What councillors should do online in emergencies

One of the workshops I attended at #localgovcamp this week was on councillors and digital. This has been written up by Dave McKenna as 11 digital tips for new councillors.

During that session a couple of councillors highlighted that they weren’t sure what the right thing was to do online during emergencies. Can we have 1 side of A4 telling us what to do? they asked.

This is an emerging area. I remember a deputy leader in a previous authority (some years ago) returning from her training at Easingwold to report that

“Councillors’ role in emergencies is to shut up and keep out of the way”

. That was only partly true then and it isn’t even slightly true now.

Though it is the case that dealing with emergencies is an operational matter and staff in public bodies are probably best left to get on with the job. There is still an important community leadership role for elected members which is both more important and made easier by digital tech.

Obviously as this is my particular area of interest I volunteered to draft something. Now obviously I am knowledgeable in this area but it’s not really my place to issue guidance to the thousands of councillors (tens of thousands?) across the country. So I’ve drafted something that could be used by comms teams or emergency planning teams to give to their members. It has so far, to my knowledge, been inspected by 2 people.

So let’s call this an Alpha version. I’ve put it on Penflip to make it easy for people to collaborate directly on it (please contact me if you’d like to do that) and to make it easy for people to fork it and release their own, improved versions.

And of course this may already exist. If it does let me know and I’ll save myself and maybe others a bunch of work.

Here is is on Penflip Draft guidance for local elected members: What you should and should not do online during an emergency.

First reflections on BlueLightCamp 2014

Had a great day at BlueLightCamp. Met some old friends, made some new friends, put some faces to Twitter handles. Got inspired. Thought about old things in new ways and thought about new things. Great job by Sasha, Clare, Christine, Mark, Simon and loads of others. The OS building is great. Here are some random bullets of my take aways.

Drones are here. They are cheap and accessible. They will get cheaper and more frequent. They clearly have significant public service benefits, there are legitimate concerns about their potential uses by the state (and companies) and there are real opportunities for their malicious uses. These are not hypothetical issues for some scientific future they are live, presenting issues. In a world where we are not reliably factoring social networking into our emergency plans are we, in fact, ready for the drones that are with us.

Robots next. We didn’t get into this but robotics is making rapid and interesting strides accelerated by an open source community and additive manufacturing. Drones and robots and 3d printers. I want that job.

We are making progress. Two years ago VOST felt like a solution in search of a problem. This time it seemed to be an answer to some real questions people were asking.

What is it legitimate for the state to do using open source intelligence? @wobable’s session was really thought provoking. Here’s how I see it. We haven’t agreed as a society what we want the state to do with the information we make public. What we regard as a legitimate use of our public conversations probably varies depends on who we are, what the circumstances are and which bit of the state is looking. A police force scanning Twitter for keywords during a public order policing operation probably feels more legitimate than a local authority drilling through Facebook to see who might have been dropping litter in a park. I’m making a set of assumptions here. On the other hand if the state stays out of these rich public environments then citizens might have a right to regard them as failing in their civic duty to engage with the people where the people are. The author of a Demos report into this a couple of years again says a reasonable expectation of privacy is a good way to start. It feels to me that a statement of policy with regards to open source intelligence would be a close second. Maybe we could crowd source something?

Terence Eden is a very clever and engaging man. I am not doing enough to disrupt my organisation. I am not encouraging and enabling innovation. We are not doing enough paper prototyping. We need a 3d printer. And a drone. And a robot. My team is pretty rapid though. 6 weeks to build new things. Pshaw!

I want to do more with Public-I.

We have so far to go with open data. And with data generally. And with helping the leaders of our organisations understand digital, and data, and networked society.

Your Chief Constable does not need to understand Twitter. I truly believe this. I’m not saying she shouldn’t understand Twitter. I’d be happy if she did. But Twitter is not a strategic issue. Twitter is a symptom of a strategic issue. The relationship between citizens and the state is changing. Power is becoming differently distributed as is legitimacy. Many of the assumptions upon which our democratic society is based are shifting. These are the things your Chief Constable (chief exec, Leader, CFO etc) should be concerned with. Not Twitter. They have you for Twitter.

Picture a Silver meeting. Serious folk are gathered around screens and maps. On a wall quiet and professional folk are updating the COmmonly Recognised Information Pictues (or whiteboard you might call it). Information is being shared rapidly and effectively between agencies. Joint decisions are reached and tasks are passed out to organisations. There is an atmosphere of urgency, seriousness and focus. Got that? Now imagine that you take out one of the walls and a bunch of your citizens are standing there. They want to join in. They want to see the CRIP. They want to give you data. They want to collaborate. This is a growing expectation. People do not want to get in, stay in and tune in. They want to join in. Not all of them and not always or to the same extend. But they do want to join in. We have the technology to make this happen. So what’s stopping us?

It’s a long way to Southampton but it is really important to get out of the day job and look at things from a different perspective with different people. Really important.

