Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Junior VOST: Guidelines for an Under 18 Program

These guidelines were recently posted to the Virtual Operations Support Group site.  
The COVOST supports these guidelines. 
This post has been reprinted with permission.
vosg-banner-center-960x100.png Recently, the #SMEM and #VOST communities were presented with a new VOST Volunteer initiative for under 18s, a wonderfully innovative idea, but one that raises concerns about involving children in supporting official response agencies during all phases of the disaster life cycle. Research clearly shows risks to children and teens from exposure to visual materials that can trigger a strong visceral reaction, yet Virtual Operations Support Teams routinely tasked with monitoring social media in an emergency or disaster situation cannot control the material to which they are exposed in the live stream. Once something is seen, it can’t be unseen. This paper aims to:
  1. help agencies and organizations address key issues related to the participation of youth and children in VOST missions, including monitoring social media accounts.
  2. raise awareness of the science and research about the risks to children, and
  3. establish responsible and safe VOST policy guidelines to recommend to those considering a Junior VOST or community youth volunteer program as part of their social media emergency management strategy.

The Science

Carol Dunn is a Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist who specializes in raising awareness of the implications of current findings related to cognitive neurology and how organizations deal with and communicate risk. She has put together the following collection of research work and articles to assist planning decisions:
From the moment you see the first image you are changed for good .… But where law enforcement has developed specialized programs and hires experienced mental health professionals …. many tech companies have yet to grasp the seriousness of the problem.
  • Previous exposure to traumatic situations has been found to increase risk of long term brain changes, so even if individuals don’t respond negatively in the short term, the situations they are exposed to today can play a role in later trauma. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2816923/

Potential Benefits of Junior VOST

We also recognize that volunteering at a young age has been found to: promote a healthy lifestyle and choices, enhance development, teach life skills, improve the community, and encourage a lifelong service ethic. (source) Therefore, it is not our intention to squelch student VOSTs, but to ensure that programs operate with full awareness of the risks.
The same good management techniques apply to children as to adults. However, they may need to be modified or adapted to appropriately relate to children.
The VOSG seeks to ensure the highest standards of safety to everyone under any program we are asked to endorse or recommend. With this in mind, we have outlined a suggested program that we think would provide a good model for how to incorporate student volunteers appropriately within a Virtual Operations Support Team. Examples given are for guidance purposes only; responsibility lies with the Agency or Organization managing the VOST or student program.

Example Junior VOST Program Outline

The team’s purpose, objectives and goals are outlined in an age appropriate way to maximize youth opportunities and the community vision for team growth and progression towards joining a professional team when old enough (18+). This program is designed to mitigate risk to children by aligning the Junior VOST more closely with a “Preparedness VOST” than any other phase in the disaster life cycle, with some activities and tasks explicitly excluded that a fully operational VOST would engage in when deployed during a disaster to support an overwhelmed or under resourced agency. Team members may not be placed in a situation where they could be exposed to the risks and stress that even hardened digital first responders often find challenging, such as a situation with fatalities. Students are encouraged to participate in live VOST Exercises using benign events, such as a sports game, to become familiar with how to use social media and to communicate with authorities should a real live emergency be presented to them during their day-to-day activities or as a survivor of an incident in which they are directly impacted. With this in mind, we strongly recommend any mission that includes minors explicitly excludes monitoring the live stream in a real emergency or disaster situation, allocating such tasks only to a professional social media monitoring team or VOST comprising adults with more advanced training. To manage risk, Junior VOST missions and tasks are classified prior to activation using a common rating system and re-evaluated during operations should unforeseen escalations occur. Parents and guardians are asked to sign a waiver and are given information about what is involved.

Example Junior VOST Program Values

  • Educating and acquainting the student with a modified, age-appropriate VOST environment, encouraging an interest in using social media for emergency management (SMEM) and fostering future leadership.
  • Recognizing that service of Junior VOST volunteers is both needed and appreciated.
  • Recognizing that serving as a VOST volunteer is a privilege and carries great responsibility.
  • Acknowledging that a Junior VOST cannot replace or replicate an adult team.
  • Encouraging students who are responsible, dependable, caring, have the ability to follow direction, and who can provide high quality support service to our professional teams, and eventually, join them.

Example Mission Rating System

  • G: General - All Ages
  • PG: Adult Supervision and Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.
  • PG-13: Adult Supervision and Guidance Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.
  • R: Restricted. Under 18 Requires Adult Supervision and Guidance.
  • NC-18: No One Under 18 Authorized To Support Mission
Children are closely supervised and any escalation that presents during an activation triggers re-evaluation of the mission for appropriateness to the age group.

Example Junior VOST Tasks

Selected tasks that might be safely allocated to a Junior VOST team, grouped by phase. Each task would be rated for age appropriateness.


