Technology and Crisis Communication Panel at SXSW. Vote?


Please vote for my panel at SXSW DON’T PANIC ““ The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis


A little more than four years ago I wrote my first blog post. It was about the need for a form of Emergency RSS. We can share celebrity gossip headlines through feed readers faster than we could use technology to respond to a crisis. And this was an important point as I started blogging in 2005 right after and in response to a need to share after Hurricane Katrina. Katrina Lower 9th Ward PhotoCrisis response and crisis communication has always been a passion of mine, and seeing our government’s mostly failed response in New Orleans compelled me to start blogging and contributing where I could.

Running the company I chose to stay in town during the Hurricane Rita evacuation. While Rita did not hit Houston, instead crushing the gulf coast near Beaumont with little news coverage in the wake of Katrina, we did learn from the Rita evacuation. We used a wiki page on Tendenci (our software) to track down all employees. Employees on the road, which for some of them was 10 to 20 hours during the evacuation, would text their manager’s who then updated the wiki to account for everyone. We quickly knew everyone was OK.

Then last year we prepared for Hurricane Ike which went over our town. When the storm hit the ONLY thing that worked was SMS messaging. No power, no water, no data, no TV. Just radio and text messaging.  Hurricane Ike hits at nightLuckily we had set up a product called Yammer, which is like Twitter for your company (and they have a business model) and we were able to keep in touch. Data services, which is what your cell phone depends on to get to web pages, went down. Voice went down. The only thing that allowed us to keep in touch with all of our employees and their families was text messaging sent directly and through Yammer.

We learned a lot about the role of tech in a crisis combined with human behavior. Example – an employee’s cell phone would die. They would use someone else’s cell to text a message to their manager saying “we are OK and staying near College Station”. Except that is ALL they would say. We didn’t recognize the number and had no idea WHO sent it! The solution was to train all of our people to put their NAMES at the end of each text message. Seems like a small thing. It is. But it makes it possible to do a head count!

Since 2005 our firm now does the web site for the Houston Red Cross and Reliant Park, both of which are key for Houston Emergency Response planning. We have the privilege of working with Firestorm Crisis Communications and Preparedness and long time clients like crisis communicator Dan Keeney. I have attended Netsquared Houston meetings when David Geilhufe taught us about People Finder Information Format. And I work with people like Jonti and Katie who have helped all of us set up our ICE cards for our families.

Now I need your help. I’d like to continue the dialog on Social Media and Emergency Response. What IS the role of twitter beyond updates? What are the alternatives for Yammer? Is there a cost effective solution for businesses and families? We have come a long way, so let’s talk about it.

PLEASE VOTE AND COMMENT on this SXSW Panel I hope to moderate. Without your vote and your comments the panel might not make. And I believe in this topic too much to see that happen. Spare a minute? Please VOTE!

DON’T PANIC ““ The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis

Are you and the people you care about prepared? Our panelists will share their crisis stories and tell you how to be ready, both online and offline. PFIF, Yammer, Facebook and iPhones ““ the technology and strategy is there and getting better, so let’s take it to the next level.

  1. How does emergency response and communication relate to the Web? Do developers and small business owners really need to care about Crisis Communication?
  2. How can our emergency teams (fire, ambulance, police, etc.) benefit from standardized data sharing? What can I do about it?
  3. What does the rise of Mobile Web mean for the next natural disaster or other catastrophe?
  4. What tools (Web, mobile and otherwise) are out there right now that my family, friends and company should be using now?
  5. As a geek, what are 5 things you should do TODAY to keep your family safe and your business running when disaster strikes?
  6. If practice makes perfect, what kind of drills and regular training should your business be doing right now that won’t break the bank or kill your billable hours?
  7. What are some of the technical lessons we learned from Hurricane Katrina?
  8. Tech and communication stories and lessons from Virginia Tech, Hurricane Ike and beyond…
  9. What is a crisis to you and how do you strategically and technologically deal with it internally and for the rest of the world to see?
  10. How can you best identify your strongest and most reliable communicators and rock stars during times of crisis? How do you deal with employees that book it and vendors that disappear?

