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Quick Report - VOSG/T Concept March 24, 2011

Monday April 4, 2011


by Jeff Phillips (@LosRanchosEM) jphillips@losranchosnm.gov

Virtual Operations Support Group/Team (VOSG/T)

Since starting to use social media in my emergency management program in late 2009 I have
had in my mind the concept of integrating ‘trusted agents’ into emergency operations. The
#SMEM Camp at #NEMA11 on March 24, 2011 provided a perfect ‘no-fault’ environment to
demonstrate ‘proof of concept’ for what I call Virtual Operations Support.

I was also looking to demonstrate that you can, in fact, exercise SMEM (Social Media in
Emergency Management) without resorting to contrived scenarios and phony posts.

In mid-March I tweeted “who wants to participate on a Virtual Operations Support Team


(VOST)?” Even without clearly understanding what I meant several of my closest social media
friends said “yes, tell me what you want me to do!” Heartened by the responses I replied “I’m
adding you to the list. Save the date, more details to come”

On March 16th I created and shared a Modified_ICS_204_#SMEM_Camp_at_#NEMA11


with the prospective VOST members and started a ‘closed’ skype chat for orientation and
collaboration purposes. Find the scrubbed Modified_ICS_204_#SMEM_Camp_at_#NEMA11
(ATTACHMENT B) or at the link
https://docs.google.com/viewer?
a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B2wR41dzfxgyYjM0NDI0ZWYtOGI3YS00NjEzLWJiZj
QtNGNiZTc0NDg1YTU1&hl=en

Use of the ICS 204 Assignment List was very important for me to demonstrate the concept of
bringing virtual volunteers into my existing CONOPS/business practices. The VOST members
were serious about the assignments and whether or not they had familiarity with ICS and
emergency management they willingly worked within this structure. I was able to consistently
describe concepts and principles and demystify, if you will, the EM world a bit.

Using the skype chat was very important and helpful in this regard, with the added benefit of
building a sense of team as members interacted and got to know one another.

I figured on having 4 or 5 people in a single VOST but as the number of volunteers grew I
added a 2nd and then 3rd VOST and created a VOSG (Virtual Operations Support Group). This
allowed me to describe/demonstrate the principles of Span of Control and Unity of Command.

Knowing three of my close friends and colleagues (@joelarn @tijtechops and @bwfabq) would
be at NEMA with me I planned to put them in leadership positions. Putting a little bit of ops
together with a little bit of SM/tech worked like a charm. It also connected the ‘virtual’ with
the ‘on site’ event/incident management. When my new friend @kc5fm @altusem in Altus, OK
said he wanted in and recruited @okicemap folks and @okem I made him TL of VOST3.

Using a cloud based document (the ICS 204 on a google document) allowed the VOSG/T
members to contribute to its development. Ultimately the 204 went through 15-20 versions
before being finalized without ever having to worry about emailing and version control, etc. Nor
did I have to worry about ‘ownership’ as I retained control over viewing, editing, and sharing
privileges (I am a control freak after all).

There ended up being 16 people involved in the VOSG/T concept, ten of whom were not
present in Alexandria, VA. These ten people were spread across the country in all four
timezones and had varying degrees of availability that day. This presented a few management
challenges:

● I instructed everyone to convert everything to Eastern Daylight Time


● I added an availability table on top of the 204 with 1 hour increments and a simple YES,
NO, Maybe scheme that could be easily updated by the team members and also easy to
view and manage from by the TLs.
● I made VOST assignments based on a combination of geography and availability

If you’re reading this far then you’ve seen the Modified ICS 204. It’s a great tool for organizing
divisions, groups, teams and task forces and providing mission critical information such as
assignment details, special instructions/considerations and detailing intra- and inter-team
communications. In this case I gave the VOSG the following assignments:

CONTROL OPERATIONS

1. Maintain operational communications within VOSG and with event operations


Develop, publish and maintain a modified ICS Form 205 to address
communications channels being used during this operation [VOST3 in
coordination with Group Sup & other VOSTs]

2. Maintain situational awareness on/around event through #SMEM #SMEM11


#NEMA #NEMA11 and other SM platforms in use
Address real world issues for situational awareness as well.
Archive all #SMEM Camp at #NEMA11 related posts from all platforms in use

3. Facilitate event remote viewing & participation by SMEM and other SM users
Engage to explain what’s going on and how to view/participate [All VOSTs]
Provide background/context on SMEM initiative [All VOSTs]
Periodically tweet the #SMEM11 hashtag and introduce what it means with link to
NEMA web site [All VOSTs]

4. Identify and resolve problems with remote viewing & participation


Technologies to support include Skype, Twitter, Ustream … others?
Essential Support Function-2 concerns include information technology, voice and
data communications as well as landline and cellular communications

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS

This is an exercise of the concept of organizing ‘trusted agents’ into recognized


operational structures using principles and practices of ICS to perform necessary
functions in support of emergency response & recovery operations.

