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UPDATED: Someone gets it. Providing information to the public in real time during a critical incident. This is going on right now.

MD Howard County police

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Read more about @HCPDNews at Gerald Baron’s Crisis Comm blog

(Note: I’ve added additional Tweets since the original post. Scroll down.)

One of my big frustrations is watching public safety agencies failing to use the modern tools available to communicate with the public and press when the big one happens. Often when it hits the fan, agencies fail to provide the basic information that they can easily and instantly provide through social media. I’ve had tons of excuses why this happens. Let me show you an agency that has figured out how to get it done.

Just a little more than an hour prior to this being posted, a police officer in Howard County, Maryland was shot. I do not know the condition of the officer, but he or she is in our thoughts. A search for the suspect is underway. Howard County Police are about to have the first press conference at the scene, but look at the information they have been able to share through Twitter even before there was a confirmed shooting. This keeps the public informed and keeps your PIO(s) getting information out to the the press as a group rather than wasting prescious time on the phone during a breaking situation.

All times are approximate.

4:28 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Unconfirmed information about what is happening in the 9500 block of Washington Blvd. AS SOON as ANY info is confirmed, will update.

4:35 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Reports of possible shots fired in area.  Update expected from scene momentarily.

4:44 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

One officer shot. being transported to shock trauma. PIO is en route.

4:45 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Officers responded to the 9500 block of Washington Boulevard for report of man with a gun. One officer shot in exchange. Suspect at large.

4:46 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Police searching for suspect. No additional information about suspect available yet.

5:00 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

MEDIA: Updates re: the incident in the 9500 block of Washington Boulevard will be provided via Twitter and FB ONLY. PIO enroute to scene.

5:24 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

MEDIA: Staging area; Parking lot of fire stn @RT.1 & Corridor Road. Take 32 to Rt. 1 S to Corridor Road. ***Press briefing at 5:45***.

5:29 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

***ROAD CLOSURES** Rt.1 @gorman Road; Rt 1 @Freestate and Rt.1@ WhiskeyBottom

UPDATE: Tweets following initial post.

6:46 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

@ashleydijon – Can only confirm that Shock Trauma reports to us he is in stable condition.

6:54 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

NEWS RELEASE: #HoCoPolice officer shot, in stable condition, search under way for suspect. Follow us for updates.

7:00 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

CORRECTION: Officer is in serious condition. Previous tweet said stable. Apologies for the error.

7:01 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Officers received call around 4 p.m. in 9500 block of Washington Boulevard. Caller reported seeing a man w/ a gun.(cont)

7:02 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Officers confronted suspect who opened fire & fled into nearby wooded area. Search under way. Suspect:black male w/ black jacket, gray pants

7:05 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

Thanks to all for the tweets of support and prayers for our #officershot. Please keep the officer and his family in your prayers.#HoCoPolice

7:24 PM: Howard County Police @HCPDNews

*** MEDIA** please be advised officer is in serious condition. Previous tweet said stable. Apologies for the error.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Copious

    Yes, because the media would have never figured this out. Because any local news agency wouldn’t be listening to their scanner. Brilliant.

    • dave statter

      It’s about getting confirmed information to report. Not what comes from scanners.

  • fmch

    Dave, I’m the PIO for my union. I/we use Facebook to alert the public, our posts are linked to our twitter account. It usually takes one post or a text and our local media start blowing up my phone. The interesting thing is, that my county abhors positive press for its’ fire service, and the “only” way the media get information is from me.

    • fmch

      I should clarify here. Because my county has this “hate-on” for my department, we don’t have a dedicated PIO. So, when the media call, they sometimes wait over an hour for a response. One of the biggest complaints I hear is that my countys’ PIO is often clueless when it comes to knowing what incidents are taking place.

      • Yueng

        …. PIO must be union too …. BAHAHAHA

  • R

    Seattle Police (href=””>@SeattlePD) has had a very good social media strategy. They seem to recognize that a certain amount of humor generates followers which result in an audience when they have a pressing need to communicate with the public. They have even hired a well respected reporter from our alt. weekly to keep things flowing and his hand is evident in things like Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle which got lots more publicity when a condensed version was distributed printed on stickers attached to <a href=""Doritos bags at Hempfest.

    There are dedicated twitter feeds for recovered stolen bikes, recovered stolen vehicles, each precient, etc. and there seems to be a genuine effort to refer inquiries via social media to appropriate resources/contacts.

  • Anon

    Dave- Bless you for recognizing proactive PIO work. That assignment can often be thankless.

    Public safety agencies often do not see the PIO role as critical to the public’s acceptance of the duties that are performed.

    When good stuff happens, the agencies MUST get ahead of the speedy news cycle and keep the data flowing. Failure to do so is a disservice to the “customer” who pays the salaries.

    Obviously integrity of investigations is critical, however fleshing out details from open sources is an integral part of the overall public safety package.

    The biggest flaw is when the public safety agency fails to get ahead of the news curve when the department may be involved in some controversy. Bad news will not get better from inattention; a rapid addressing of bad news will resolve issues quickly as well as maintain the public’s confidence in the agency mission.

    It is beautiful to see that this public safety agency seems to “get it.”

    Dave, thanks for the sage advice early in my foray in this swirling madness that is information dissemination!! I don’t miss the sleepless nights now that I moved on.

  • IslaFire

    Yep, social media should be embraced. If your department doesn’t, news agencies will rely on other sources that may not be so accurate.

  • Rich Gardiner

    I believe the use of social media is still in its infancy for the fire service in general, it seems law enforcement is getting it down faster and more effectively. Yes we use it but not the way it really needs to be utilized.

    Consistent feeds of accurate and meaningful information is critical to the citizens and your department be it incident info or general public education posts. We all know the media will get that info one way or another and that they want it yesterday. The competition is huge for that snippet of info to trump the other outlet. It is better that the info the media receives is from the department operating at the scene and not the scanner or the bloggers or the other helpers out there.


    Because accurate first hand info goes a long way to working on developing a positive public image for the department. I believe this bridges that gap between the department and the citizens they serve and develops and builds a closer and trusting relationship.

    Lastly the media buys their ink by the barrel…use them to your advantage and build a relationship with them by having a media policy and internal department or person to handle promoting your department. You never know when you will need them on your side.

    I have been doing PIO/media operations, spokesperson work for 20 of my 25years in the fire service. The fire service has come along way in their relationship with the media outlets but there is so much out there to grab a hold of and use to tell our story.

    Rich Gardiner
    Harford Co MD Vol Fire and EMS