If you want the latest police and fire information in your community, local departments are making it easy through their increasing use of social media.
The Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have social media outreach programs in place or will soon have them online with Facebook, Twitter and an e-mail alert service called Nixle that can send text messages to your cellphone.
Fire Department Shows Its Personal Side
The LAFD's social media tools are overseen by Erik Scott, a firefighter, paramedic and spokesman. Alongside his co-worker Brian Humphrey, Scott is responsible for the LAFD’s Facebook and Twitter sites. The department posts a blog on its website, and has a popular Flickr photo-sharing page.
"They are timely and accurate,” Scott said. “We do take pride in that. ... The purpose of the feed is to maintain an online presence and give a sense of security, to let people know we're out here."
"We do follow about 7,000 people on the 'talk' account, and have about an equal number of followers," said Scott, adding that the department does not currently recruit followers.
Social Media in Action
Scott said social media are proving to be not only effective public relations tools, but they also help the Fire Department do its job fighting fires.
"We were talking [to a member of the public] about a brush fire in the Griffith Park area, and they were able to communicate with social media [Twitter] before even the first resources arrived on the scene," Scott said. "No chatting, but 'What exactly do you see? Are there structures nearby? Is it windy?' It's pertinent information for the dispatch center.
"I don’t personally utilize Twitter on my own time," Scott said. "I used to think it was for people who say, 'Hey, I'm going to a coffee shop,’ but you can’t deny it does move people to act, without geographical boundaries, aiding public safety."
Personalizing Community Outreach
At the Sheriff’s Department, Capt. Mike Parker is responsible for online communications. The department post alerts and other information on its Facebook page and through its Twitter feed (@LASD_News), and it has a channel on YouTube.
Parker (@mpLASD on Twitter) said he likes the new communication tools because they give the department an easily accessible and approachable public face.
"You're talking about direct delivery—text, Twitter, Facebook, phone calls—this provides the transparency that the public really wants," Parker said. "And, in fact, now the quality of our work is in part being assessed by our willingness and efficiency in using the communications system they want."
Parker is also a fan of a service used by the Sheriff’s Department and other police and fire agencies, called Nixle, a communication service whose feeds can be received via text on a regular cellphone, or via e-mail or Web pages.
"It's a reverse-911 system,” Parker said. “Instead of finding out [about an emergency] at the end of the day [subscribers] get to find out now. Three years ago, no one expected me to send a message telling them that something’s going on."
In addition, increasing the modes of communication improves the department's ability to let the public know about an emergency situation. "We have definitely increased the chances that one of them will be operational," Parker said.
Social Media Sites Are Going Local
Sgt. Frank Preciado of the LAPD's Public Communications Section Online Unit told Patch that the department is about to roll out its new social media strategy.
"All the geographical divisions—[headed up by] each commanding officer—are going to be setting up a Twitter or Facebook account for their area," Preciado said.
The commanding officers will then assign an individual within the senior lead office to handle the communications, as well as having their community relations officer help out, he said.
Currently, you can subscribe to the free LAPD Nixle alerts to get e-mails or text messages on emergency situations and other area-specific information.