Category Archives: News

Facebook Pages Switch To Timeline

Facebook has announced that on March 30, 2012 all Facebook Pages will be switched over to the new Facebook Timeline design. Right now Facebook is giving you an opportunity to preview how your page will look with the new design prior to the conversion date.

Here’s a video from Facebook regarding these changes:

Here’s a few of the things I see as a benefit to the new Timeline design for agencies

  • A more visual layout focusing on photos
  • The ability to document your agencies history
  • The possibility of putting Events more front and center
  • A better admin area
  • Using the Cover Photo as a billboard to recognize your extraordinary responders

What do you think of the new Facebook Timeline design? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…

Northwest Ambulance Service Brings Public For Ride-A-Longs Via Twitter

The United Kingdom’s Northwest Ambulance Service is providing citizens with a ride-a-long experience with paramedics via their Twitter account this week. During this week long endeavor the service’s Twitter feed will focus on a different ambulance crew each day to cover the five counties the agency covers.

While citizens are often made aware of the motor vehicle collision or murder victims through traditional media, this provides a way for the service to communicate ALL the different types of calls it handles. By communicating the variety of calls and patients the agency services increases their perceived value in the eyes of the public.

Huge kudos to Northwest Ambulance Service for taking this initiative. What is stopping you from taking this type of campaign directly to your communities?

Prepare Your Communities For The Test

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on Wednesday, November 9 2011 at 2:00pm (Eastern). The test may last up to three and a half minutes and will be broadcast simultaneously across all broadcast systems.

The public will hear a message indicating that “This is a test.” The audio message will be the same for both radio and television. It is imperative that we alert our communities that this is a test, and only a test, to avoid an unnecessary flood of calls into our 911 call centers and panic amongst the public. In order to help agencies get the message out FEMA published a National EAS Test Toolkit.

Here are a few things to do using content from the toolkit to help prepare your communities:

  • Write a blog post about the Emergency Alert System
  • Create a short video announcing the Emergency Alert System test. The video can easily be created using Screenr to show your agency logo with a voice over
  • Share your blog post and video through social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Encourage your subscribers to share the link as well
  • Schedule messages to go out via Twitter every 4 hours using tools like CoTweet or HootSuite
  • Update your agency Facebook Page with information about the test the night before, the morning of, and one hour before the test is scheduled to begin
  • After the test, us the opportunity to refresh interest in any preparedness content you may have previously published such as emergency kit information, emergency planning tips, and emergency medical information. Share those links through the social networks and encourage your community to be prepared for when it is not a test

This is a great opportunity for your agency to connect with the community as a trusted and valued source of information. Don’t let it slip by!

Don’t Become A DC FEMS Like Casualty In Social Media

Have you heard what Washington DC Fire EMS (DCFEMS) have been up to? Their leadership suspended the departments Twitter account (@DCFireEMS) for 22 days.

The account reportedly stopped activity August 30 when the employee responsible for its content went on vacation. The accounts break was extended as the department investigated some of the content that supposedly placed Federal Agencies in “danger”. No specifics on the offending content were offered but Communication Director Lon Walls’ feelings about Twitter were made clear when he said, “Social media is for parties. We ain’t givin’ parties.”

Walls and the department came under intense scrutiny by both new and old media, specifically citing the lack of transparency that Mayor Vince Gray had promised would improve. The account returned to activity September 22, only a day after the suspension had been widely reported across multiple media platforms. However, the account will now be “filtered” with content requiring the approval of Lon Walls.

This situation has a number of issues that can easily be avoided if an agency takes the time to properly plan and implement a social media presence in a responsible manner. Here are a few things to help avoid making those mistakes:

  • Have a communications guide for
  • Include social media accounts in your communications plan
  • Include social media accounts in your Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP)
  • Establish a social media team
  • Utilize social media in tabletop and full blown drills
  • Read our blog considering we’ve already covered all these things!

Don’t let yourself or your agency become a casualty like DC FEMS where your transparency and trustworthiness are called into question by the public.

The Importance Of Social Media Preparedness

All responses to disasters and incidents become great responses in large part due to the planning and training before the event that takes place. Tuesday’s earthquake revealed some important lessons in Social Media preparedness that agencies should take for when such an event occurs.

