The Ways We Listen

By Carmela Burke, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

As we compose this piece, American Red Cross caseworkers are fanning out into communities in Texas affected by the recent round of severe weather.

Disaster relief workers in communities like those surrounding Austin and Houston are aware that the families they will be contacting about Red Cross services were evacuated during the Spring storms. Some of them have also been affected by both fire and flood back to back. The families will be trying to bring their lives and livelihoods back to normal.

Armed with this knowledge and with compassionate, open arms, caseworkers listen to each individual and, mutually, come up with a suitable recovery plan for the individual and/or family.  Both parties are realistic in that recovery from one disaster—much less back-to-back events—will take time.

The listening, however, does not stop there because client and caseworker will walk together through the disaster recovery process which also includes preparing for the next emergency.

While this is one of the many ways the Red Cross “listens” and responds to disaster, the Red Cross listens and responds in another unique way, too.  It’s called the Digital Operations Center, or as Red Crossers affectionately nickname it, the DigiDOC.

Powered and funded by the Dell Corporation, the American Red Cross has opened three

DigiDOC social media command centers in the United States.  The first center opened at the Red Cross national headquarters in Washington (D.C.) and the newest one in San Jose (CA) was inaugurated in April 2015.  The North Texas DigiDOC aka DigiDFW, went live April 2014 and is housed in the American Red Cross North Texas Regional office in Dallas.

Listening happens this way: Volunteers trained in Red Cross social media basics, digital communications, messaging and procedures work to monitor and engage in social conversations before, during and after disasters to help anticipate and respond to  emergency needs.  They are also able to connect more people with resources during and after an emergency. They monitor weather reports and relay actionable information to disaster relief operations locally and nationally in affected areas.

Another way of listening is to engage with partner agencies, corporate partners, donors and peers as a means to share real-time information, say thank you and give “digital hugs,”  said Taelor Duckworth, digital communications specialist at DigiDFW.

All three DigiDOCs run on the Radian6 platform to find out what is being posted on social spaces like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and others.  Here are examples from the Texas Spring Storms of how the DigiDOC was a key component in disaster relief operations:

  • More than 35 digital volunteers or “digivols” logged over 500 social media listening hours in a span of 3 months.
  • Digivols ran or supported the entire state of Texas in the digital space: 19 Facebook pages, 14 Twitter handles, 3 blog sites, 3 YouTube accounts, and 3 Flickr photostreams.
  • We connected a family with hearing disabilities to a caseworker on the ground in their area from over 200 miles away through Facebook.

Now moving into the fall storms, the DigiDOC is back to supporting a statewide relief operation once again. Digital volunteers are listening closely to the social spaces, combing through thousands of messages in search of damage and impacted areas to determine who needs help the most and also responding to questions of how to get and give help.

Since October 23, the digital volunteer team has been supporting the relief efforts in Texas to ensure that help is being provided wherever it is needed. From flooding in Central and South Texas as well as the Texas Gulf Coast to the tornado watches and warnings in North Texas, the digiteam has worked ‘round the clock to provide information and comfort to the victims of disaster.

Sometimes they act from their personal accounts, and sometimes they run the official Red Cross feeds. But you can always count on them to have accurate and helpful information.

Here are some messages we’ve seen and sent:

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For more about the DigiDOC and how you can join the team, here’s Taelor’s post about the August 2015 Spring Storms:

For information about where our casework teams will be listening in and around Austin and Houston, visit the Texas Gulf Coast blog and the Central and South Texas blog.

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