CRISIS TWEETS: It’s raining, it’s pouring and the Environment Agency is tweeting

29606844754_e9719138bb_bIt’s been raining solidly for the past 24-hours and the flood warnings have been pouring in.

Winter is well and truly here and the risk of flooding is rising.

Step forward people who are using the web, email and social media to communicate.

Local government and fire, police and ambulance services all play a role. But the organisation that is head and shoulders above others in an emergency is the Environment Agency. The organisation has a highly devolved and regionalised social media policy that sees scores of staff trained on scores of accounts. There are also more than 80 different Twitter accounts as well as a presence on Facebook, Flickr and a blog. A webpage is also updated with flood warnings. You can search with your postcode for updates.

Why a regional, devolved approach works

The thinking is simple. If you like in Herefordshire  you’d want the information in your area. So with regional accounts there is a stream of information for your area. You don’t have to wade through Cumbrian updates, for example. The large numbers of staff trained also helps resilience. This makes perfect sense.

Post-truth the human face is even greater

I’ve been banging on about having members of staff posting in a human voice as themselves for years. They are able to build trust in peacetime and can find themselves calling on that well on good feeling when the chips are down. In the context of post-truth where no-one can entirely trust what they are reading the value of having a trusted member of staff with a social presence rises.

Which is all why Dave Throup, Herefordshire’s area manager, is a major asset. When the water levels rise Dave shares warnings as well as sharing other content.



But aside from warnings, there is content taken and posted by mobile phone. This adds to credibility and acts as a line of content for news outlets struggling with smaller newsrooms.


I’m not convinced that Twitter is the answer for everything. But in this case there is an established network and the updates reach journalists and community opinion formers. It would be interesting to see the EA searching for Facebook groups and pages to engage with in an emergency, for example. There are more than 30 such groups in the Shropshire town of Bewdley, for example. Some can reach severakl thousand people.

But overall, I love ikt. This is the perfect approach to take. A mix of national, regional and personal.

Picture credit: USDA / Flickr

WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works

12253595404_a7240a9652_bSo this, ladies and gentleman, is what I’ve been banging on for years. You give a smartphone and social media access to a frontline worker who ‘gets it’ and gets out of the office and then you sit back.

For the past six weeks swathes of England has been under water with the wettest January for more than 200 years deluging rivers and forcing them to burst their banks.  Platoons of soldiers have been deployed as local government, fire, the Environment Agency and others have battled .

Through it all an army of public sector people have worked on in damp, wet and miserable conditions often without credit or recognition.

One of those is Dave Throup, an Environment Agency manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire. When the radio need an update it is Dave who is the voice of the agency giving up-to-date updates on river levels, flood risks and advice.

He also uses Twitter to post real time updates that are hyperlocal and county wide. The state of flood barriers in Bewdley, business as usual messages in Ironbridge and advise not to drive through floods. Often they are basic mobile phone pictures like this one:

He’s using basic technology to post real time information at a time when people need it most. He also shares other people’s tweets and blogs here. He posts to Flickr too.

Why is this brilliant?

If you want the science, the Edelman Trust barometer talks of how staff lower down an organisation are trusted more than those at the top. People who are just like you are trusted even more. For communications people, this changes the game and turns on its head everything. To put it simply, the chief executive may not be the best person to front an interview or a campaign. The officer with the smartphone may well be. I say this repeatedly when I’m training people: it’s not enough to do a good job in the public sector in 2014. You need to tell people too. That’s why the people like Morgan Bowers the Walsall Council countryside ranger works really well on social. It’s a real person talking to a real person.

Why is Dave even more brilliant?

Public sector people get a shabby Press. Why? Because it’s always our fault. Often judged by people who proclaim to know the value of everything and the value of nothing and yet far, far more good is done by the public sector than bad. Dave is brilliant because he cares. People get that too. And yet there are so many people in the sector like him but for some reason he’s struck a chord with the folk who have come to rely on the information that he gives.

He’s also got a fan club:

So, here’s to Dave. And everyone in the public sector who does a vital job and that state of mind that elite public sector workers attain to.

Just think about what an army of people like Dave can do for the organisation they work in. Or what they could do for yours.

Creative commons credit

River Severn in flood

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