Technology in Times of Tragedy: #BostonMarathon


By Jess Faulk

As a Student Affairs professional in Boston, I lived through one of the most emotionally and physically exhausting weeks I could imagine.  The bookends of the week were Monday’s  Boston Marathon explosions, and then Friday’s city-wide “shelter in place” (aka lockdown) and killing and capture of the suspects.  This is never something you can can fully prepare for, but when tragedy does strike you feel very fortunate for systems and technology you have in place to help you manage the crisis.

All week, I have been reflecting on the tools we have used, both to communicate among each other, but also more importantly those used by our students to communicate with their friends and loved ones.  I’d like to share a few of technologies that I feel have been indispensable this week.

Camera and Video Phones

Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, investigators had access to thousands of photo and video files.  Following tips from witnesses, they were able to pour through this overwhelming  volume of data and identify several photos and videos of the bombing suspects.  It’s amazing to me that anyone in the crowd might have a photo or video that leads to identifying those responsible.

Texts/Text Alerts/Phone Alerts

Shortly after the explosions on Monday, Boston news sources began pushing out important information about safety measures and street closures. Texts, email and phone alerts were used by Universities to communicate these updates with students. Cell phones became useless as everyone tried to call from and to Boston to check on loved ones. Until cell phone lines cleared up, texting became the most expedient way to communicate with the Resident Director (RD) on duty, my family and friends, and the Campus Emergency Response Team. This made me reflect on our need to come up with separate emergency plans in case of complete cell phone outages.  Do you have plans in place for communicating via home phone?  Office phones? Walkie Talkie?

On Friday, I awoke to a phone alert that Boston and several surrounding towns were on “shelter in place” alert because police were hunting down the 2 suspects.  These phone alerts allow us to quickly respond to incidents as they are happening.

Facebook & Twitter

I was extremely grateful these technologies were available.  They did not exist when 9/11 happened. Back then you couldn’t message your entire community with one post to let everyone know you were okay.  In my first official email communication to the Simmons residential community, I suggested all students post status messages on Facebook and Twitter to let loved ones know they were safe. While we certainly received some concerned parent phone calls after the explosion, and during the manhunt, we received many fewer calls because these communication tools were available.

Opportunities for support also popped up all over Facebook as the week progressed, including information about community vigils and OneFund, which was set up by Boston Mayor Menino and Massachusetts Governor Patrick to support survivors.

Google Docs

While the explosions happened 1.4 miles from the Simmons College campus, we knew that many of our students could potentially have been hurt or killed in the blast.  The Boston Marathon coincides with Patriots’ Day a statewide holiday. Therefore, thousands of students from Boston’s 53 colleges and universities have the day off and chose to line up along the Marathon route to cheer on the runners.  Some Simmons students go the extra mile and volunteer at the finish line and in the medical tents.  Several of our student life staff were also running in the race.

As soon as we were able coordinate communication, each RD sent an email to the students in their building and asked everyone in their building to check in either in person or via email.  We were adamant in tracking down every student, whether physically on campus or off.  Many students were at home with their families because of the long weekend.  By the end of the day, RDs were able to confirm they checked in with 99% of the students in their buildings. RDs entered all of this data onto a shared Google doc spreadsheet. I shared the Google doc with the Emergency Response team, Dean’s office, and ResStaff so everyone had access to real-time head counts.

When parents or friends called in to check on a student, we were able to check the Google doc to confirm that we had heard from the student and they were safe.  Not only was this extremely useful in verifying that our students had all (thank goodness) survived the blasts without harm, but it also made the students FEEL extremely well taken care of.  RDs reported receiving dozens of emails from residents thanking them for checking in on them.

Google doc spreadsheets were also used by the Boston Globe, to set up an “I have a place to stay” document for the thousands of Boston Marathon runners who could not go back to their Back Bay hotels immediately following the blasts.  Google also set up a “Boston Marathon Explosions Person Finder.”

For more information on how how technology and social media played an important role in supporting the Boston Marathon investigations, check out the stories below:

Technology in Times of Tragedy: #BostonMarathon

Blog Prompt: What did you accomplish this year during Spring Break?

by Jennifer Keegin

Maybe you didn’t get an official Spring Break. I didn’t really. I had a day off here and there. My daughter’s daycare was closed for one day. Basically I had the office to myself for three days. It was wonderful and boring all at the same time. Here’s what I accomplished:

  • I was able to create an entire marketing campaign for a grant process that I finalized this semester. Logo, tagline, brochure – all done.
  • I was able to do some scheduling for our Facebook page. I put some time into populating our Pinterest page after putting together a Facebook advert so there would be new content everyday while trying to gain followers. A whole week’s worth of posts – done.
  • I downloaded two new apps to my iPhone.