Why am I doing this?

Well, it isn’t for business as I have no financial ties to yammer or twitter or any other messaging services. Tendenci is a content management system that powers associations and sites like the Houston Red Cross, but they are already customers. And ANY emergency response technology must be open source for maximum adoption long term. I just believe passionately in our need to share information and I think technology can help with crisis communication. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter bring a lot to the table. If you, like me, are passionate about this, please vote for the panel “DON’T PANIC ““ The Geek’s Guide to the Next Big Crisis” and I hope to see you in Austin next March!

Seattle Monorail

From our recent trip to Seattle – video of the Seattle Monorail. Like a rollercoaster, but slower.

Don’t fake reviews. Or else.

From the New York Times

Company Settles Case of Reviews It Faked

Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company, has reached a settlement with the State of New York over its attempts to fake positive consumer reviews on the Web, the New York attorney general’s office said Tuesday.

The company had ordered employees to pretend they were satisfied customers and write glowing reviews of its face-lift procedure on Web sites, according to the attorney general’s statement. Lifestyle Lift also created its own sites of face-lift reviews to appear as independent sources.

Full article here.

The short version is “don’t submit fake reviews.” Pretty basic really.

Chron Post: The roaming chainsaw gangs of Houston

Recent post on the Chron: The roaming chainsaw gangs of Houston.

Hurricanes bring about unexpected responses in us humans. It’s like the first time you see your dog or cat catch a squirrel and they go all primal on it. And you are looking at your little FeFe thinking “WHERE the $#(@ did they learn how to do THAT!?” And of course the answer is instinct.

And the morning after Hurricane Ike went over our house, once we accounted for our loved ones, our instinct was twofold.

  1. Clean up!
  2. Stay put

This makes little sense to me why these desires were so strong, but they were. Arguably a third response was “find a way to make coffee” but coffee is probably more an addiction than an instinct (and YES, you CAN make coffee on a gas grill). I’ll talk about the “stay put” instinct in a future blog post, but for now, let’s talk about that “clean up!” stuff.

So that morning we all wandered out of our houses, the wind from Ike still blowing, and began to assess the damage and clean up our yards. Yup, first response after a hurricane was yard work. Really. Dog instincts are much more interesting if you ask me. In instinct-heaven dogs are throwing squirrels 20 feet up into the air waiting for the bounce while I’m raking the yard. Baroo?

Anyway, there we were cleaning up the yard. Stacking branches by the curb. And cutting up the bigger ones with an axe left over from my Totin’ Chip days. Because I didn’t own a chain saw.

Then from elsewhere in our neighborhood emerged a strange phenomenon. The men who had the forethought to purchase chainsaws, once they finished cutting up their yards, moved to the neighbors’ yards. A small group of three of four would go in and cut up the tree limbs. And another larger group of men and teenagers followed and stacked the wood by the curb. What I observed was they did this for all comers responding to both requests and simply walking to a neighbor’s yard and getting started if they were in town or not! With no money changing hands.

Definitely the first self-organizing philanthropic chainsaw gangs I had ever encountered.

Read complete post here. And of course comments are encouraged on the Chron site!

Speaking to Association of Fundraising Professionals Fri 8-21-09

While I have the privilege of speaking to groups throughout the US on a somewhat regular basis, it seems like I speak out afp houston screenshot for public speakingof town more than in town! One of those ironies of being a speaker. While particularly honored to speak to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Houston Chapter, it is even better that it is here in Houston this Friday August 21 at the Junior League! From the description of August Educational Seminar on the AFP Houston site:

Online fundraising has already changed the landscape for many organizations, but in today’s environment it is becoming even more important.   At this session you will learn to tie traditional strategies and new tools together.   You will learn the importance of storytelling, sharing triumphs, and the “3 motivations of Humans“.   In addition, you will witness the current trends and technologies that are making a difference to local organizations.

