Pandemic Exercise with Bloggers
We routinely hold readiness exercises at HHS on various emergency scenarios. Typically, people from various parts of the emergency management community sit around a square table, and a moderator paints a picture of a disaster unfolding. It is like a reader’s theater. As events are described, each actor assumes their part, describing what they are thinking and doing to respond.
Slowly, the moderator heightens the stakes and intensifies the nature of the problems, throwing out more complicated circumstances, and challenging the reasoning various players use. It is an excellent way to learn and refine emergency protocols.
Monday, we had another exercise on pandemic influenza. Included in the exercise was a group of journalists, including bloggers. Not amateur bloggers like me. Real pros, people who have built reputations with their readers for innovation and speed.
We invite journalists to participate in our exercises because managing their needs for information is a part of crisis management. We need to learn more about how bloggers would react and interact.
Television reporter Forrest Sawyer was the moderator. He has done several of our exercises and he’s very good. He laid out a set of facts that represent routine health news from around the world and laced it with a few interesting tidbits that could attract the interest of people following the flu world.
Turning to public health officials at the table, Mr. Sawyer asked if they found any of the news that day interesting or concerning. He did the same with the journalists, asking what they would do to get more information and how big a story they thought it was. As the facts became more concerning, several observations came to me.
I found it reassuring how important accuracy was to those that attended our session. They were willing to report rumors but made a point of distinguishing them as such. Many of them said they had separate sections of the page for rumors.
The blogs represented at our session tended to be rather specialized and the bloggers knew a lot about the subject matter. It made them better at challenging the facts they were given. I suspect in a major emergency we would be dealing with a broader range of understanding than in our exercise. These people knew their stuff.
I was surprised how much interaction there is between online communities. They seem to share information, monitoring one another’s sites.
More than one of the blogs talked about the way they use traditional news sources but provide added value. One example is translating foreign news articles into English.
I enjoyed watching the interaction between traditional media and blogs. It’s clear television, major radio and newspapers are monitoring blogs all the time. It is also evident most of them are starting to use blogs to supplement their own reporting. The unlimited supply of space and time is appealing to traditional journalists.
The exercise went most of the day. I was only able to stay until noon, but it was a morning full of learning.
The bottom line for me: Government needs to understand the blog world better, and factor it into the way we interact with people. A growing part of the world relies on bloggers for unvarnished information; something they are not sure they always get from us in government.