  • Create VOST workbook templates and populate with search strings, key websites and resources, ready for use.
  • Create “Lay of the Land” lists of official social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc.
  • Create or source local community maps to mark emergency related resources - shelter locations, hospitals, school etc.
  • Monitor app use in the local community and keep the Agency informed of new apps and trends of interest, especially in use amongst youth.
  • Assist and support Preparedness Messaging: Junior VOST could pull together fact sheets on all-hazards events and possibly assist in breaking those down into social media messages to be available for PIOs to use. This age group might also assist with official preparedness accounts such as @READYColorado messaging or monitoring instead of the operational @COEmergency side of the house.
  • Help build Community Resilience by promoting the use of SMS alerts, Code Red, etc.
  • Tech support: Help professional EM staff gain a better understanding of the world of social media, set up systems and troubleshoot tech issues.
  • Prepare a coordination summary for Junior VOST reporting of 911 type issues.

Response and Recovery:

  • Junior VOSTs are not engaged during the response phase of an emergency or disaster situation due to high stress levels and risk of trauma involved in routine VOST monitoring activities.
  • A Junior VOST may be able to assist with some limited recovery tasks where pre-filtered feeds can be determined as suitable content, such as sorting, categorizing, or mapping, including identifying volunteer opportunities.
  • At no time should a Junior VOST member be asked to monitor live unfiltered feeds while an emergency response is ongoing, neither to help identify 911 issues on social media, nor prepare official reports.
Important issues that also need careful consideration, but have not been addressed here for reasons of length, include liability and accountability. Authors and Contributors: Joanna Lane, Carol Dunn, Kim Stephens, Caroline Milligan, Nathan Hunerwadel, Micki Trost.

 Junior VOST - Guidelines for an Under 18 Program by The Virtual Operations Support Group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

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

Members of the Colorado Virtual Operations Support team will be supporting this event.  Check it out!

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!

Where: On Twitter, event hashtag: #SMEMau.

For those new to twitter, follow the discussion at http://bit.ly/RPe6ow or search for the #SMEMau hashtag.

When: Thursday 8th May 2014 – 1900 to 2030 US EDT

Friday 9th May 2014 – 0900 to 1030 Australia AET

For other time zones: www.timeanddate.com

“Read Ahead” Participant information posted here

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

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. http://bit.ly/1imWNEM

10 Questions (example only – actual questions may change).
  • How has the use of social media in emergency management in Australia changed in the past year?
  • Social media lends itself well to community recovery. How can we encourage its use to enable people to help each other?
  • Many people reach out for help with pets/livestock. How does social media assist in the management of animals during disasters?
  • Emergency hashtags are an often-overlooked component of a communication strategy. Is your organization prepared with an emergency hashtag strategy?
  • Do you use infographics to communicate with the public?
  • Do you use press releases and infographics during your activations to inform the press/ public?
  • What social media tools do you provide the public to help them prepare for disasters?
  • Do you engage digital volunteers during a disaster? If so who?
  • What social media tools do you promote to help the public help themselves and each other in the recovery phase?
  • …. UAV use, Twitter Alerts, Project Self-Serve and more.
Additional questions? You can submit those in advance here: http://bit.ly/1tzmTsY

The information in this post has been 'reblogged' from VOSG.us.  Please visit VOSG.us for additional information.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Request Activation of the COVOST

The COVOST is a resource that can be activated to support your agency and community during an active incident or during a pre-planned event. If you would like to request activation of the COVOST please read through the COVOST Handbook and complete the Activation Authorization form.

If you have any questions at all please contact Nathan Hunerwadel at COVOST@gmail.com @COVOST or 720-879-2462

Potential COVOST missions:

The following are potential COVOST missions listed from least liability for responding agency to highest. A responding agency is highly discouraged from utilizing the COVOST for the platform creation and/or publication. While these services could be filled by the COVOST, the COVOST prefers to come alongside an agency to enhance their efforts rather than simply do it all for them.

Services offered by the COVOST are meant to enhance the capabilities of a sponsoring agency not replace them. A potential sponsoring agency should not look the COVOST as a primary resource but rather as a secondary and supplementary program.
  • Monitor 
    • Emergency Messages 
    • Online Rumors 
    • Media 
    • Key Community themes/members 
    • Multiple Platforms 
  • Amplify 
    • Same platform amplification 
    • Cross platform amplification 
  • Archive 
    • Agency official post archive 
    • Community posts archive 
    • Media posts archive 
  • Product Creation 
    • Maps 
    • Pictures, video, captions, 
    • Infographics 
  • Platform Creation 
    • Creating new platforms not already in use by sponsoring agency for information dissemination
  • Publish 
    • Publish information to platforms directly on behalf of the sponsoring agency

The COVOST Needs You!

Without you the COVOST really can’t do much of anything.  We need you to partner with us.  Our goal is to join together trusted agents from across Colorado, the United States and the World.  The success of the COVOST asks that you step up and lead.  With your help we can provide leadership and support to Colorado communities during their time of need. 

What is in it for you?
Warm fuzzy feelings.  Seriously. When you become a trusted agent on a VOST you are signing up to help out your neighbor.  If the feeling that one gets after extending a helping hand to another in need is not enough I am not sure what is.  That said, we will make every effort to extend to you the latest and greatest training and experience.  Don’t pay big $$ for training, just join the COVOST!

