Online course in Public Health Emergency Risk Communication

In just a few weeks I’ll be teaching a class on Public Health Risk Communication, as part of the Public Health Science Communication course at University of Copenhagen. Despite the topic being big enough to cover a whole course in its own, it will with 90 minutes available only be possible to give a brief introduction to Risk Communication and public health. To compensate a little for this I have therefore been searching for possibilities for further studying, which I could recommend to the students.

Online course: Emergency Risk Communication

University of Washington

One of my findings is an online course in Emergency Risk Communication offered by the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice, University of Washington. It is free and takes only an estimated 2,5 hours (thus it is also mainly an introduction to the topic). I decided to take the course yesterday before adding it to my list of “further readings and materials in Public Health Risk Communication”.

Background information about the course

The course is very practice-oriented and less theoretical. The developers’ approach to the course and described target audience is that “if you work in public health, during a crisis or emergency, you will be likely to become a risk communicator, even if your job description does not include public information or media relations”. Therefore the course’s main objective is to teach how to plan for an emergency, create effective messages, and interact with the media and community in times of crisis. This is clearly illustrated in the below learning objectives:

After completing this course, you should be able to:
  • List some common reactions exhibited by the public during public health emergencies
  • Identify some effective communication strategies that can be used during public health emergencies
  • Communicate with the news media more effectively during public health emergencies
  • Work with the community more effectively during periods of heightened emotion
  • Participate in planning processes that can help your organization be better prepared for communicating during an emergency

A well crafted and structured course

All in all I found the course quite useful and very well put together. I felt it gave me a good basic insight into some of the main components of Emergency Risk Communication. It took me about 2 hours to finish, but it has materials for extensively further studying. Throughout the different modules it is full of links to guidelines, templates, check lists, background literature, resource websites etc. useful in developing an emergency risk communication plan or strategy. All the links are also collected in an easily accessible Toolkit, which makes the course even more hands-on-oriented and user-friendly.

Another great aspect of the course is that is makes use of many real life examples and includes for example interviews with public health professionals who suddenly found themselves involved in emergency risk communication. You are presented with a situation similar to what they experienced and is asked what actions you would take. Afterwards you are then presented with their actions and the outcome of that. This works very well and helps in keeping one’s interest and attention. The course also makes sure to use many different cases of public health emergencies covering all from outbreak of infectious diseases, food safety issues, environmental health risk, to natural and man-made disasters. Again, great to keep one’s attention and making it relevant to people working in many fields of public health.

Social media and Emergency Risk Communication

A very positive aspect of the course was, seen from my perspective, that social media and its role in emergency risk communication is given much attention. Many examples of its use is presented and it is consistently mentioned throughout the different modules of the course. Apart from being of course a super important aspect to include it also gives you a feeling of the course being up-to-date.

In conclusion, it’s definitely a course worth spending 2,5 hours on. As said it is not very theoretical or academic oriented, but it has great references if one feels like digging into more of that, and is relevant for students as well as public health professionals proned to get involved in public health emergencies in one way or the other. You get a nice little diploma when passing the final assessment test and can, if relevant also apply for official credits for the course.

Emergency risk communication course


Social media challenges ‘old’ media in Boston bombings coverage

That social media plays a key role in emergency situations is evident. Lots of events have proven it’s efficiency and it’s multi-purpose qualities. However, this has definitely not been clear to everyone. Then a tragedy occurs in Boston and it becomes clearer and clearer that social media cannot be brushed aside.

Pop HealthThere are already lots of great blog posts, Twitter discussions etc. about the role social media played (and is still playing) in the events related to the Boston bombings, so I won’t try myself to replicate those. A post that gives a good overview and is written by a public health professional is Leah Roman’s blog post on the blog Pop Health. She goes through some of the key themes of social media in the emergency response, ranging from Immediate Public Safety Concerns and Instructions over Investigation, Reconnecting people, to the functioning of social media as a Resource for Journalists, and it’s role in Mental Health & Support Resources.

idisasterAnother good post about the social media in the boston bombing is on the blog iDisaster 2.0 that shares links to other great articles about the role social media played during the horrific aftermath and presents three observation on use of social networks, particularly Twitter, by the Boston Police Department. Also worth a read.

