Eileen Culleton: Founder of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki

Eileen Culleton is founder and chief executive officer of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki, a global online information hub to help communities use social media to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. Eileen is a childhood survivor of Cyclone Tracy which destroyed Darwin in 1974. Having lost her home, family photos and pets in the cyclone, Eileen is passionate about helping build community resilience through the use of social media. She believes social media can help people to save not only their own lives in a disaster but also the lives of others.

After the Queensland floods in 2011, Eileen galvanised volunteers from around the globe to create a wiki to help advance the use of social media in disasters. The wiki includes tips, guidesapps, mapping tools, videos and an international directory of emergency services and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on social media. It has tips for the public, an accessibility toolkit for people with disabilities and guidelines for emergency services, governments, business, schools and NGOs.

Eileen lives in Byron Bay, NSW, and as a passionate advocate for social media for social good, she also owns and operates Byron Bay Social Media, a social enterprise which helps business, government and nonprofits build brand value.

The pace of technology is changing so quickly we need a global community to help us keep the wiki up to date and relevant. Crowdsourcing is also a great way to access collaborators for your ideas!

emergency20wiki.org byronbaysocialmedia.net.au/ @eileenculleton


Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

The catalyst for creating the Emergency 2.0 Wiki was the 2011 Queensland floods. Like many people, I saw the television coverage of the Toowoomba flash flood. I watched in horror as cars with people trapped in them were washed down the street, shortly before the inland tsunami swept through the Lockyer Valley, washing away houses with people clinging to roofs desperately awaiting rescue helicopters.

There was tragic loss of life that day and I wondered how many lives could have been saved if people had received warnings earlier, via social media alerts to their mobile phones – not just from emergency services, but from people on the ground who witnessed the wall of water coming through. The use of social media for emergency communications was in its infancy then. We had the technology, but we didn’t have mass take-up.

At the time of the floods, I was working for a council and had run a pilot for using Twitter, including for emergency management. I could not find any published guidelines online to refer to so I had to write them from scratch. I was also a steering member of Government 2.0 in Queensland, a group of professionals working in social media and government.  After the floods and Cyclone Yasi, which struck just three weeks later, we planned a workshop to share learnings. It was there that I asked people to join me to create a wiki to capture those learnings, to help fast-track implementation of social media for emergency communications locally and globally. And so the idea of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki was born. The Brisbane group developed the wiki’s initial content. We then put the call-out to professionals across the globe via Twitter and LinkedIn to join reference groups to further develop the content. We also formed knowledge-sharing alliances with bodies such as Business Continuity Institute Australasia, Risk Management Institution of Australasia, Partnerships Toward Safer Communities (PTSC-Online) Canada, and NGO Humanity Road. The wiki now needs to scale up for greater global reach.

Please explain your business model.

The Emergency 2.0 Wiki is a nonprofit organisation run entirely by volunteers (including myself).  Similar to Wikipedia, we’re committed to offering the wiki free to all. Our rationale is that because the information we provide saves lives, it should be free. We will soon start fundraising to enable the wiki to become financially and operationally sustainable and to scale up to increase capacity for further global reach. We’re also looking for sponsors for key projects and partners to co-apply for grants.

After founding the Emergency 2.0 Wiki I established Byron Bay Social Media. I did this for two reasons: to provide income for myself while I developed the wiki and because I’m passionate about helping business, governments and nonprofits use social media to build their brand and have a positive social impact. I offer strategy, training and coaching. The consultancy is a social enterprise channelling more than 50% of profits into making a difference for social change.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

We recently did something excitingly experimental by posting the Emergency 2.0 Wiki draft strategic plan online and inviting crowdsourcing of ideas from across the globe via social media. We received some great ideas which we plan to incorporate.

Eileen workspace

How do you make ideas happen?

For me, it begins with inspiration from ideas I’ve seen around the world in which social media and new technology is used.  I get excited when I think, “we can apply that technology concept to this issue!” I am also a big believer in crowdsourcing ideas. Crowdsourcing is about harnessing the wisdom of the crowd via social media.  That’s our modus operandi for developing content for the Emergency 2.0 Wiki. People send us new information via Twitter, GooglePlus or our LinkedIn Group. The pace of technology is changing so quickly we need a global community to help us keep the wiki up to date and relevant. Crowdsourcing is also a great way to access collaborators for your ideas!

