Social Media Tip #1 for Public Safety


Public Safety agencies use social media for many objectives, but one of the most pressing is the quick release of emergency information. Whether posting a tornado warning, evacuation orders, or a crime in progress, always ask your followers to share the post.

The goal is to get the important information to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, so your followers will want to help.

Agencies should also consider sharing content created by sister agencies. Especially in a large scale incident, re-posting information from other agencies can help spread the word faster and show the public that agencies can work together for their safety. Sharing content from other agencies should never drown out your own message or priorities, but if done right, your agency will gain the trust of your followers and the public safety community in your area.

Last but not least, share content that is beneficial to your followers. You are not a business, so you are not marketing a product or even a service. You should focus your content on your agencies purpose and scope. If you are a Fire Department, sharing critical information such as fire safety tips and severe weather awareness tips would be great, but don’t get into the promotion game and post ads for fire alarm monitoring systems or weather radios, this could hurt your credibility very fast.

Sharing information is the point of social media, for public safety, it should be an extension of our primary goals of saving lives and protecting the property of the people that we serve, not something that doesn’t resemble your primary mission.

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.


The Puzzle of Team Building for 9-1-1

Building a team is not the easiest task for anyone involved in public safety communications. No matter how much thought and preparation go into the process of putting teamtogether a group of individuals and getting them to function as working group that helps and supports each other, sooner or later, a member of the team leaves, or life intervenes.

High employee turnover also affects how the team comes together. Public safety has always faced the challenge or reaching appropriate staffing levels due partly to decreased revenue, the nature of shift work, and the lack of advancement options. People who join an agency thinking that they can do the job, many times, find out later that it is not for them. They were becoming integrated into a fairly functional team and now, six months later they are gone. So the biggest challenge of building teams in public safety communications is the turnover rate. Frustrations abound not only for leaders but for front line personnel who may feel the team may never be as good as it can be.

It’s like a puzzle, someone has to fit all of the pieces together to make it all work, right?


It depends on the type of team that you are creating and nurturing. Historically, a team is a group of people are working together for a common goal. A leader is a part of the process, sometimes dictating the direction of the team and holding people accountable for their actions. When we lose one team member, they simply insert another team member into the picture and try to mold them into the process.

What if the team looked differently? What if the team was built around the concept of collaboration and interaction? Instead of one person working to put pieces of the puzzle in place, you have a group working together on making sure when the puzzle is finished, it doesn’t come apart. The leadership is still there, they have to be, lives depend on the work that we do, but the responsibility for creating a great work product is on the team itself.

Building the 9-1-1 center of the future requires us to think outside of the puzzle, find new pieces of the puzzle, and make sure we can adapt to the needs of the customer, but also to the needs of the current and future team members. Collaboration helps to create ownership in the job that is being done, builds confidence, and promotes trust among team members.

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.

Showcase your Communicators

NPSTW_Blog_Header1With only a week or so left before the start of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (April 14th-April 20th) I am sure that many communications centers around the country are gearing up to honor and thank the front line personnel who answer the call for help each time someone dials 9-1-1. Whether you simply say thank you, or throw a large luncheon, offer door prizes, or write a formal declaration to be read at board meetings or city hall, there is one thing that you can do within your own jurisdiction that could make a difference to the communications center year round.

Showcase your Telecommunicators!

It’s not showing off for leaders to make an effort to educate the field personnel, ancillary departments, and the public on what actually happens in the 9-1-1 call center as calls come in and units are dispatched. A great way to start showcasing your communications center is to, quite simply, educate those people on what you do. Newsletters, whether professionally done or created in a word processor and printed out, can help get the word out about what it is really like to sit under the headset. So, here are a few more ideas to get the information out to the people who may not know, or truly understand what it is you do.

1. Newsletter: As stated above, a newsletter can be created to showcase what goes on in the communications center. This doesn’t have to be a one time deal, monthly, or bi-annual newsletters are a good way to keep information flowing and update all personnel on changes within your agency.

2. Intranet: With a basic publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher or Kompozer, you can create a sleek intranet that can be maintained behind your agency’s firewall, but still accessible to field personnel. Include job descriptions, typical shift configurations, and a description of TAC assignments and additional responsibilities that others may not now about. Introduce your personnel to the field teams in this way with a brief biography of their experience and time of service within the department.

3. Tours: Offer tours of the communications center for any personnel who want to get to know your crews better. Putting a face to the voice on the radio may help improve relations and create friendships that could last a lifetime.