New media challenges old media

In the last couple of days, old media and new media are both reporting of how the later beat the first during the Boston events. Especially CNNs failure to keep up with social networks in being first with the news is being covered and discussed (among other places in this article in the NY Times and in Danish in this article in Politiken). The dynamic between the traditional media and new social media is interesting, and the relationship between the two will certainly continue to evolve. Without knowing the details of the discussion back in time when radio and later on TV came into being I’m sure that there were similar discussions on the then new media challenging the old ones. I look forward to seeing how it develops, and how emergency management manages to make use of what is still categorized as ‘new media’ and its relation with traditional media.


The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub

In my research on the use of social media in emergency management and communication and my hunt for good case studies, I have come across a knowledge hub, that I thought I’d share with you. I was of course introduced to it by wonderful people on Twitter (thank you Eva Alisic).

KnowledgehubThe website is called The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub and is still a BETA version of the Knowledge Hub, but a good BETA version. It provides easy access to evidence-based research and other research as wells as news relevant to emergency management, including statistics and information, photos, video and media about past disaster events. You can read more about the rational and the organisations behind the website on their ‘about’ page.

mapThe website has lots of well thought out search tools. You can search for information about specific emergencies through a combined map and timeline. It will provide you with basic data about the event and links to resources related to the event in the research database.

You can also go directly to the research database and search here on the topic you seek information. You can even filter or sort it by the kind of document (case study, website, report, journal article, blog, wiki etc.), date and disaster category.

Although I haven’t yet tried it out, there is also a community forum space where people working with emergency management can register to discuss ideas and issues affecting the emergency sector.

As the name of the knowledge hub implies, the majority of the resources relates to Australia and its closest surrounding countries, but it is no way exclusive. I have mostly been looking at things related to social media and it seems to me that Australia is first-mover country when it comes to integrating social media into emergency management.

The Knowledge Hub also provides access to resources in the Australian Emergency Management Library.

knowledgehub twitter

Users of the hub can contribute to the hub’s continuous development, by recommending additional resources, share upcoming events, photos, videos and join in on the discussions.

The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub is of course also on Twitter (@AEMKH), which they use very actively.



More disaster management & social media

Sometimes opportunities presents themselves out of the blue. When I was asked to give a lecture on social media in emergency settings at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen, I didn’t quite feel like an expert on the topic (as I wrote about in an earlier post). But it did not take much research to realised that the combination of social media and disaster/emergency management is super interesting and an example of how social media can play a role in saving lives. It doesn’t get much more public health relevant than that.

Both preparing for the lecture and teaching was a good experience, and I feel I managed in the 3×45 minutes available to get around the topic in a comprehensive way – although with that time frame it can only be an introduction. In addition, I got great feedback from the students who, coming from all over the world, had different experiences with dealing with disasters, which they could contribute with in the discussions.

programme

Since I couldn’t assume students to be familiar with social media for other than private purposes, I chose to allocate some time to introduce social media before going into examples of its use in disaster and emergency situations. For those interested, I thought I’d just share the programme with you:

More than communicating a message

Social Media & Crisis Comm: A Whole New Game

Social Media & Crisis Comm: A Whole New Game

In my experience the first (and sometimes only) thing that comes people’s mind when they think of what social media can be used for in emergency settings is dissemination of information and messages to the public. Social media are simply categorized as yet another communication channel equal to radio, tv etc. But as it is well illustrated in the YouTube video on the right (click the picture) it is much more than that.

With this experience it was important for me in my lecture to highlight some of the other key functions of social media in disasters. Below are 4 broad categories for the potential use of social media in emergency situations. There are surely other ways social media can be used and as said the four below are quite broad and thus covers lots of sub-functions.

  1. Disseminate disaster information to the public by governments, emergency management organisations, and disaster responders
  2. Share disaster information with the aim of having journalists and others pick it up so that it can be further disseminated to the affected members of the public
  3. Communicate and enter into dialogue with the public, other institutions etc.
  4. Gather information about the emergency by monitoring the situation, identifying areas of need and picking up rumours and misunderstandings.

Safe & Well

One advantage of teaching (and of blogging) is that you get so much feedback and suggestions for new things to read, websites to visit etc. I thought I’d share two of these tips with you. The first is a website that a student in the class recommended. It is called Safe & Well and is provided by the American Red Cross. The idea is that after a disaster, people in the affected area can through this website let their family and friends know that they are safe and well. By clicking the button “List Myself as Safe and Well” you register on the site. Relatives can then search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message.

