Discussions on VOST at BlueLightCamp

BlueLightCamp took place in Birmingham last weekend (6 and 7 June). I expected there to be some discussion on VOST* and there was.

I wasn’t expecting there to be so much discussion, and planning, but there was.

@Rubonist pitched a session on VOST on Saturday and several of us who think the idea has merit for the UK got together with some who are unconvinced and some who had never heard of the idea.

I thought this was a really useful discussion. It crystallised some thinking for me, especially the fact that we need to separate out the way of working: the VOST mission as it were, from the staffing (volunteers or paid staff). We need to recognise that actually there are several conceptual leaps that people need to make if they are to get their heads around what we are proposing:

  • there is useful data in social networks
  • that data is not currently available to decision makers in emergencies in the UK
  • if it were available they would make better decisions
  • processing that data requires specially trained people able to work together
  • they don’t need to be in the same location
  • those people could be specially trained volunteers (or specially trained employees)

I think I tend to jump straight to the end without checking everyone is with me through all the stages.

What was particularly significant about this for me was that (@mtthwhgn‘s point) we can talk about VOST as a process within multi-agency response without getting bogged down in the question of volunteers. So we might say it is a task for the comms/media cell, train comms officers and make sure that they have the ability (and technology) to operate a VOST.

I suspect (as I imagine most comms professionals in cat ones will) that comms teams won’t have the capacity to do that on top of their warning and informing tasks.

Which is why we keep talking about volunteers.

Not all of those who started the discussion unconvinced by the need left it with their minds transformed but I do think most people felt that there was a potentially useful role here which would fill a gap to some extent.

I went to an earlier workshop pitched by Neil Beet about, essentially, open source intelligence gathering (in terms of legal and social limits). This is a particular interest of mine. I think it would be useful to nail this issue in terms of VOST sooner rather than later.

I felt pretty positive about the engagement on VOST after day one, but there was more, much more, to come on day two.

*Virtual Operational Support Team. The very good idea that you can improve your information picture if you get a team dedicated to reviewing relevant social media stuff and telling you what is happening out there. They do it in other countries already.

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