a business and industry first responder role to assist clients in assessing, designing and implementing recovery solutions for their data centers, networks and mission critical business processes.