Facebook and extreme weather events

The posts on this blog are double-posted on the Medical Museion’s website and there my previous post on social media and disaster management was commented by a researcher from Aarhus University, Andreas Birkbak, who had authored an interesting article about the use of Facebook for informal emergency collaboration during a snow blizzard on the Island of Bornholm in Denmark. A very interesting article that I might use next time I teach. Read the article your self: Crystallizations in the Blizzard: Contrasting Informal Emergency Collaboration In Facebook Group. Thanks for sharing it on the blog, Andreas!

Take home messages

As said, I have quickly come to find social media and disaster management is a very interesting topic and I have a feeling I’ll continue digging deeper into it. This will probably result in more posts on the topic here on this blog, so I think I’ll stop for now. As I ended my lecture I will also end this blog post – with four take home messages:

  • Social media is there in the world and will be used in disaster situations whether you like it or not – you can’t afford to disregard it!
  • Social media can (and should) be used for much more than dissemination – take advantage of its possibilities to monitor and get into dialogue!
  • Social media is not just a tool for you – it is also a tool for the people affected by the disaster – victims as well as relatives
  • When working with disaster management don’t hold back from social media because you’re afraid of making mistakes, because you will make mistakes – just make sure you learn from them!

Social media and disaster management

Social media and public health is a diverse field, and there is always some new corner to explore! These days I am increasing my knowledge on the use of social media for disaster management and coordination. The reason for this is that I next week will be giving a lecture on the topic to students at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen.

It has been exiting to dig into a new field and to experience how social media really presents great new opportunities, but of course also new challenges. Since I haven’t previously worked specifically with disaster management, I choose a few weeks ago to ask my Twitter followers for help on finding good literature and resource people in the field. And once again, Twitter didn’t let me down.Tweet

Blogs, website and hashtags

I got a lot of great inputs to blogs, websites, Twitter chats, hashtags and people to follow and hook up with on Twitter (a big thank you to all of you who responded!).

The blogs are a good starting point, especially since most of them offer great links to other resources. The most helpful so far have been the website/blog Social Media 4 Emergency Management. From here there is access to wikis, archives of Twitter chats (#smemchat), videos, blogs etc. on social media and emergency management. The only ‘problem’ with the website is that there is almost too much information.

Another super helpful resource is the blog idisaster2.0 (primarily run by @kim26stephens). It have lots of informative blog posts as well as a good bibliography of selected academic and government resources on social media and emergency management.

Own experiences with disasters and social media?

When I was asked to give the lecture, I hesitated for a moment, because what did I know about emergencies and disasters? Apart from my solid knowledge of social media in public health, including some superficial insight into its role in disasters, I had never had anything to do with disasters or least of all experienced it… However, the later is not true, I quickly realised. I have actually to some extend been in an emergency setting and I have in fact experienced the role of social media in a disaster situation.

Earthquake in Japan in 2011

japan earthquake

I was in Japan, when the big earthquake, subsequent tsunami and finally the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis occurred in March 2011. Being relatively far from the epicenter of the disaster (I was based in Kobe in the Kansai region), I wasn’t directly surrounded by flooded buildings, elevated radiation risks or other immediate danger. But I was surrounded by potential danger, by worried friends and family in Denmark and by Japanese friends and colleagues with close relatives in the affected areas.

helpjapannowLooking back on my Facebook timeline, I can now see how social media actually played an important role for me during the emergency. I used Facebook to assure others that I was okay and kept them updated on my situation. I started following the Danish Embassy in Japan’s Facebook page through which they several times daily shared information about risks, advice on how to act and the organisation of potential evacuation. I encourage the mobilization of emotionally and financial support to Japan by sharing links and QR-codes. And I experienced how a Japanese colleague of mine after days of no contact with her sister living in Sendai where the tsunami hit, finally through Facebook got in contact and found out that her and her were safe…

So yes, I have actually experienced a disaster, and experienced how social media can be used in this kind of situation. I plan to share my experiences as a case with the students next week and hope that this real life experience can contribute to the understanding and some discussions.

Your help

Although I already got great tips from people on Twitter, I am still the happy receiver of inputs on social media and emergencies/disaster management. Suggestions on discussion topics, assignments or any other ideas on how to involve the students are more than welcome as are links to guidelines, scientific articles etc.