The Social Media Puzzle for Public Safety Communications

With social media sites like Facebofollow-these-8-simple-rules-of-social-media-de59448c2dok and Twitter growing every day, Public Safety Agencies are faced with a challenge to reach out to the communities they serve through new tools and technologies. Providing accurate and consistent information is important when trying to maintain a good relationship with the community. A Social Media presence can be beneficial for all involved.

How can different types of agencies use Social Media to help distribute information?

  • Police Department Communications Centers
    • Report Road Closures
    • Issue AMBER alerts or missing persons reports
    • Distribute suspect information on active investigations
    • Distribute safety information for ongoing incidents such as shots fired
    • Announce public interest stories such as department promotions
    • Recruiting
  • Fire Department and EMS Communications Centers
    • Distribute Fire Safety Information
    • Announce public interest stores such as department promotions
    • Announce community member recognition for life saving actions
    • Report on active fire related incidents
    • Recruiting
  • Emergency Management Agencies
    • Provide preparedness resources and information
    • Announce weather alerts
    • Recruiting
  • Stand Alone or Consolidated 9-1-1 Communications Centers
    • Distribute information on the proper use of 9-1-1
    • Announce community interest activities such as board meetings
    • Recruiting

Depending on the size of the agency, information may be prepared and delivered by one person or several. Agencies should consider the type of information that they want to share and who will make the final decision. If the agency has a Public Information Officer, they should be involved in the decision making process.

Liability is also a factor as agencies develop a social media presence. A user may attempt to report an emergency through the agencies page instead of dialing the appropriate number for service. If this occurs, it’s unlikely it will be noticed immediately. Agencies should make it clear on their page that this is not a forum to report emergencies and the best avenue is to dial 9-1-1.

As with all aspects of Public Safety Communications, customer service is critical. A few things to consider while maintaining good customer service on a social site:

  • Make sure all postings are courteous and professional
  • Don’t respond to negative remarks out of anger, instead, guide the user to the appropriate contact person to report any issues they may have with the agency
  • Don’t promote a political agenda, remain neutral and focused on public safety
  • Don’t be afraid to block users who are abusive or inappropriate to the agency or other users
  • Be consistent with updates in content and time, if you are not engaged then the site fails to be a good tool for your agency
  • Always check grammar and spelling

Posting pictures or other media can help make a site more dynamic, but there are things you should consider before doing so:

  • Do you own, or have permission to post the media?
    • Obtain permission, or waivers from employees before posting their image
  • Is the media appropriate?
  • Does the media fit in with the objectives you want to achieve by having a social media presence?

Public safety agencies should be prepared to craft solid policies and procedures on what will be shared, how it will be shared, and who will be responsible for overall maintenance of the program. As an added measure, agencies should consider having their legal department or agency attorney review these policies and provide guidance.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.


160 Characters or Less–Are you Prepared for Text to 9-1-1?

text911The most talked about innovation in the 9-1-1 industry is the arrival of text to 9-1-1. As the big 4 wireless carriers begin rolling out the technology updates on their end of the process, what steps can be taken to make sure that the call takers have the skills required to respond to text messages in a professional yet efficient way?

With a limit of 160 characters, the possibility that time spent gathering information will increase while accuracy will decrease is very high. It’s important to remember that while communications centers have prepared and trained call takers to answer TDD / TTY calls with a fairly common set of abbreviations and altered sentence structure, text messages take on a life of their own. Shortened phrases and “slang” terminology to meet the 160 character requirement are commonplace, but translating that information into something usable is a much more difficult task. Unless the person receiving the call is well versed in text message terminology, call centers will be holding the collective breath when that first text comes in.

What can we do right now to prepare?

Train train train.

Without the equipment in place, your agency may not be concerned with the technical aspects of text messages yet, but you can still begin educating your call takers on common abbreviations, effective writing skills to gather information, and work on improving typing skills.

Get creative with your training material. Web sites such as Net Lingo lists acronyms and text message slang. Do you need to know all of them? No, but it’s a start.

Improve typing skills with games for kids. Magic Library is not only fun, but it really gives your fingers a work out.

Consider hiring a consultant to work with personnel to improve writing skills, or work with your local community college to create a class geared specifically to your needs.

Training has always been important for 9-1-1 agencies, even more so with the technological advances in the pipe line. With text messages comes picture messages, videos, and video chat. If we start training now, we have an opportunity to build good habits and develop strong skills from the start, if we wait too long, we may never catch up.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Developing the Leaders for Tomorrow

The following is a link to an article that I had published in “The Call”, the quarterly magazine of the National Emergency Number Association.

It highlights some of the challenges that we face in Public Safety Communications and how we can meet those challenges to create the leaders that will be needed for the next generation of upper management.

With budget cut backs and high turnover, the only way to prepare the industry for the future is to engage and motivate the employees that are currently working in the field to remain.

In what ways are you working to identify leaders in your organization?

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.