What are you committing to?
The time commitment to the COVOST is what you make of it.  We understand that you are already overburdened and underappreciated.  The COVOST appreciates you and your time.  We only ask that you agree with our mission, attend training, and make an effort to set aside some time to help when we activate. When we sound the trumpet we simply ask that you make every effort to rally to the cause.

Ready to sign up?  Complete the registration form and volunteer agreement.
Colorado thanks you.

Want to use the COVOST?  You know you want to try it out!
Complete the Activation Authorization form and you might just be the first to activate the team!

Have a question?
Contact Nathan Hunerwadel - COVOST@state.co.us@COVOST - 720-879-2462

COVOST Org Chart

This is a potential COVOST organization chart built to help explain how the chain of command might work during an activation of the team.  If you activated the team for your incident would this flow work for you? Please provide your comments below.

Mission, Vision, Values

COVOST Mission:

The mission of the Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team (COVOST) is to lead and support the State of Colorado and our local Colorado communities through the innovative use of social media and other online tools.

COVOST Vision:

The vision of the Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team (COVOST) is to provide the State of Colorado and our local Colorado communities a powerful and effective team of trusted agents whose mission is to support public information, operations, and information gathering efforts through an innovatively effective, efficient and elegant use of social media and other online or ‘virtual’ tools.

COVOST Values:

The Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team’s continues to subscribe to the original values held by the preceding JeffcoVOST.  These values closely mirror the values of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Integrity - COVOST members will act in a manner that reflects the highest integrity – this includes behavior and actions taken in the real world as well as in the virtual world.
Innovation - COVOST members will engage the virtual world in an innovatively effective, efficient and elegant manner thereby offering the State of Colorado and our local communities the ability to fully benefit from the continuously changing virtual landscape.
Partnership - COVOST members will remain in close partnership with the State of Colorado (via the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management). The team will also maintain a close partnership with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and any other local community that requests the activation of the COVOST. Finally, the COVOST will remain in close partnership with the broader VOST and SMEM communities.
Service - COVOST members will remember that their primary responsibility is to lead and support the State of Colorado and our local communities.  In this vein the COVOST will never act alone but will always act out of service to, and in direct partnership with, the State of Colorado and any local community for which it may be activated to support. 
Accountability - COVOST members will remain accountable for the information that they share or pass on. COVOST members will remain accountable to policies held by the State of Colorado and any local community that is being supported.  The COVOST will likewise remain accountable to established public information and Incident Command System (ICS) best practices, rules and regulations.

COVOST Handbook

This handbook is meant to guide members of the Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team (COVOST) as they complete the mission of leading and supporting the State of Colorado and our local Colorado communities through the innovative use of social media and other online tools.

It is important to remember that the social media landscape is fluid and constantly changing.  The guidelines shared in this guide are current as of the date listed below.  It is the job of each VOST member, however, to ensure that they stay up to date and knowledgeable of the many changes that will inevitably occur as the ‘virtual’ social media and digital landscape continues to evolve.

Nothing written in this handbook supersedes any preexisting rules or guidelines provide by the State of Colorado or any local community for which the COVOST is activated to support. Likewise, nothing written in this handbook supersedes standard Incident Command System (ICS) practices, rules set forth via any delegation of authority, or any rules or guidelines provided by any agency having jurisdiction.

In the fast moving world of social media adherence to rules and policies is all the more important.  When in doubt, check with the COVOST Manager or Coordinator, lead PIO and/or Incident Commander.

Reality requires virtual support. Reality requires responsibility.

Virtual Support demands great responsibility grounded by reality.

COVOST Introduction & Brief History

Ours is a digital age where the virtual world must be fully engaged.

The Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team (COVOST) grew out of the preexisting Jefferson County Virtual Operations Support Team (JeffcoVOST).

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office realized that the modern information sharing strategy must differ from traditional press release based ‘pad n paper’ media outreach.  The Sheriff’s Office thus created and activated, in 2013, the JeffcoVOST as part of its overall integrated social media and public information strategy.

The intent of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was to define and refine the integrated social media and public information strategy.  To this end, the Sheriff’s Office used the JeffcoVOST to not only support the information strategy but also to gather information for the purpose of informing and influencing the planning and operational response while simultaneously providing vital overall situational awareness.

In March of 2014 the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) adopted the JeffcoVOST and restructured the team into the COVOST.  DHSEM continues to work in close partnership with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to insure the continuity and success of the COVOST program.

The COVOST is specifically designed to be a resource that will be available to the State of Colorado and any local community that wishes to fully experience the dual benefits of both engaging with, and listening and responding to, the modern virtual landscape.

The COVOST is not meant to replace or substitute any social media response or plan.  The COVOST is a resource that can be activated to supplement or enhance a community’s existing social media for emergency response (SMEM) plan.

The virtual operations and SMEM world is a relatively new realm with exciting possibilities.  The Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team stands ready to further define and refine this virtual arena while leading and supporting communities across Colorado as they continue to mold SMEM into the powerful reality we already know it to be.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Under Construction

This blog is currently being constructed.  The Jefferson County Virtual Operations Support Team is transitioning to become the Colorado Virtual Operations Support Team (COVOST).  As part of this transition the old site jeffcovost.blogspot.com is being moved to this new site covost.blogspot.com.

Stay tuned for more updates!