First one – “Art My Kid Made“. I love it because it syncs with Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, and those who have the app. Kinda like Instagram for Moms. App is free.

Second one – “Clip Book“. I’ve been doing tons of reading and thought something that would allow to pull passages, quotes, etc. from a book would be cool. It also syncs with Evernote. (I just went Evernote Premium so there’s no more holding back, I save everything now). Here’s a video to demo. App does cost $1.99

  • Worked on the script for our podcast on Wednesday. Will be doing a book review of the book “Social Works” , which if you follow that link you’ll someone else’s opinion right away.

Yes, my accomplishments were more work oriented. At home there were more fails than accomplishments although learning follows in both directions. There’s the Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Fail and the “Pork-Roast-when-I-meant-to-make-a-Pot-Roast” incident, not to mention the egg dying disaster when my four year regressed and decided to eat one of the dye pellets. *Sigh*

So please feel free to use this prompt to share what you accomplished. Maybe you accomplished watching a whole season of Game of Thrones. Great job! It’s all good.

Blog Prompt: What did you accomplish this year during Spring Break?

Blog Prompt: Technology & emergency preparedness

By Valerie Heruska

I work at Boston University, a school that is literally built around the tracks of the MBTA and runs up and down a very busy street known as Commonwealth Ave (or Comm Ave to the locals).  I work in a city, and while I love working here at BU, sometimes, it’s a little scary walking around at night. Now granted, we have those lovely blue emergency boxes, but when your campus is integrated into a city, there are bound to be some consequences.

Over the past two years that I’ve worked here, I am always thankful for Boston University police and their use of technology for emergency preparedness.  Here at Boston University, we have “BU Alert” system. According the BUPD’s website:

Boston University has established a notification system (BU Alert) for the purpose of communicating with the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on the campus. For more information about BU Alert, visit the BU Alert webpage. Students may add or update their BU Alert contact information by visiting the Student Link and clicking the “Personal” tab to update “Address and Phone.” Questions concerning enrollment in the BU Alert program may be addressed to the Admissions Office (617-353-2300). Staff may add or update their BU Alert contact information by visiting the Employee Link and clicking the “Personal” tab to update“BU Alert Information.”

In the event a situation arises, either on or off campus, that, in the judgment of the Chief of Police and Executive Director of Public Safety, constitutes an ongoing or continuing threat, a campus wide “timely warning” will be issued. The warning will be issued through the BU Alert System. Notice will be sent via text message, voice mail, and email. Notice will also be posted on the BU home page, BU web pages, and scrolled on the University’s cable television system.

What emergency response plans are in place at Boston University?

The Boston University (BU) Emergency Response Plan (Plan) establishes a procedure for mobilizing the university’s resources and communicating with the university and external community in the event of a large-scale emergency. The plan was developed by the Emergency Response Planning Division of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) in cooperation with over a dozen departments, colleges, and offices as well as public safety agencies. It is updated annually and a campus-wide emergency response drill is conducted every 18 months to test and improve upon the plan. The plan describes three phases of emergency situations. These situations are as follows: Phase A is the initial response to a potential emergency situation or an actual event when the impact is uncertain. Phase B is an actual emergency that impacts the university and cannot be handled by on-site personnel in a routine fashion. At this phase, the Command Center may be established to bring key department representatives together to coordinate a response from a single location. Phase C is a large-scale emergency that requires the reassignment of on-duty and/or recall of off-duty personnel or contractors and transfers overall university coordination to the Command Center.

I’ve received texts, emails, and phone calls in a very timely manner.  I’ve received them so far in the case of robberies, weather, and suspicious packages. I think BUPD and EHS and the other areas of campus understand the differences in what students, faculty, and staff use on campus. I’ve definitely found it useful living on such a large campus, and I think BU is definitely prepared in a time of emergency.


How does your campus use technology with regards to emergency preparedness?

Blog Prompt: Technology & emergency preparedness

Blog Prompt: Playlist of the Week

By Anitra Cottledge

Tell us how your week went by putting together a playlist of  five songs that represent it.

1. “We Used to Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols

Um, hello! The possibility of Veronica Mars, one of my favorite shows of all time, being made into a movie? Good news all around.

2. “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge

I don’t have sisters, but I love my family, and was reminded of their awesomeness this week.

