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Social Media: Fire chiefs, police chiefs & all emergency managers pay attention to what this man is saying.

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The video above was produced by my friends Bill Boyd and Gerald Baron from Bellingham, Washington. I've mentioned both of them many times on They are among the smartest people out there who are trying to figure out how to handle social media at the time of a crisis or major emergency. You can read their blogs and more about Bill, here and Gerald, here

Pay close attention to the man on the screen. He knows what he speaks of. 

Here's what Gerald wrote about this video:

The core message is simple–today with social media spreading info and mis-info at the speed of light "you can't be fast enough" in getting correct information out. Excuse the production quality–I'm still learning–but I think this is a valuable contribution to the on-going discussion and education effort on this topic that is very important. I hope that every communicator who sees this passes it on to every fire chief, police chief, emergency management executive, Incident Commander and elected official they know. And if you are a chief or in emergency management, send this around to your team to help everyone get on the same page. 

Some of you may wish to have a copy of the video to download so you can run it from your system rather than on the internet. I'd be happy to accommodate that. You can request it at or give me a call at 360-303-9123.

Also, Bill and I are working on some additional training videos and manuals so if you want to be alerted to the availability of these, you can register for updates at

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Comments - Add Yours

  • http://.com gxw8440

    On Thanksgiving day, 11/25/2011, Hardin County ESD5, suffered a Fireman major line of duty injury,  Located at a secondary MVA 3 miles away from the primary accident, Truck Tractor Tanker accident fully loader with crude oil and on fire.  Before the Incident commander was able to filter information, during inital fire attack, and provide emergency assistance, this was one of our own, within a realitive blink on an eye, information was transmitted to the world. Sad part, the responders dad was also a fireman on the scene of the Tanker fire, and heard from a text.  Just like that, original report of a fatality was wrong, rest is history  So be aware.

    • dave statter


      You bring up a very valid point: racing Facebook when a line of duty death or serious injury occurs. From my experience the people you are racing against usually aren’t the civilians but your own people and their families. We have discussed that before here. It is a real downside to our world of instant communications. More reason why the fire service needs to be moving in the direction Chief Boyd is telling us about.


  • Fire21

    Our Emergency Manager is very on top of things, and I'd bet he's heard of this, but I sent it to him, just in case.  I'll let him distribute it to our local emergency agencies.  I think our Fire Chief is tired of hearing from me!!  LOL.

  • John

    I disagree with almost the whole premise of this video. Why play into the hands of all the idiots on twitterville and youtube. I realize not all people that use it are idiots but it sounds by using the methods that this video talks about we are attempting to curtail their behavior and better inform them? How about worry about the incident scene, and address the press/media in a professional manner, like we have been doing for many years?

    • dave statter


      Your goal isn’t to address the press, at least I hope it isn’t. Whether you like or not people don’t get their news anymore from just sitting down in front of the TV or reading the morning newspaper. People get their news from their phone.

      You are more than welcome to use the old delivery method and many still do. But the public wants the type of delivery method that LAFD and LAPD used in the recent arson case.

      If you don’t provide the news in the fashion that Chief Boyd is talking about someone else will and your press conference hours later will be out of date and not be of much use to the citizens you serve.

      I know fire departments that are putting press releases out a day or two days after a fire occurs long after it has been on the news. Who are they serving?

      I appreciate your point of view and it is shared by many. It doesn’t matter if we like it or not, but the times have changed and the fire service needs to evolve with it to remain relevant.


      • Gerald

        Dave, a very well-stated response to a reasonable and understandable question. There are so many reasons to want to go back to the way things were or just stay there and pretend the world hasn't changed. Appreciate very much your efforts to spread the word on this video.

  • Baltimore

    Dave you should check out Baltimore Citys Local 734 Twitter they post evey fire and other major incident in Baltimore as it happens on BCFDL734 and on the facebook BaltimoreFirefighters

  • Dickey

    Ok….explain to me why this should be a priority? To me, it doesn't make sense to worry about some guy videotaping on his phone and posting it someplace or someone tweeting wrong information while the incident is actually occuring. I can understand if there is some public danger and people need to be notified in the interest of public safety or health such as as a hazmat spill, weather updates, or traffic reports. However, a "routine" structure fire or any other incident, why should it matter if joe citizen has the wrong information….if they fail to actually get the correct information how should it be my fault? Why should I correct his believing false information?? Shouldn't it be his own personal responsibility to be properly informed? Also….why does he have to be properly informed in the first place?? (Public safety concerns are excluded of course)
    I personally think it's has gotten way out of hand where phones have gotten smarter than the people that carry them and everything revolves around the damn phone in their pocket.

    • dave statter


      I am not going to tell you it’s a good thing that everything revolves around the “damn phone in their pocket”. It really doesn’t matter our opinion of how life has changed. It just has.

      The idea of evolving with it is just a matter of communicating effectively with the people who pay your salary or fund your department. To get your message out you have to go where the people are. Transmit it in a place where they will receive it.

      There are important public safety reasons like at times of a major emergency. For example, letting people know what to do during an evacuation of an area or a region.

      There are self survival reasons. For example, building your department’s reputation in the community so there is support when they want to cut your budget.

      There are revenge reasons. All of those who claim the news media distorts things now have the opportunity to take their unfiltered message directly to the people.

