Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Twitter and bushfires

Yesterday we had a bad bushfire day here in Canberra.

We got through and nothing really bad happened but on days like yesterday you're always a little bit on edge.

One of the important things about days like yesterday is communication, and here twitter came into its own. The Emergency Services Agency posted regular updates on events, with meaningful descriptions and links to detailed posts on their blog site.

The thing about twitter is that it stayed up and it got the message out, even when at busy times, the ESA's main site struggled.

There's a message here for all problem management guidelines. Fortunately we don't all have to manage bushfires, but I did once have to manage a major SAN failure, and learned the hard way that communication is key.

Tell people what is happening, tell them when the next update will be, and be accurate. No spin, no doom and gloom. If the problem is being worked on and there's no accurate time to fix, say so. If you're having an unexpected delay, say so.

The point is that people may not like it when you tell the truth but they'll take you seriously when you tell them.

One of the best techniques I have found is that when there is crisis, appoint someone like a moderately technical manager to manage the communications. That way he or she can ask the engineers what's going on, and understand what's being said to them. Use someone from corporate communications and they won't understand the implications of what they're being told, or worse keep on hassling the people trying to fix the problem with inane supplementaries.

Like all good management it's basically common sense, but even so it's a good idea to work out how you're going to do things in advance. Like the bushfire survival plans the Rural Fire Service keeps on telling us to make, it means that you make decisions about what you're going to do and how you're going to it in advance so you know what to do and there's no last minute arguments about what's going to have to happen ...

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