3. “Glory Box” by Portishead

Does one need an actual reason to include Portishead in a playlist? It’s not so much the lyrics but the music; I felt like I was in a slow, slightly trippy brain fog for most of the week. I blame Daylight Savings.

4. “Breathe” by Lalah Hathaway

“Just breathe/remember to breathe.”

5. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by The Eurythmics

I have had nothing but odd dreams all week long. I’m also going to blame Daylight Savings for this, too.

What song(s) represent your week?

Blog Prompt: Playlist of the Week

On Personal Branding

by Kristen Abell

There’s a bit of a conflict on the interwebs over this idea of personal branding – is it really necessary? Should we be doing it? Isn’t social media about being authentic? To all of these, I answer a qualified “yes.” And of course, I’ll explain my qualifications…

Here’s the thing with being authentic on the interwebs – it’s really and truly one of the coolest things about it…to a point. That’s right, I said it – to a point. Even for me. I share a lot about myself online – A LOT. But guess what, folks? You don’t know as much about me as you think you do. I choose very carefully what I will and what I won’t share online. You see exactly what I want you to see – and nothing more. That doesn’t mean I’m not being authentic, it’s just that I’m presenting authentically only about the parts I want you to see.

And despite the few folks who overshare (you know who I’m talking about – we all have someone in our feeds who shares every meal they’ve had that day, what they’re doing for the next five minutes, about their last doctor’s appointment IN DETAIL, etc.), we all do this to a certain extent. We all pick and choose what we’re going to share about ourselves online. Even when we share the bad things about our lives from time to time, we probably make sure we counter-balance those with plenty of good things to make sure we don’t sound like too much of a sad sack.

Or we post lots of quotes, pose questions to our followers/friends, or maxims about our work to hide the fact that we’re not really sharing anything about ourselves – we’ve all done it. It’s a way to connect without sharing much of yourself – sneaky sneaky. But it’s effective because it does connect people who are looking for that in their social networks.

What this all gets down to is that we’ve all created a brand – or online reputation, persona, call it whatever you want – a representation of ourselves online that we manage on a daily basis. Sure, some days we do a better job managing it than others, but ultimately, we’re managing it.

What are your thoughts on personal branding? How do you manage your brand?

On Personal Branding

Blog Prompt Monday: The Unexpected Self

By Kathryn Magura

Hello everyone! You may have noticed I’ve been gone for awhile. If not, that’s cool. Between conferences and vacations (I was in Hawaii if you have not heard), February was a busy month. I’m excited to help kick off a new month of excellent blog posts! Today’s prompt is:

What do you do that is different than what people expect of you based on preconcieved notions/stereotypes?

I love questions like this, because I think we too frequently judge each other by how we appear. I know that when I meet someone and they are not who I expected them to be, I am usually humbled by how I so easily judged them and glad to learn I was wrong about them. Not all book covers accurately depict the content inside!

So what would you be surprised to learn about me? Well, my love/snobbery of music is well known, but how many people know the depth of my musical tastes? People tend to be surprised when they look at my iTunes library and see the variety of music that I like. So what usually surprises them?

Well, I can think of two things:

  1. For some reason, I don’t appear to be a musical theater fan. I have no idea why this is, but people seem to be genuinely surprised to see so much music from musicals in my library. Clearly none of these people have heard my rendition of, “The Wizard and I” from Wicked in the car. Some other favorites include: The Book of Mormon, Rent, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, Newsies (been a fan since the Disney movie), and Spring Awakening.
  2. Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands. Why is this surprising? I think people see me as more innocent in regards to music. Sure, the Beatles are my favorite band, that makes sense. But Led Zeppelin is a little heavier and controversial. While we’re at it, I love Pink Floyd. I promise the don’t have to be a stoner to appreciate the layers that Pink Floyd builds into each song.

So that’s me, now it’s your turn. What surprises people about you?

Blog Prompt Monday: The Unexpected Self

What’s In Your Bag?

by Brenda Bethman

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a wee bit of an obsession with What’s on your home screen? posts. And I feel the same about the What’s in your bag? genre. In particular, I’m a huge fan of the Timbuk2 What’s in your bag? site.  I recently switched to using a Timbuk2 messenger bag and thought I would share what’s in my bag for this week’s blog prompt.

First, the bag — it’s their limited edition Tour de France classic messenger. I know almost nothing about the Tour de France, but the cheery red polka dots won me over:


Seriously, doesn’t that just make you smile? I have had more compliments on this bag from random folks in airports than any other. I ordered the small size as I find the larger sizes just too big. The small is large enough to comfortably fit my MacBook Air and even the MacBook Pro (should I feel like lugging it around).