      You can sit there and tell me it may not be your fault that the public got the wrong information about a house fire, but when that information involves your reputation or the reputation of your department you better be ready to correct or respond to it immediately or you/your department will be paying the price.

      Feel free to come argue with me at one of my presentations. Always glad to hear a different opinion and attempt to enlight you further.


    • Legeros

      That's a great contextual question, Dickey. Mind if I enter the conversation and simplify some? Why is news important to a fire department? Why should departments be in the news business?  
      Heck, let's simply this even further. Does news (information) as generated or released by fire departments produce value that's returned to them? (In matters of immediate public safety, we already know that answer. But this is a bit different.)
      I say yes, there's value. Great value.
      Fire departments operate on public money, which is influenced or controlled by people outside the department. The more they know about the operations (and organization) of a  department, the better they can help in their fiscal choices. Be they as elected officials, or, say, voters on a bond issue.  That's one example.
      What about damage control e.g. reputation management? When Something Bad happens, one version (or various versions) of the story may appear in news media and via social media. If the fire department counters with its own information– and even immediately so– the fire department's version of the story has a greater chance of becoming the accepted version of the story.
      Those are a couple quick examples, but I am not doing the topic and the question full justice. I am not a public information officer, nor play one on television. Thus, we turn back to the veteran reporter-turned-fire blogger for better perspectives…

      • CHAOS

        I'm not a PIO either, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express once.
        Dickey, quite simply, the folks who control your budget (read: taxpayers) get the info that helps form their opinion of your department from news outlets & our wonderful "citizen journalists".  I won't get into a debate about the relative intelligence of the citizen journalists or of the folks that hang on their every word as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  They may be crazy or just plain stupid, but they get the same number of votes as you and I.  It's bad enough when the "official" reporters only get innocent bystander interviews from people who can't tell a snorkel from a brush truck.
        Any effort by the FD to educate their citizenry about the department's operations, budget restrictions, and mission is a good thing.

        • Legeros

          And let's be honest Captain Chaos [ insert Cannonball Run sound effect ], even when citizen's watch firefighters through their own eyes, they don't always understand what's happening..

          • CHAOS

            and that's when it's our job to educate them…

          • Lt. Lemon

            Just to make note, this "CHAOS" is not related to, nor affiliated with, the "Capt. Chaos" of ELAFF fame.
            Thank you.

  • brandon

    does your department have a policy on social media?

  • Former Chief

    This is sound advice.  We have to keep up with technology.  We may not always like that, but the world moves fast and so does information.  We need to do our best to provide as accurate information as possible to the public.  It will be challenging for some departments with limited staffing or limited technology, but that's when you have to get creative.

  • Dickey

    Thank you guys for your comments, I understand a bit better however, no matter what we tell people, they will think what they want to think and no amount of information put out by the FD will change that. A normal, reasonable person will understand that at the moment, we are putting out this fire, protecting the citizens and making sure it doesn't get any worse so I would hope they understand that I am too busy to put out a tweet or update my status on facebook of "fighting fire right now, can't talk." 
    I get that good PR is good for the FD, of course and it's been that way forever. I get that the public can influence our budget and our operations….I totally get that. I am just saying I don't think I need to rifle out a tweet on my way to the call. I will get on scene and deal with that first and when I have enough information of the situation, and the manpower, I will have the PIO take care of things. I understand the concept of putting out a press release after the fact is not the way it's done anymore as well. I just think departments are putting too much emphasis on doing facebook before they establish a safety officer or water supply. Maybe I am wrong and I am totally missing the point but that's how I feel.


    Lt Lemon, thanks for that clarification.  When I saw "Captain" I was beginning to think some of my past had caught up with me.

  • Laurie VL

    Thank you for the open and transparent dialogue. The opinions I've read are valid and contribute to a robust and necessary exploration of this topic. I am an emergency manager (12 yrs at the local level) and have conducted and published research on social media during disasters through the Naval Postgraduate School. Bill Boyd is correct; this is a tough area to navigate at first. Having available resources to engage with the public (not control) during emergencies can be difficult in a small department or during times of tight personnel and budgets. 
    We often write the public off as being untrustworthy and creating more liabilities, instead of treating them as a resource. The Presidential Policy Directive #8 urges agencies to transition from a government-centric approach to a whole community approach to improve preparedness and resiliency. When an EOC is activated for an incident (not a single structure fire), the public with smartphones can be critical sensors in the field, assisting with damage assessments (versus public safety personnel doing windshield surveys), reporting developing safety concerns, sharing videos and photos of suspicious activities, and alerting us to ongoing hardships (isolated communities) and vulnerable populations that need assistance. A FDNY colleague of mine shared his experience that sometimes firefighters find a YouTube videos of structural fires after the fact, from someone in a nearby apt or office bldg with a different viewpoint than they had, citing that it could’ve been helpful Intel at the scene. I’m not suggesting firefighters modify their on scene responses, but someone else could be monitoring social media and advising for improved situational awareness. Please don’t misunderstand me, we do need to be able to assess the credibility of information from unofficial sources.  
    We need to build networks and trust among each other. We need to build a community forum, where the public will help screen and correct misinformation along with official sources who share official information through these channels. Social media can help facilitate this and it can help communities self organize and cope with disasters, when emergency responders are overwhelmed. New technology can also help emergency managers with assessing the credibility (origin, geotagged content, echos) of social media reports. We just need to be open to new approaches and articulate our requirements to technology developers to help us better adapt to this new digital world.