Transport Committee winter resilience report highlights

I’m experimenting with Ghost. This is a cross-post from a Ghost installation I’m playing with.

The House of Commons Transport Committee has published a “Ready and waiting? Transport preparations for winter weather”.

It is quite succinct and worth a skim if this is an area that interests you.

To save you even that slight trouble I have picked out what I see as the highlights.

Keep it up everyone

Essentially the report has a message of “keep up the good work”.

For example

We welcome the progress made in improving the winter resilience of the third rail network south of the Thames.


It is widely acknowledged that the problem of insufficient salt stocks has been addressed.

The Committee wants transport operators and agencies to keep their noses to the grindstone though.

Continuous improvement must remain a priority for both Government and the transport sector, even if the weather this winter, and in the next few, is not severe. There is a risk that a few years of mild winter weather could lead to a false sense of security and reduce the sector’s preparedness over the longer term.

Messages for communicators

There are some recommendations that should be of particular interest to communicators in agencies and transport operators.

The committee has reviewed the response to the St Jude storm, in particular it is pleased that rail operators took the decision to announce that trains would not run until the storm had passed.

If used effectively, this approach will provide greater certainty to passengers and minimise the risk of passengers getting stranded away from home during severe winter weather.

This is no doubt correct but it will create significant communications pressures. As the report points out

In the aftermath of the storm, there were reports in
the media of passengers accusing the rail industry of overreacting.

Drivers need better and more timely information too says the committee (and has the Highways Agency in its sights for this one)

…there is a need for greater emphasis on the provision of accessible real-time information about road conditions and disruption. Such information is essential to prevent motorists getting stranded in their vehicles.

And community resilience gets a boost (though that term is not used).

The Government should more actively publicise its Snow Code at the start of each winter, for example through a national advertising campaign highlighting that the public can clear snow and ice from outside their homes without fear of legal action
and should consider doing so.

Local authorities are woven into the report and the LGA has already issued a response. Well done Brighton and Hove though for getting a specific mention

We also recommend that the Government promote examples of good practice and innovation, such as the use by Brighton and Hove City Council of a sit-on vehicle for clearing pavements.

Ghosting in the new year

New Year, new blogging platform.

I’ve been experimenting with a new blogging platform.

Do we really need a new blogging platform I hear you ask?

Especially when we have WordPress (which this blog is crafted upon).

Well some people think we do.

Why Ghost

I was pointed in the direction of Ghost by a colleague who also happens to be a JavaScript wrangler. No surprise then to discover that Ghost is built on node.js which is (and I quote):

a platform built on Chrome’s JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications. Node.js uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient, perfect for data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices.

The upshot of all this is that it offers a very flexible platform for cleverer people than I to build awesome themes upon. Like this extremely excellent Ghost Stories theme.


It’s the now commonplace model of free if you download, or pay if you use their hosted solution. Installation on an Ubuntu box was not smooth but in the end this step-by-step guide was pretty good. Though don’t install the LAMP stack unless you have other needs for it. Node.js doesn’t need Apache and it gets in the way in horrible ways.

Probably the most obvious reason for firing up Ghost is that it enables you to write in markdown. If you like writing for the web then you will really love markdown.

I’ll let you know how I get on

I love Google Slides

I love Google Slides (not this slide though it does look pretty awesome).

There I’ve said it.

I haven’t always loved Google Slides. It’s got better over the past few years with more transitions, better animations and all that.

But it’s always had one BIG problem.

You need to be on-line. Which is something you can’t totally rely on in lovely Herefordshire. Or on the slow but steady train to London (many cathedrals, fewer 3G masts).

Google did have a project called Gears which allowed you to use some of its cloud-based services offline but I could never get it to work for me.

Google now has Google Drive offline. You need to enable this which is pretty easy and then there you are,

And it passes the key test.

It just works. I’ve used it on train trips with signals dropping in and out, I’ve used it in country pubs beyond the reach of decent broadband and it just works. When it can see a connection it syncs, when it can’t it just works.

And coupled with the Chrome OS booting in seconds. I love Google Slides.

Image is Google slide, Google HQ – Mozilla Work Week in San Jose and Mountain View by Robert Nyman

Twitter's new timeline feature demonstrated with puppies

Cute puppiesTwitter has a new feature: custom timelines. It enables you to pull tweets out of the twitterverse and put them in a list which you can then share with the world. This is a bit like storify.com except storify works with a range of social networks.

You need a Tweetdeck account to create a custom timeline and then you can view it on twitter.com.

Now I’m a serious consultant working in social media for emergency management so clearly I had to try this out. And nothing says serious consultant more than pictures of puppies. So I ran a search and pulled some pictures of cute canines into my custom timeline.

The custom timeline can be embedded too.

Like this…

It’s interesting and the tight integration with the rest of twitter is attractive. Storify needs to look over its shoulder but I’m sticking with storify for the moment.