In addition to the laptop, I can also comfortably fit all of this:


What is all that? Folders for projects / daily work (the paperless office is still just a dream!), my Moleskines (as much as I love my tech, I’m old school about some things, as I’ve noted here before), iPad mini (which I still love), a couple of books (which ones vary depending on current projects), pens, power brick, and my bag of tech accessories. If I’m traveling, there will probably also be a camera and Kindle.

What’s in YOUR bag? Let us know in the comments.

What’s In Your Bag?

Downton Abbey vs. Walking Dead, #dontmakemechoose

by Jess Faulk


Sunday night. Housework done. Snow shoveling done. Weekend winding down.  Should be a relaxing time for most.  And yet, it brings with it a very difficult question that would stress out any reasonable human being, what do I watch on TV tonight? Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead!?!

Lucky for me, thanks to the invention of TIVO, I know my answer to that question – both!  Although it did make me wonder, how many others are in the same boat as me, psyched to watch these two radically different shows?  I am sure it is not a coincidence that they have placed these two wonderful shows opposite each other, on the assumption that they won’t attract the same demographic.

It is possible I am an outlier, having full appreciation for the romance, drama, and history of Downton and equally loving the gore and intensity of the post-apocalyptic world of Walking Dead.  However, I have a hunch that I am far from being alone in this mixed genre affection, and that my fellow blog readers are among those who can appreciate a wide range of interests.

I still vividly remember listing to NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’s bluff the listener game in February 2009.  They shared three stories about classic works of literature being “improved.”  The stories were all equally unbelievable as usual.  But when I heard the story of blending zombies and Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, I listened intently hoping that that story was true.  The question of whether Mr. Darcy will capture Ms. Bennet’s heart, or whether that heart would be eaten by the Zombie hordes is just too exciting for it not to be true!  As we now know, it was true, and Seth Grahame-Smith published the awesome mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I felt like it was written just for me.

As a female geek I am (almost) used to being questioned when I express an interest in stereotypically different interests.  Growing up, I liked playing video games and also liked playing dress up.  I liked watching the Terminator and liked watching Titanic.  These days, I like reading tech blogs and also like reading romance novels.  And as I’ve made obvious, I love Downton Abbey and also love The Walking Dead.  I have found excitement in these “contradictions” and I hope that future generations of young women feel comfortable exploring whatever interests they want to without judgment.  Talking about it, normalizing it, and celebrating a variety of interests with both little boys and little girls is important. Who knows, maybe when our kids grow up, they won’t have to choose between two of the greatest shows on TV because the networks will schedule shows based on a new demographic that loves both!

Blog Prompt: What hobbies are you into that other people feel are contradictory?

Photo Mashup: by Brian Huntington on
un LA Times article on the similarities between Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead

Downton Abbey vs. Walking Dead, #dontmakemechoose

Blog Prompt Monday: Getting Into A Technology-Focused Career

By Kathryn Magura

Happy Monday everyone! Today’s blog prompt is one that resonates with me, because it allows me to share my accidental journey into the world of technology.

How do you get into the technology field without a background in technology?

Well, the honest answer to this question is quite simply: you get out there and do it! Not quite as helpful as you hoped? Well, let me share my story with you then. I went to college knowing I would receive a degree in some sort of Liberal Arts area. I was drawn to Psychology, so I pursued that as my major. Early on in college, I remember meeting with an academic advisor to determine if I wanted to go for a Bachelor of Arts or Sciences. The gist was: a Bachelor of Arts required a second language, and a Bachelor of Science required computer classes and more science classes.

For me, there was no real decision to make. I had taken German in high school, and figured I would take a couple of years of it at the college level and fulfill my Bachelor of Arts requirements. Why on earth would I put myself through the rigors of a Bachelor of Science degree when I refused to take computer classes. That’s right, I refused to take computer classes.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my computer. I had been surfing the internet before it was really in style. My family had also had a computer for my brother and I to write our high school papers on way before many other families could afford one. That said, the actual technology behind computers scared me. I’m not sure when I came to this conclusion, but it seemed like I had always known I was never good with technology.

In retrospect, it seems really sad that I never trusted my abilities when it came to technology. Even when I had always had a natural ability to learn and use a variety of technologies. I was always the one to program our family VCR growing up, and had even helped my father (the engineer, it should be noted) reprogram his air conditioner when it wasn’t working right. Yet for some reason, I always felt dumb when in came to computers.