This activity is for ‘proof of concept’ and thereby active learning and experimentation is
encouraged.

Record activities for the purpose of documenting and evaluating the exercise in order to
advance the concept.

I added a note to the 204: “A key point from me to you is - having been given the assignment/
tasks you the VOSG and VOSTs will coordinate on how to make it happen” I knew full well what
was in store for me as I was in a lead role in #SMEM Camp at #NEMA11 so I was counting on
the VOSG to “have my back.” I made a 2 ½ minute video half way through the day that captures
my mindset http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/13534359

I have been developing ‘trusted agents’ and this VOSG/T concept with the understanding that if/
when we have a major emergency in my area I will NEED assistance in the social media realm.
I fully intend to hand off my social media accounts and make assignments like those in the 204
to ‘trusted agents’ whether they are physically proximate to me or half way around the world.

So, am I happy with how this turned out? Yes! Most definitely. It exceeded my hopes and
expectations. Is it easily replicable? For me, yes. For others, probably, but I understand perhaps
with a bit more caution.

I’m very proud that the VOSG/T folks not only interacted on Facebook but created a Facebook
page http://www.facebook.com/pages/SMEM-VOSG/175548159160232?ref=ts. I encourage
you to check this out and tell me if you think they embraced the mission.

So that’s it for now. I wanted to get some of my thoughts out there as soon as I could to
advance the conversation. I set this document up on the cloud so that the VOSG/T folks could
openly comment because they know a heck of a lot better how things went on March 24th.
ATTACHMENT A - Post Event Thoughts, Issues and Comments

Jeff Phillips (@LosRanchosEM) ...the name...


I’ve gone round and round on what to call this and continue to settle on ‘Virtual Operations
Support’ rather than Social Media Team or some others. I could be swayed and may in fact call
it something else in the future. To me that’s less important than the concept of integrating social
media monitoring and engagement into my CONOPS. With that in mind I reserve the right to
use single resources, officers, teams, task forces, units, groups, branches, etc in any way I see
fit. I’ll use it in the way I think will get the job done for me for any particular operational period
depending on the situation and the general control objectives. Form follows function.

Jeff Phillips (@LosRanchosEM) ...formalizing...


For #SMEM Camp at #NEMA11 I activated:
1. Unaffiliated Volunteers
2. Affiliated Volunteers from other areas
3. Local government personnel from other areas
4. State government personnel from other areas
I had no pre-existing arrangement with any of them and I wonder if this was NOT a proof of
concept 'no fault' event if any or all of them would require a ‘formal’ arrangement, for example,
an MOU or waiver, etc? Well, the answer is, probably. This is something that I’ll need to give
some more thought to and I welcome others to weigh in.

Cheryl Bledsoe’s (@CherylBle) Thoughts on the VOST/VOSG Application to the Real World.....
https://docs.google.com/viewer?
a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B2wR41dzfxgyNmVmM2NlNDktNzlmOC00YTliLTg2Y
WUtOTQ5ZDRiMzAwZjZm&hl=en

Scott Reuter (@sct_r) Overall... it's just a great concept and seems like a great way to develop
the "digital operations center" idea. Looking forward to hearing how you and Cheryl - who are
actually working on policy and the nuts and bolts of implementing such a plan from inside -
incorporate this in to your plans.

Via twitter:
@sct_r scott reuter - Enjoyed reviewing @losranchosem & @cherylble writing RE VOST
concept. Thanks 4 your work & thanks 2 the other "trusted agents" in VOSG

@CherylBle Cheryl Bledsoe - @sct_r having now seen proof of concept, challenge will
be to formalize for use in EOC environments #VOSG

@sct_r scott reuter - @cherylble interested in how u plan 2 use VOSG in interim until
policy is official -just in case disaster hits b4 policy fully developed

@CherylBle Cheryl Bledsoe - @sct_r I think those of us who have relationships with
trusted agents will be able to use in interim. Those w/o = wont @losranchosem #vost
ATTACHMENT B Modified_ICS_204_#SMEM_Camp_at_#NEMA11

*** Scrubbed version - removed personal contact information ***

General Availability Table (Time are Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday March 24th)
Name 0700 0800 0900 1000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700

Heather YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Blanchard, IC

Pascal Schuback, YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
LSC

Jeff Phillips, YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
OSC

Joel Arnwine, YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Group Sup

Brian Fields, YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST1 TL

Marlita Reddy- YES NO NO YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Hjelmfelt, VOST1

Joanna Lane, No YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST1

Stayce Smith, NO NO NO YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST1

Eric Kant, YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST2 TL

Scott Reuter, Maybe YES YES YES YES YES YES YES NO NO Maybe
VOST2

Cheryl Bledsoe, YES YES NO NO NO NO NO YES YES YES YES


VOST2

@metalerik, NO NO NO NO NO Maybe YES Maybe NO NO NO


VOST2

Scott Clemetson, NO NO NO YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST2