  • Be ready to respond in Social Media from wherever you are – When a disaster or event happens most users will consume social media from wherever they are including through their smartphone. The ability to generate a message from a mobile location is necessity for every agency, not a luxury
  • Be ready for the disaster before it strikes – Hopefully you have a Social Media Response Plan already in place. If not, you need to have one before a disaster strikes and make sure that all team members understand their roles in the case of an event. This plan should include organizational succession strategies should a member of the team be out sick or on vacation
  • Include agency content in the pre-planning – The LAFD already had content designed for earthquake survival and they were able to share it quickly with others
  • Response time matters – It is important that the information put out from an agency is verified from more than one source. In the case of the earthquake there were numerous reports of the activity from independent sources and the media was able to quickly verify the event (undoubtedly a large part through Social Media monitoring) a full 43 minutes before the Office of Emergency Management. This is not a confidence builder in your agency’s ability to gather and disseminate information in a timely fashion to those affected by the event and might very well be viewed as a system failure. Its important to keep the necessity of timeliness in mind

Planning is an important part of preparation for disasters and events. Social Media needs to be included in that planning for it to truly be an effective resource for both your agency and most importantly your community.

What The Amazon Cloud Service Outage Really Means For Us

Last week Amazon’s popular cloud-based EC2 (elastic computing) web hosting service experienced the type of outage that cloud-based computing is supposed to prevent. The outage affected more than 20 web based application services and content providers including heavy hitters such as Foursquare, Hootsuite, CoTweet, and While service outages are not necessarily uncommon for applications, this event provides us with a few things that we should keep in mind when using cloud based services to connect with our communities via Social Media as well as maintaining operational integrity of our organizations.

  • Application Redundancy – make sure that you have the information needed to utilize more than one application to connect to your community. Having a simultaneous Hootsuite and CoTweet outage may have been considered at one time as “highly unlikely”, but as the Amazon outage showed us it is not as unlikely as we would like to think
  • Cross Pollinate Your Content – it is important to have a number of different outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to syndicate your content. By listing all your outlets on each service, this will provide users with the knowledge of options when that particular service goes down
  • Own Your Own Data (OYOD) – while we promote the use of services such as Twitter, and Facebook it is important not to put all your proverbial eggs of content in one basket. You should have copies of your content stored not just in the cloud but locally as well. When using services such as or Blogger it is important to back-up your data hosted there on a regular basis
  • And finally…

    • Ensure Vital Systems Can Operate Locally – while cloud servers are increasingly improving their performance and vendors move agencies towards those types of solutions, it is important that we maintain operational integrity by ensuring vital systems can operate locally. Even when the cloud servers remain up, there is plenty of opportunity for our connectivity to be compromised

DHS Announces New National Terrorism Advisory System

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has unveiled the new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) that replaces the old color coded Homeland Security Advisory System. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano noted that the color coded system provided “little practical information” when she announced earlier this year that it would be replaced.

NTAS Alerts are being piped out through a number of different channels, including Social Media conduits Twitter and Facebook. The alerts will warn of either an Elevated Threat or an Imminent Threat. Each alert will provide information about the threat including a potential the geographic region, mode of transportation, or critical infrastructure possibly affected by the threat. Additional information where available will include protective actions being taken by authorities and action items that individuals and communities can take to protect themselves and their families in an attempt to help prevent, mitigate or respond to the threat. A long form sample alert can be found here.

National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) check current statusElevated Threats warn of a credible terrorist threat against the United States. These will be the broadest threats with no true specifics.

Imminent Threats warn of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat against the United States.

Full alerts can be found posted at and there are a number of web resources for developers to display the latest information on their sites.

What do you think of the new National Terrorism Advisory System and its ability to provide information through Social Media channels?

What The NLRB Settlement Means For Current Social Media Policies

The recent settlement of the NLRB lawsuit against American Medical Response over comments made by an employee on Facebook has many people scratching their heads. The company insisted that the Facebook comments were not the sole reason for the employee’s termination but they quickly became the focus of the case. Because there was a settlement, there is no definitive legal ruling. However the terms of the settlement indicate how the NLRB might rule should the matter appear before them again.

So what does this mean for your current Social Media Policy? It means that it is time for a policy review. Specifically you want to reconsider having broad prohibitive stipulations regarding:

  • Comments made about your agency while off duty
  • Comments made about working conditions at your agency
  • Comments made about wages at your agency
  • Depicting your agency in anyway over the internet
  • It’s important to understand that this settlement does not give responders free reign to post whatever they like in Social Media. Information about patients, situations, and scenes are still considered confidential information that should not be shared, and that should be specified in your policy. Additionally the usage of the internet and Social Media creation devices during working hours and assignments can still be governed by the agency and should also be outlined in your policy.

    What changes are the legality of the vast draconian blanket policies that are often the knee jerk reaction of agencies when they don’t understand something entirely and therefore deem it automatically as bad or a liability. As this settlement shows, it is a greater liability not to take the time to understand something and create a responsible and reasonable policy than to just issue a prohibitive draconian blanket policy.