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LAFD - Social Media and Emergency - Twitter

Firelafd2

This is surely the future

The Los Angeles Fire Department has been the toast of the blogosphere in recent weeks after its efforts at using the micro-blogging site Twitter came to light.

Twitter allows users to post short (140 characters or less) notes. The fire department uses Twitterto post information about fires or other emergencies that it isresponding to. These messages are then sent to users signed up toreceive the information on their mobile devices.

During the Mayfires in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, for example, the LAFD receivedpress inquiries from the BBC and from news media in Prague, the CzechRepublic, by way of Twitter, said Brian Humphrey, the LAFD's publicinformation officer. Humphrey maintains the Web 2.0 technology withanother department spokesman, Ron Myers. The pair work 12-hour shiftsto update the blog, send out twitters and other duties.

Governmentagencies are not usually known using cutting-edge technology, but theLAFD has immersed itself in various Web 2.0 projects, including a blog, a real-time alert service, a Flickr photo site and a live Internet radio show.

For all of you who are struggling with whether or how to do this - here is how the guys at LAFD justified taking this route

Humphrey said the department began looking at Web 2.0 technologiesafter the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. While thosestranded at the Louisian Superdome in New Orleans were certainly hungryand thirsty, "they were dying a little bit at a time from a lack ofinformation," he said. "They thought they were on their own Gilligan'sIsland."

The LAFD uses four attributes to characterize the success of Web 2.0 tools: desirable, beneficial, justifiable and sustainable.

"Wecan no longer afford to work at the speed of government," he said. "Wehave responsibilities to the public to move the information as quicklyas possible ... so that they can make key decisions."

Interest inthe LAFD's effort has grown; its blog just logged its 1 millionthvisitor this year, and photos on its Flickr account have been viewed500,000 times in the past year, Humphrey said. The department has madewidgets available with content it produces and uses RSS to allow moreusers to subscribe to updates.

But the most popular effort hasbeen the Twitter account, which now has about 190 followers who canreceive Twitter updates from a mobile device. For example, a Twitterwill report that a structural fire is being battled by 30 firefighters,or that a car accident has occurred. It reads like a dispatch log ofsorts from the calls the department receives and answers.

"Theidea for us is that not everyone who is in need of information in timesof distress will be sitting in front of a computer," Humphrey said.

Whileno funds have been earmarked for these projects, and Humphrey and Myersspend time on and off the clock working on them, the LAFD has more than80 Web 2.0 projects in the pipeline that it is testing.

Humphreyadvises other government agencies testing the waters of Web 2.0 not tofall into a common misconception about the technology: That it willallow an organization's voice to be heard louder, more clearly and overa greater distance.

Instead, "having this Web 2.0 presence ...allows us to listen more clearly and more accurately over a greaterarea," he said. "It is all about getting much more feedback [from thepublic]."

But, the department's journey to the Web has not beenwithout its challenges. As Humphrey, a 22-year veteran of thedepartment who has a propeller placed under his fire helmet in hisoffice likes to note, "I don't have a problem running into a burningbuilding ... but stepping out into the Internet was very intimidating."

 


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