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Quickly Noted: American Red Cross Disaster Blog

July 10, 2007

390325055_29d0d4ddf0_mHat tip to Bob Spieldenner at the CrisisCommunication blog pointing out the newish American Red Cross Disaster News blog.

First of all, I really do have to give kudos to the ARC for their whole-hearted push into online media. As we’ve noted before, with IM and Web 2.0 offerings already on the table, the establishment of a blog is the next obvious step. These are great offerings that show how cutting edge the ARC truly is, and is a testament to their longevity.

That said, I have to agree with Bob when he says:

What’s wrong with using their Web site for updates? Isn’t it going to dilute the brand of their Web site? Will it confuse the public?

Redcross.org is an amazingly memorable website address, and it’s chock full of good information. So why point someone away from that resource? Even the two other services mentioned, i’m Ready to Help and the Safe and Well List are located on Red Cross servers. So one has to worry about why the change in tactics, especially when the software that is hosting this ARC Disaster News blog is freely available for download and installation on one’s own server?

I can think of only three reasons, and I hope that some of my Red Cross readers might be able to sniff this one out. One, this isn’t an official Red Cross endeavor, in which case, for shame. Two, it is what it is; although I really do have to wonder about the decision-making there. Three, this is a test case and is easily jettisoned if it fails. If this final point is the case, I think that one only has to look at the tremendous reach of individual blogs to recognize the value that can be garnered from this. I mean, you’re reading a blog right now. As the old salesmen used to say, “Does advertising work? In fact, it’s working on you!” Furthermore, if this truly is the case, get a real blogger on staff, or at least update once in a while. I believe this could be a great tool, it just needs some work.

Photo credit: kaymoshusband

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2007 12:19 pm

    I’ll be happy to address this.

    I’m Ike Pigott, the regional communications director for the southeastern U.S. I started kicking around the use of a blog engine as an online newsroom more than a year ago at a chapter level, and the proof-of-concept has worked well enough that we’re on our way to make it an SOP for all major domestic disasters.

    Now to some of your direct questions. We are going to host these pages on the redcross.org domain. It’s simply been a matter of finding the right blogging platform, with the proper tools for widespread administration and capability. While I am adept at installing individual WordPress sites, we need something faster and more robust – that we can turn on and run in a matter of hours and minutes.

    Yes, we have a great website with wonderful visibility. But that site was never designed for remote administration and content. The goal is to provide a channel for local media in the affected area to get updates as often as needed – 30 times a day if that’s what is required. You can’t do that with traditional web administration. Too many people to vet along the way, and it kills the timeliness of the information. Using a blog engine with a web-based interface, we can have more people contributing content from the field, with a closer sense of the needs and the messaging.

    We are in the process now of identifying a cadre of bloggers who can give some time during disasters to help us push information to the appropriate pages. In some cases, we’re training Red Cross disaster communicators on the fine points of blogging, and the interface. In others, we’re reaching out to experienced bloggers who know the technical side, and teaching them about how we respond, and how they can plug into the info stream. Ideally, an affected chapter with nothing more than cell or satellite phone access can call the information out to a remote blogger who populates the page – as many times as needed throughout the day. This provides a brand new type of volunteer opportunity, for people who’ve wanted to help but couldn’t make the commitment to deploy for several days into a disaster zone.

    You’re not seeing as many updates as we’d like to have because there’s a very small pool of folks we’ve identified for the task – and we’re still in the process of communicating to 760 chapters across the country that this is a viable and important tool. If chapters aren’t tuning their local news media toward this resource, then it is all for naught.

    There are a lot of pieces that must come together to make this work. We’ve identified them and are making them happen faster than anyone thought we could.

    We’d very much like to keep you in the loop. We’ll be happy to let you know when the blogs move to our redcross.org domain – and when we have a standardized curriculum and baseline skillset for those who want to help us. I also invite you to check out a little write-up on my personal blog: http://occamsrazr.com/2007/06/16/more-on-my-pet-project/

    Thanks – and feel free to shoot me an e-mail with any questions or suggestions. We want to make this project work to its potential, and your help would be appreciated.

    Ike.

  2. July 11, 2007 3:18 pm

    Ike:

    First of all, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I appreciate the work that you all have done and I’m continually impressed by the forward thinking that takes place in your organization.

    I guess the reason for my incredulity regarding the Red Cross Disaster News blog was that everything else seems so well put together, yet this seemed to have been thrown together and was growing in fits and starts. It turns out that I was more right than I give myself credit for – I saw something that’s still in the process of growing into a more classic Red Cross product. It is growing in fits and starts, as it should, given the proposed architecture.

    I wish I could say that I’ve been able to push my organization along the path you propose, as I feel your chapter-based goals mesh quite well with what we would need to do in an emergency. Alas, in the short time I’ve been here I haven’t been able to move it along. So while I complain about the state of your blog, it’s still much better than our blog.

    Finally, I want to thank all of the Red Cross readers. You guys really do a wonder for the ego with your page views.

    Thanks again Ike, and please look for an email from me, as I hope to continue this conversation off-line.

    Jimmy

  3. July 11, 2007 4:35 pm

    What you found is what we’re temporarily using as a portal page – the goal is to have a different blog (and more importantly a *different RSS feed*) for each disaster. (Someone else had it – WP shut it down – and was kind enough to give us admin rights for official purposes.)

    Part of this learning curve is getting more people trained. I wore myself out populating the twin blogs for the March 1st tornados in Enterprise and Americus. I set those up in an airport concourse, and ran them solo for 72 hours until I could train some people over the phone to take them over. Quality control is a concern, but so is getting the “buy-in” from so many parties: our chapters, local media, national media, our volunteers, and the disaster leadership. Few have adapted to a 24-hour news cycle, and this is the flexible sort of publishing vehicle that will let us tell our story with more passion and more immediacy.

  4. July 12, 2007 7:22 am

    Ike:

    Nobody ever said this stuff was easy. I can’t imagine handing someone else the keys to this blog, especially in a case like you describe above. It’s a testament to the quality of your volunteers that you can do that.

    I’m very impressed by the idea to differentiate feeds by event. Once you mention it, it makes perfect sense, but shows how completely you’ve thought this subject through.

    I’m interested in how the “buy-in” part of this is going. All of my efforts to institute changes requires more time devoted to getting folks to buy in than it took to develop and perfect the solution. Beyond that, I imagine that the public information folks in disaster leadership would balk early and often at this development.

    Thanks again for your time,
    Jimmy

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