4. Push the Press: Don’t just offer a press release about National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, invite the newspaper or television station in to do a story on the center and highlight the importance of the 9-1-1 personnel in the process of saving lives and property.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that Telecommunicators do their job year round, just like police officers and fire fighters. This is the one week that every telecommunicator really does want to hear the work thank you, especially from their leaders.

And, we do care about our brothers and sisters who are out in the field fighting fires and putting their lives on the line, we appreciate their service to the community and are grateful they are willing to do the job. We just want to feel like a part of the team, not a support function.

Hope everyone has a wonderful NPSTW 2013.

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.

Reinvent The Wheel

Public Safety Communications Centers have long had a process for training new personnel. After all of the assessments are complete and they are placed in a program, it’s either class room time for a few weeks to cover the basics of 9-1-1 communications, policy and procedures, and an orientation to the position, or the personnel are placed with a training officer to do the same individually incorporating the hands on portion. This has worked, for the most part, but with tightening budgets and the need to place personnel under the headset as soon as possible, not all new hires learn at the same rate, so is this working effectively?Useless work

With technology improving almost daily, there are options for allowing the learner to set their own pace and be prepared to take on the critical role in your organization. Below, we look at a few options for streamlining the process and meeting your goals at the same time.

Policy and procedure Manuals

It is crucial to the success of any new hire to be adequately trained on the policies and procedures of your organization, but does it have to be completed in a classroom or take away from the hands on training? With available tools such as wiki’s, publisher programs, and screen share software, you can take the training out of the class room and onto the desk top. A self paced computer based training mimics online learning through educational institutions. With a little planning and creativity, you can turn your policy manuals into a comprehensive and dynamic training tool that is accessed on your computer desk tops or sectioned drives remaining behind your agencies firewall. A combination of modules that present the information in an easy to follow manner, would allow your trainers to spend more time concentrating on the hands on portion of training and developing products for in service requirements.

Software such as camtasia studio ( $299.99) allows you to record the screen you are using on your desktop in the form of a presentation to train personnel on how to use certain software such as computer aided dispatch, telephony, or resource tools. (Check with your software provider for licensing agreements about screen capture and recording for training, or write these into your request for proposal on your next purchase.) With no significant software or policy changes, you can use these indefinitely and save much-needed time and money allowing the learner to move at their own pace.

Developing an intranet resource to act as a “classroom” also is an effective means of delivering content to new hires. Links to any file on your agencies protected drives, or links out of your firewall if you allow internet access, can be provided to reinforce training, and allow you to create assessments that are geared toward your objectives.

On the subject of assessment, there are several quiz maker or test maker softwares available for free or for a nominal amount online, providing with easy access to tests and some can even score based on your setting and notify the trainer when the learner has completed the assessment.

In Service Training

Technology can also be used to provide your agency with a great in service program. Certifications for Emergency Medical, Fire, or Police Dispatch (depending on your certification authority) require continuing dispatch education to maintain certification. Building a revolving training program that reinforces policy and procedure while continuing to build much-needed skills, or exercise unused skills, is an important part of maintaining your agencies liability shield and even meet local, state, and federal requirements. Using the same tools listed for new hires, you can create a program that is specific to your needs and it is flexible, allowing you to update and change as needed.

External Sources

Organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, offer training online that is designed to enhance your training program. FEMA offers independent study programs on many topics, and they are free to anyone who wants to learn. APCO offers courses on topics related to public safety, and while there is a charge, the courses are professional and well planned. APCO also has started a subscription based training program, offering monthly topics to help your agency meet CDE requirements.

While you may not need to replace all of the spokes, reinventing or redesigning the wheel for your organization could help save money, improve comprehension, and keep your agency focused on saving lives and protecting the property of the community that you serve.

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.

Trials and Tribulations

trials-and-tribulationsThe reality of Text to 9-1-1 is rapidly approaching. The following link is a good article highlighting the upcoming trial organized by AT&T and the State of Tennessee. Selected 9-1-1 centers will receive text to 9-1-1 in a testing phase.

As everyone else, I am interesting in seeing the data that comes after the trials, but I am also very interested in the process as well. How are the centers judging staffing needs, job assignments, etc. during this process? Will the data be available for widespread comment and review?

The technology aspect is always at the forefront, but I am an advocate for preparation on the front lines. Now is the time to begin preparing call-takers for the increased demands and improving their skills in order to make this transition as seamless as possible.

If you or your agency know of any training resources available for preparing the operation personnel for text to 9-1-1, please feel free to share with me in the comments section.

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.

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.