Saturday, April 30th

Information and the Blue Car Syndrome: A Report from the 2011 Partners In Emergency Preparedness Conference

Have you ever heard of Blue Car Syndrome? It is a popular phrase for the psychological phenomenon where you never really see something (in this case, a blue car) until you consciously start looking for it, and then you see examples of it everywhere.

Earlier this week, I attended the 2011 Partners In Emergency Preparedness Conference #PIEPC11 in Tacoma, WA, and I saw information issues everywhere I looked. I attended the conference as a student because my master’s thesis involves helping a local Emergency Operations Center improve their information sharing processes. I met a lot of great people doing important and vital work who help people out for a living and got a glimpse into a profession that I hadn’t considered before but now find very interesting. The most striking thing for me, however, was seeing how vital information is to this profession, how many information problems they are currently experiencing, and how much information management could help them help others during a disaster.

One of the most popular topics at the conference was the increasing use of social media platforms and how it can be used in emergency management. I also discovered the existence of a whole group of people who are looking into the topic of Social Management In Emergency Management #SMEM. I attended two workshops on the subject including one led by Annie Searle and my MSIM classmate Emily Oxenford.

I also attended sessions about:
-the lessons learned by a Public Information Officer (who write press releases) who was deployed to the Deepwater Horizon incident;
-a prototype of an information system that would overlay information from the Washington DSHS on GIS maps to be able to locate vulnerable populations living in disaster areas in order to provide them assistance instead of having them be abandoned as many of them were during Hurricane Katrina;
-how the Tacoma police gained situational awareness by taking the audience step by step through the response to an incident at an elementary school;
-the legal issues in emergency management;
and how small jurisdictions can set up emergency response plans.

As a result of working on my thesis project and getting exposure to the wider world of emergency management at the conference, I am getting a view of the information needs of this particular profession. In any disaster response, the key thing is having information. In disaster situations, the communications infrastructure that we now take for granted to share it might be damaged yet the first responders- and the public- need reliable information. How do responders share information with each other? How do they verify information to find out what is actionable and what is not? How do they communicate information to the public? What kind of information does the public need and want?

There are many information management questions that the emergency profession is thinking about and developing innovative responses to. It seems like every field and every industry is grappling with these questions right now and they need information professionals to help solve them. The only difference is that helping emergency response professionals come up with solutions to their information management issues is a matter of life and death.

As I prepare to enter the workforce armed with these new skills, I am looking forward to helping people solve their information problems and hope that I can make a difference in the world as well. Hopefully, as you look around at work or what is going on in the world around us, you will start seeing the “blue cars” of information issues. We have to identify them before we can solve them!

Brian LeBlanc on 04.30.11 @ 09:52 AM PST [link]

Saturday, April 23rd

So is this going to be an Information Management blog or what?

Music: Cuong Vu 4-tet

It's one of those "perfect" Seattle spring days where the sky is blue and it's 60 degrees so everyone is out doing something. Choosing to zag while everyone zigs, I am deep in the bowels of the Foster Library on the University of Washington campus trying to do some work on my final project for my Information Management (MSIM) degree. I happen to be on campus on a Saturday morning because my only class this quarter is "Capstone II," a class that is also doubling as a guest lecture series. This morning the speakers were Mala Sarat Chandra and Vanessa Fox.

Mala and Vanessa told the class about their career paths, gave great advice and tips and patiently answered our questions. I asked a question to them about how to get started as a writer and subject matter expert. Vanessa said (to paraphrase) to first start a blog, start speaking at smaller conferences, then move up to bigger conferences. Mala mentioned that I should find other like blogs, answer questions and start debates. The most important part, Vanessa said, and to which Mala agreed, was to know what I'm talking about.

After class was over, I talked with Vanessa and told her of my long-standing plan to start blogging about information management, but that I had been waiting until I had learned enough to be able to speak in an informed manner. Vanessa thought this was a good plan and challenged me to write a blog post today.

Luckily I didn't have to go create a blog, as I have one on the front page of an 11-year old website. was registered on 4/17/2000, and has had many purposes and many incarnations. Last August, I declared that it would be an information management blog but now I am finally getting around to making it one.

I am not an expert in information management yet, but what I am is someone who is almost finished getting my master's degree in this subject and about seven weeks away from graduating. I have a lot of interests and questions about this field and want to learn as much as I can. This blog will act as a document of my learning process as I become someone who "knows what I am talking about" on a variety of interesting information management-related subjects.

One of the key questions that I want to answer is "What is Information Management?" I get this all the time from friends, family and anyone else who asks me what I've been doing lately and I tell them that I'm in grad school. I like to say that it is a combination of information science, computer science and business, and that this allows me to act as translator between the organization and the "computer people." It is a pretty simplistic answer, but it gives me a jumping-off point to start talking about how organizations- from corporations to governments to non-profits- are all drowning in information, and that these skills allow me to find out what their needs are and to design information-based solutions for them.

At this point, people who turned their head sideways and looked at me funny when I said I was studying information management go "Oh, wow, we have this problem at work where..."

Information management is this brand new field that has sprung up in the past few years, and no one is exactly sure what it is or how to explain it to people, yet there is a huge need for it everywhere you look. I hope that this blog contributes on some level to the field of information management and evangelize how important and relevant it is. It is a pretty wide field, and I am working over in the taxonomy/content strategy/UX corner of it right now (and I plan to talk about that a lot as I start off), but there's a lot of other ground to cover. I also hope to talk about some of my concerns, bones to pick, suggestions, recommendations and generate some interesting and innovative solutions for them along the way.

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think.

Brian LeBlanc on 04.23.11 @ 05:01 PM PST [link]

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