My senior year of college, I had the opportunity to work in the Housing office. While the work focused heavily on customer service, it also required me to use the University information system and Microsoft excel a lot. I was fearful of looking dumb for not knowing how to use the technology, but I jumped right in with an eagerness to learn. As I started to learn the ropes, I was surprised to see what a natural I was with the technology. Not only did I pick up the systems with ease, I was able to train others! Where the heck did this ability come from?

Flash forward a few years to about a week ago. One of our resident directors needed some help pulling data together for a meeting. I had some time available in my calendar, so I invited him over for a lesson on the greatness of excel. As I was pulling the data together from the University data warehousing system, I could see his jaw sort of frozen as I swiftly shifted from one screen to the next (side note, dual monitors are a true godsend) to capture all the data needed. I then switched over to excel where we put the data into pivot tables, charts and graphs.

As I was training, I could hear the excitement in my voice. Who knew I could get so excited by a pivot table?? I even took time to send out this tweet:

After we had pulled all the data needed together for the meeting, the RD looked at me (a little glazed over. Whoops.) and asked if I had always been this good with technology. I simply stated that no, I had not been, and had actually been afraid of it for the longest time. It took pushing myself past my comfort zone by just getting in there and using it for me to actually learn that I was indeed quite skilled with technology.

My point in sharing this story is to encourage others to take the technology leap. Get out there and test the waters! Don’t feel comfortable with the Microsoft Office suite? Get out there and take a training course! Most are either free or inexpensive. There may also be people out there willing to share their knowledge with you, if you are willing to seek them out. Trust me, if I can get over my own fear of using technology you can too!

So what’s your technology story? What advice do you have for others who want to get into the field of technology?

Blog Prompt Monday: Getting Into A Technology-Focused Career

Blog Prompt: Making life easier, expense sharing

by Jess Faulk

tricountWhen you first buy your smartphone or tablet device you can’t get enough of the coolest, latest apps.  Page and pages of apps fill your device, despite knowing somewhere in the back of your mind that you will forget what half of them do.

At this point you really need start to distinguishing the apps that are fun to use on ‘a rainy day’ vs. those ‘make your life easier.’  I want to share one with you that my partner and I use on almost a daily basis: Tricount.

When my partner and I first started dating, we immediately discussed the strategies for coordinating our shared expenses.  There is the “you get me this time and I will get you next time” method.  There is also the “let’s save up all of our receipts and figure out later” method.  Neither seemed particularly appealing, as both required some mental energy keeping it all straight in our heads.  My proposed solution was a Google doc where we would enter amounts each of us spent.  I set it up so that each column created a total at the top of the spreadsheet, and automatically split the total in two.  A good first-try tech solution, but we thought we could do better. Google docs aren’t the friendliest on our phones, and it didn’t allow a lot of flexibility if one of us bought something particularly expensive.  After an extensive search – we found a solution we love, Tricount.

Tricount is still in beta, so there are some kinks to be worked out, but even in it’s growing stage, it serves us quite well.  Tricount is designed as a group expense organizing tool.  The type of application that you would use if you went on a road trip with 4 other people and needed to track who owes who as you go.  This would be particularly helpful when not everyone has the right amount of money (or type of currency if traveling abroad), and need to rely on each other until you can find an ATM or vendor who takes credit cards.

tri count 2Our use of Tricount is relatively simple.  We buy dinner at Panera Bread and a minute later one of us pulls out our smartphone (iPhone or Android) to enter the expense.  As soon as the expense is in, the receipt gets thrown away.  No more tallying up or mental tracking.  Each month with the click of a button we balance the account and one of us sends the other a funds transfer. We then start tracking anew for the next month.  So far we’ve used it for 4 months for day-to-day expenses, and just recently started using it for tracking wedding expenses.  The program can be used on your computer through the web, on facebook, or via your phone.

Drawbacks: As I said before, this is a public beta, so they are not yet 100% awesome.  Some mini hurdles that have stuck out for me are: 1. It’s European date format (takes a while to get used to), 2. It needs a streamlined system for syncing that allows for both editing online and editing with your phone (it can be done, but only through emailing links to the accounts via the people involved).

Overall, I do have to say that Tricount has made my life easier.  Whether you are sharing expenses with a partner, taking a trip with friends, or trying to remember all of the items you need to be reimbursed by your office, I hope that it makes your life easier too.

Blog Prompt: Making life easier, expense sharing