What does your typical day look like? 

Since the idea of the Emergency 2.0 Wiki was conceived, I’ve spent all my available time on its development. Because I have done this as a volunteer, the challenge has been finding the balance between this project and my other work. My days are often spent juggling global time zones to keep in touch with our volunteers. It might mean setting the alarm for 4am to Skype with a volunteer in the United States. It also might mean spending the weekend during a bushfire tweeting reminders to people to download a bushfire app onto their phone, remember to pack their mobile phone chargers if they are evacuating, and post to Facebook that they are safe. Community education and outreach is core to what we do. The challenge is time. I work from home and a work day for Byron Bay Social Media varies from developing a strategy for a client, to delivering onsite training or coaching.  To stay fit, refreshed and inspired, I make it a habit to get to the beach every day for a quick surf, or run, or simply to contemplate.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

As a volunteer driven nonprofit tech in start-up phase, one of the biggest challenges the wiki faces is not qualifying for government grants for disaster resilience projects because it doesn’t yet have the required levels of financial viability.  This may include the requirement to make a matching financial contribution toward project costs. To address this we are seeking partners such as other nonprofits or universities to co-apply for grants.

Another challenge is having to turn down speaking invitations to conferences because we don’t have the resources. I self-funded a number of conferences and encourage our reference group members to consider presenting in their home cities. But it’s the global conferences like the International Disaster and Risk Conference Davos in Davos, Switzerland, sponsored by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) that are the most devastating to turn down because they have the potential for the greatest impact on accelerating takeup of social media for communication in disasters. Having turned down an invitation to present at a previous conference, I hope to source the funds to enable me to attend this year’s conference in August.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

I believe there is a world of ideas online we can all harness for free, for example, by accessing sites like Ideas Hoist, TEDTalksand Plus Social Good. Crowdsourcing via social media for ideas is another great option.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

RIPE Intel’s Emergency Aus, is the first smartphone app I have seen to combine disaster alerts, social media sharing from the scene and the ability for the community to help each other after the disaster e.g. with emergency supplies. This app has great potential to save lives and property and accelerate recovery.

Streaka is a new automated video and mobile marketing platform that organisations can use to enable easy creation of user generated content videos that are automatically branded and shared via inbuilt social sharing tools. It’s also great for social good campaigns, enabling brand advocacy through social sharing of positive experiences. The Suncorp Bank Run Positive campaign is a good example of this.

What about internationally?

The Digital Humanitarian Network and Humanitarian Toolbox are examples of tech volunteer groups doing great work in using social media and new technology to help with information mapping for disaster response.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

I believe business can play a powerful role in affecting social change and social media provides great opportunities to do this while building brand value, making it a win-win situation. Social good campaigns, in which a brand uses social media to fundraise and raise awareness for a cause, helps build brand value, develop brand advocates, attract new customers and increase sales. You might like to checkout my blog post, ‘9 tips for successful social good brand campaigns’, which covers this topic.

Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support? 

StreetSmart Australia

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

  1. www.plussocialgood.org
  2. www.mashable.com
  3. www. idisaster.wordpress.com

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter

1. @CraigThomler

2. @allisonhornery

3. @mattbrisvegas

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Absolutely, all of the above! We plan to start fundraising and would love help with seed funding to underwrite the fees fundraising vendors charge to process donations. We also need a fundraising video to showcase what we do, an e-newsletter and the wiki itself needs a ‘facelift’. I am also seeking funding to enable me to present at the 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference in Davos, Switzerland in August. I believe this will help to accelerate the use of social media in emergency communications in helping to save lives around the globe during disasters. We are also seeking sponsors to enable key projects and partners to co-apply for grants.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

Do you know of grants that nonprofit social good tech startups (who’ve already launched) can apply for nationally or globally?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

I love a bar with a view, live music, indoors/outdoors and an eclectic mix of people. Because I live in Byron Bay, the obvious choice is the Beach Hotel.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize? 

I will provide a social media review of the winning organisation and suggest five social media tips it could implement to build brand value while doing good.

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