This group discusses the various social media applications available for use with Fire, Police & EMS agencies. Collaboration & networking will provide solutions to creating viable Web 2.0 tools for public safety agencies.
Social Media; Should We or Shouldn’t We?; A Public Safety Agency Dilemma
August 9, 2009 at 3:50 am #77408
Social Media or Web 2.0 applications as they are known has gained increased popularity amongst Internet users in recent years. To give some prospective to the impact Social Media has had in the world, here are some statistics provided by Antony Mayfield, Vice President of Social Media at marketing and advertising giant iCrossing: as of January 2008: Technorati, a specialist blog search engine, was tracking more than 110 million blogs up from 63 million from the previous year. There were an estimated 100 million videos a day being watched on video sharing website YouTube. There were more than 123 million users on social network Facebook (Mayfield 2008).
In 2007 adult blog usage grew 163%. There are approximately 120,000 new blogs created and 1.5 million posts to blogs everyday (Williams, 2009)(Silverstein, 2009).
As demonstrated during Hurricane Katrina, local, state, and federal government have been slow to communicate and thus respond to emergencies and disasters of epic proportion. Brian Humphreys (2008), a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) said, “We can no longer afford to communicate at the speed of government”. Emergency Service agencies such as Fire, Police, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) should embrace Web 2.0 applications to serve their communities and allow increased citizen engagement.
Although Web 2.0 applications will greatly assist our agency in disseminating critical messaging this is just one of the benefits of Social Media. The greatest benefit of Social Media is the increased ability to listen to what our customers have to say. Whether the feedback is positive or negative it gives our agency an awareness of our customers different needs. This allows us to respond to needs and feedback we may otherwise not been aware of. For quite sometime the media being one of our two primary customers has had the upper hand in requiring the majority of our time and resources. One reason is this was our primary means of communicating with our other primary customer the public. We were literally totally dependent on the media to deliver critical messages to the public. Issues that arise when one allows the news media to be their only or primary source to deliver critical messaging is that they can manipulate the message to accommodate their interests. Web. 2.0 applications levels the playing field by allowing us to create, disseminate, and communicate with the public directly. Thus, Social Media allows emergency response agencies such as fire, police, and EMS to become less dependent on the news media to communicate critical and public safety messages to the public.
On Tuesday May 5, 2009 around 5 p.m., which happens to be sort of high tide for rush hour in city, Charlotte, N.C. experienced torrential rainfall, which produced multiple flash floods. This was a recipe for potential disaster and calamity and would be the first real test for Web 2.0 applications for our agency and the first use of such applications in an emergency in our state. I want to stress that the intent of the incorporation of Social Media as a tool to communicate with our customers is not to eliminate the use of the news media, but to add another dimension whereby we are able to interact with the public, receive feedback, and respond. During the height of the storm I was able to ‘Tweet’ over 20 critical messages informing the public of the areas of our city that were impacted by the flash flooding. Messages included information about where the most severe flooding was taking place in real time. These messages were critical in that public and the media were receiving these messages direct and not second hand. One important lesson we learned is that Social Networking should not only be used to inform but should also be used to pass along emergency action steps to take, precautionary measures, and ask for feedback or information.
People should not die because of the failure of Emergency Service agencies to provide timely and accurate information. The public is looking to Emergency Service agencies in times of crisis and emergency responders have a responsibility to pass along vital information as soon as possible. While some government entities have embraced the use of Social Media, others have chosen to keep a tight grip on the traditional means of communicating thus setting themselves up for disaster. I have been exposed to the bureaucracy of government expressing its desire to control all communication. History has shown that government attempting to maintain a position of controlling all communication is neither realistic nor beneficial.
The heart of the matter is the public is looking to government and emergency response agencies such as fire, police, and emergency medical services for critical information before during and after an emergency or disaster and will stop at nothing to obtain it. Social Media has empowered both Emergency Service agencies and the public to engage in an exchange of information like never before. The fact of the matter is that government is no longer solely in control of all communication or information. Emergency Service agencies should move towards fostering, motivating and giving opportunity to the public to interact and give feedback for the benefit of all parties involved. Communication at its best is two-way, it allows the sharing of information, it encourages all parties to engage and offer feedback. Communication in its truest form fosters conversation, participation, openness, and community (Mayfield 2008). Social Media will not only assist Emergency Service agencies in accomplishing this, but also save lives.
Charlotte Fire Department
Office of Public Affairs
Gamiz, M. (2009, April, 19). Some Fire, Police Departments Use Twitter To Inform
Havenstein, H. (2007, August, 3). L.A. Fire Department all ‘aTwitter’ over Web 2.0. PCWorld, Retrieved May 15, 2009
Jackson, B. (2008,June, 21). Web 2.0 Meets Emergency Needs. PCWorld, Retrieved May 14, 2009
Mayfield, A. (2008, January, 8). What Is Social Media?. iCrossing e-book, Retrieved May 15, 2009
Silverstein, C. (2009, April, 1). Embracing Social Media. Slide Share, Retrieved May 15, 2009
Williams, M. (2009, January, 7). Governments Use Twitter For Emergency Alerts, Traffic Notices And More. Government Technology
August 12, 2009 at 1:03 am #77412
Thanks for your post! Great stuff! Jeanette’s presentation was great also! (I’ll probably wind-up quoting her :0) Pass the word, I would love to hear others chime in! Thanks again
Charlotte Fire Department
Office of Public Affairs
August 12, 2009 at 1:44 am #77410
I would love it! I’m finding that this subject matter is becoming increasingly popular among emergency managers and first responders. I’d love to network with them and share what we’ve done in Charlotte. Brian Humphrey (I consider the Fire Service social media guru :0) from LAFD got me started and now I’m on a crusade to help others. If you get a moment check out http://www.charlottefire.org/information.htm
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