Denver firm Nusura helps train first-responders on crisis response

Posted at 4:55 PM, Aug 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-29 19:57:39-04

DENVER -- In the wake of Harvey, Texans are turning to social media like Facebook and Twitter to round up volunteers and ask for help.

"My family is still waiting for a water rescue in the attic, they can't get to roof! 6606 Reamer St. Houston, TX 77074 Please RT," @AlyxandriaErryn tweeted on Aug. 27. The tweet was shared more than 33,000 times.

Other people have used Facebook to organize search groups:

"SERIOUS HELP W/ THIS ONE !!ADDRESS: 7206 Augustine Drive, 77036. NAME: Rhonda & 713-272-9707# of people: 5 ITS A GROUP HOME w/ disable residents! (Residential property) One of the moms of boys in the group home gave me the info and her son name is Cortney Nelson PLEASE SHARE," Tasia Calvert posted to the Facebook group “Hurricane Harvey Search and Rescue.”

Few people know the power of social media in emergencies better than former FEMA public affairs officer, Mark Amann.  Eight years ago, he founded Nusura, an emergency response firm that trains organizations on how to manage a crisis when it goes viral.  He saw its need following the Virginia Tech Shooting when college kids used Facebook to share both their own and the shooter's locations.  

At the time, law enforcement new little about the social media site.

"We saw that online media, social media, [was] playing an increasingly-important role in emergencies and really had the potential to help first responders save lives," Amann said.

Using a tool called SimulationDeck, his team creates a mock emergency, then uses simulated digital platforms like Bleater (think Twitter), Simtube (like YouTube) and Simdeck TV News to mirror the real online platforms.

"They walk in blind, they have no idea what's going on just like real world," said Nusura's, Tak Landrock, of their clients. "They sit down and log onto this computer and bam, something goes on social media."

The team creates a disaster simulation online that their client must then figure out how to navigate around.  It also trains their clients how to identify real versus fake posts and develop plans for problems.

"We can cater it to what they need and what's going to meet their objective, so we can turn that volume up and have all those posts going a million miles a minute, or we can slow it down a little bit," said Erin Coughlin of Nusura.  "It helps them because it's so important to practice monitoring these and sharing information on them and now they can do it in this private sandbox environment."

Nusura's big clients include FEMA and the Department of Defense, but they train agencies all over the country.

"People are using Twitter as 911, and that is changing the way responders have to train and exercise, and how they have to respond to a really critical incident," Amaan said.

While social media is helping save Texans, first responders caution that 911 is still your first stop for help in a disaster.