Skype on a chromebook

One of the frustrations of using the Chrome OS is the fact that there isn’t a Skype client for Chrome. Is this a deliberate attempt by Microsoft to undermine Google’s takeover of the PC space, does it represent a limitation in cloud computing or is it just an oversight? These are questions I cannot answer.

And, unsurprisingly, Google+ works REALLY well on Chrome.

I do need to use Skype chat for some projects, in particular the Standby Taskforce co-ordinates deployments through Skype. One solution is, of course, to use Crouton to install full Linux, which I have done. Even so it’s often convenient to use Chrome.

I’ve been using IM+ which is a browser-based client for a range of chat services. It’s free. It works very well on WiFi though it struggled on a flaky mobile connection.

It doesn’t deal with video chat or even audio but for text chat it’s a viable solution.

How good an idea is a Chromebook?

A few months ago I bought a new computer.

Close up of keyboard Buying computers is dull of course. Deciding which computer to buy is fun.

My starting point was that I wanted a laptop: slim, portable, good looking and with enough oomph to do some decent computing. An ultrabook if you will.

Oh and it had to run Linux.

Buying sparkly new machines is fraught with danger when you roll with the Linux crowd because not all device manufacturers provide Linux drivers or even make it easy for the community to build their own. Discussion forums are full of frustrated discussions as people hunt for a way to get the wifi up and running on their new machine.

Dell has an interesting project running in the XPS Developer Edition. It fit the bill perfectly but it proved laughably impossible to actually buy one of the things.

I was very tempted by the shiny ChromeBook Pixel. It looks the part and has suitably well spec’d components including a very high pixel count on its touch sensitive screen.

Only one problem. ChromeBooks run the Chrome OS which is fast and secure but basically lets you run a browser and nothing else. And it costs £1,049 which is quite a lot to check your Gmail.

And then I discovered the Crouton project the details of which need not detain us but essentially allows you to install Linux alongside Chrome OS (it’s a bit more subtle than that because Chrome is in fact Linux under the hood).

So I took the plunge.

Crouton makes it VERY easy to get a lightweight Linux install on the machine. Assuming you are happy copying commands into a terminal. It’s not suitable for a complete novice because you end up with a very slim install and need to know how to get more stuff and what stuff to get.

Linux desktop environments have not been built for the massive resolution found on the Pixel. I tried the Unity desktop (the “normal” Ubuntu look) and the lightweight XFCE but found myself peering at teeny tiny icons and window text. Then I ran up KDE which I am now a total convert to.

It is possible to boot straight into Linux but I’ve left it to boot into Chrome. I really like the Chome OS. It loads incredibly quickly and I do spend a lot of time in the cloud. Cloud based services still don’t really cutting it for me in DTP, video or image processing so locally based apps are still needed. Chrome OS doesn’t allow this so I switch to my KDE. I can hot swap back and forth. I also need to run Java for a couple of tasks (editing OpenStreetMap amongst them) and Chrome OS won’t allow a Java Virtual Machine anywhere near it so it’s over to KDE for that. Finally there are a few tasks I could set up on the Chrome side but I’m more familiar with how to do them in Linux: FTPing, setting up VPNs and so on.

It works for me. If I just need to throw a browser I boot the machine and within seconds I’m online. If I need to do some proper computing its a couple of commands and less than 20 more seconds away.

ChromeBooks have a really good use case I’d say at the more value end of the market, People like my parents and their friends who check their (web-based) emails, shop online and read the papers should really look at cheap ChromeBooks.

But they don’t look anywhere near as cool as my Pixel.

#ukstorm #smem resources

Screen grab of metoffice warningLast night @joannalane asked

So I set one up at https://twitter.com/likeaword/lists/uk-severe-weather

It contains the Environment Agency regional accounts, SEPA, Natural Resources Wales, the Met Office, the Highways Agency, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and a couple of media organisations.

Also relevant would be local authority accounts.

We have a lot of local authorities. And the Department for Communities and Local Government has a list containing all of them here https://twitter.com/info4local/lists/local-authorities

They also follow Fire and Rescue services https://twitter.com/Tyne_Wear_FRS/lists/uk-frs

And of course the police will be heavily deployed if there is disruption. The excellent @nickkeane has a list for them https://twitter.com/nickkeane/lists/uk-police-force-twitters

This is a lot of accounts, many of which may not be involved in the storm at any given time. Exactly the job for which #tags are so suitable.

So far #ukstorm seems to be being used and is probably worth a follow.

I’d appreciate any suggestions for accounts that should be added to the list, #tags that should be followed or other useful resources in the comments please.

UPDATE 26 Oct 2013 1316

Scott Reuter all the way over in the USA has been mining twitter and RTing interesting #ukstorm accounts which I have added to the list.

He also pointed out that #stjude is getting some traffic.

And twitter pointed me to #stjudestorm

This search will return tweets containing any of those #tags