Lloyd Colston, Maybe Maybe YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST3 TL
John Owen Butler, NO YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
VOST3

Keli Cain, NO NO YES YES NO NO NO YES NO YES YES


VOST3

Modified ICS Form 204 - ASSIGNMENT LIST:


Final as of Wednesday March 23 at 1930 hrs EDT

1. BRANCH: NA
2. DIVISION/GROUP: Virtual Operations Support Group (VOSG)
3. INCIDENT NAME: #SMEM Camp at #NEMA11
4. OPERATIONAL PERIOD: DATE: Thursday March 24, 2011 TIME: Approx 0730-1700 EDT
5. OPERATIONAL PERSONNEL
OPERATIONS CHIEF: Jeff Phillips @LosRanchosEM
DIVISION/GROUP SUPERVISOR: Joel Arnwine @joelarn
BRANCH DIRECTOR: NA
AIR TACTICAL GROUP SUPERVISOR: NA

6. RESOURCES ASSIGNED TO THIS PERIOD

RESOURCE DESIGNATOR:

VOST1 (4 persons - TL= Brian Fields @bwfabq


Personnel:
Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt @theredelm
Joanna Lane @SoutholdVOICE
Stayce Smith @staycesing

VOST2 (5 persons - TL= Eric Kant @TIJTechOps


Personnel:
Scott Reuter @sct_r
Cheryl Bledsoe @cherylble
@metalerik
Scott Clemetson @DisasterManSC

VOST3 (3 persons - TL= Lloyd Colston @kc5fm


Personnel:
John Owen Butler @OKIceMap
Keli Cain @kelicain

7. CONTROL OPERATIONS

1. Maintain operational communications within VOSG and with event operations


a. Develop, publish and maintain a modified ICS Form 205 to address
communications channels being used during this operation [VOST3 in
coordination with Group Sup & other VOSTs]
2. Maintain situational awareness on/around event through #SMEM #SMEM11 #NEMA
#NEMA11 and other SM platforms in use
a. Address real world issues for situational awareness as well.
b. Archive all #SMEM Camp at #NEMA11 related posts from all platforms in use

3. Facilitate event remote viewing & participation by SMEM and other SM users
a. Engage to explain what’s going on and how to view/participate [All VOSTs]
b. Provide background/context on SMEM initiative [All VOSTs]
c. Periodically tweet the #SMEM11 hashtag and introduce what it means with link to
NEMA web site [All VOSTs]

4. Identify and resolve problems with remote viewing & participation


a. Technologies to support include Skype, Twitter, Ustream … others?
b. Essential Support Function-2 concerns include information techology, voice and
data communications as well as landline and cellular communications

8. SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS

This is an exercise of the concept of organizing ‘trusted agents’ into recognized


operational structures using principles and practices of ICS to perform necessary
functions in support of emergency response & recovery operations.

This activity is for ‘proof of concept’ and thereby active learning and experimentation is
encouraged.

Record activities for the purpose of documenting and evaluating the exercise in order to
advance the concept.

Since we will have people in all timezones within the VOSG convert all times to Eastern
Daylight Time (EDT) for standardization.

#SMEM Camp @ NEMA Pre-Event Participant Survey http://bit.ly/eggO09

9. DIVISION/GROUP COMMUNICATIONS SUMMARY

Make use of all available communications nodes (ie Twitter, Skype, Google, Pirate Pad,
email, phone, etc)

Detailed:
○ Skype Chat - VOSG/VOST for #SMEM Camp at #NEMA11
○ Email list -
○ Conference call bridge - Dial 619-2-RONDEE (619-276-6333) and enter individual
PIN
○ Pirate Pad for the VOSG/T to use http://piratepad.net/WPfhIVqFEf
○ Ustream Channel link
PREPARED BY (RESOURCE UNIT LEADER): Jeff Phillips @LosRanchosEM
APPROVED BY (PLANNING SECT. CH.): Same
DATE Wednesday, March 23, 2011
TIME 1800 hrs EDT

Comments / Questions / Suggestions (For ICS 204)

For purposes of this exercise Heather Blanchard @poplifegirl is Incident Commander and Pascal
Schuback @schuback is Logistics Section Chief. I’ll be listed as Operations Section Chief - Jeff

#SMEM Camp at #NEMA11 provides us a ‘no-fault’ environment to try out new tools and colaboration
ideas. This VOSG/VOST concept is one I’ve been working on for awhile and hope to actually
demonstrate the concept and the benefits - Jeff

A key point from me to you is - having been given the assignment/tasks you the VOSG and VOSTs will
coordinate on how to make it happen - Jeff