Hope to see y’all there on Friday! Now go register, it’s only $25 bucks y’all! I promise great content and a reasonable response to any hecklers. Heh.

Chron Blog Post: The Unnecessary Apologist

New post up on Chron’s list blog: The Unnecessary Apologist

The proprietors weren’t the in-your-face preachy kind of folks. Typically quiet, he became a loud fellow who would amble up to the register for the lunch rush like he was holding court. A different joke for each of the regulars….

The deli was a small family-owned shop and the owners were an older couple who, like many, walked the walk more than talked about it. The only way we really knew they were religious besides their actions was they closed the deli early on Wednesday night to host bible study. All the cotton-tops would wander in and gather near the front while we were still mopping behind the counter and calling in the bread order for tomorrow.

I mention my work schedule to apologize for something really bone headed that I did.

Years ago I worked 40 hours a week at a deli in San Antonio Texas over the summer. This was in addition to mowing lawns on Sundays when the deli was closed and working three or four nights a week as a server at Pizza Hut until 2AM. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college and as a young man I could survive on little sleep and a few beers after work. NoDoz was my friend… Continue reading on the chron site here.

Joni Mitchell ““ Free Man in Paris

Caveau De La Huchette
Caveau De La Huchette

The way I see it he said
You just can’t win it
Everybody’s in it for their own gain
You can’t please ’em all
There’s always somebody calling you down
I do my best
And I do good business
There’s a lot of people asking for my time
They’re trying to get ahead
They’re trying to be a good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favors
And no one’s future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song

I deal in dreamers
And telephone screamers
Lately I wonder what I do it for
If l had my way
I’d just walk through those doors
And wander
Down the Champs Elysees
Going cafe to cabaret
Thinking how I’ll feel when I find
That very good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
Nobody was calling me up for favors
No one’s future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song


Foundation Blocks of Modern Finance vs 2009

Ran into this 2004 economics paper referenced by Wayne Marr on twitter. Several quotes that jumped out at me for a variety of reasons. All economics links added by me.Capital_Market_Line

“The foundation blocks of standard finance were now in place, supporting one another.   Investors are rational, prices are efficient, risk is measured by beta and investors form portfolios by the rules of mean-variance portfolio theory.” (1968) (pg 6)


“…a 1929 article in The Literary Digest stated: “The first step in a safe and sane financial program is insurance”¦After insurance, the next requirement is to build up a cash reserve of at least $1,000 in the savings bank.   After that, automatic thrift should be contracted for through installment savings plans, such as building-and-loan associations offer.   When these fundamental steps have been taken, the investor is in position to acquire high-grade bonds and guaranteed first mortgages on real-estate.   The next advance can be toward diversified preferred stocks, which offer a somewhat higher return”¦.The last step should be outright purchase of the best grade of diversified common stock.“   (p. 55).” (pg 11)

Is it just me or does that advice from 1929 advice sound a lot like the cult of, sage advice giver, Dave Ramsey? Hmmm. The article concludes

Facts I did not know then but know now show that speculators stabilize prices at some times but destabilize them at others.   I have changed my mind as facts changed.

Much of finance has changed since the Financial Analysts Journal was founded in 1945, but the drive to uncover facts and make sense of them remains. Change of mind is an integral part of the process. As Maynard Keynes famously said “When the facts change, I change my mind.   What do you do, sir?“

– Statman,   Klimek, 2004

Some of these economics debates will never be settled. If investors are rational or normal for example. If speculators stabilize or destabilize markets.

I’d expect some economics debates will be settled sooner such as if high speed computers give an unfair advantage. Or if commercial real estate is in a bubble. What I do know is we aren’t out of the woods yet in 2009. But I have a sneaking optimism which is somewhat unlike me when it comes to our financial systems…