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The Los Angeles Fire Dept Social Media Hiatus on Dec 12, 2013
The Los Angeles Fire Dept Social Media Hiatus on Dec 12, 2013
It is noted in a Dec 11th article from LA Observed (1) that: “The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the
Society of Professional Journalists will also recognize LAFD (Los Angeles Fire Dept) spokesman
Brian Humphrey for his dedication to providing access to reporters." adding "[Humphrey] has
worked to bring transparency to the Los Angeles Fire Department through social media. These
efforts include a robust Twitter account, blog and even a Web camera that often shows Humphrey
On the same date Dec 11th it was announced that the LAFD Fire Chief appointed a new Community
Liaison Officer Battalion Chief Stephen Ruda who was to “fulfill a strategic leadership role in
overseeing all aspects of LAFD community and media relations.” (2)
Then also on Dec 11th there was an indication that something might be happening behind the
scenes when @ValleyFireScan offered @LAFDtalk and @LAFD pics of a Fire and the response from
@LAFDtalk was “will get back to you shortly. Some Changes underway. BH” (Brian Humphrey). In
my opinion a highly unusual response given the history of the account being open and transparent.
Tweet captures can be seen in a Storify titled LAFD Social Media Hiatus (3).
On Dec 12th all LAFD accounts were put on hold with no more explanation than: “This account is
on Temporary Hiatus”. As local news picked up on the accounts status, either ironically or more
intentionally Battalion Chief Stephen Ruda, an LAFD spokesman was quoted by the LA Times as
saying: “We’ve been told by powers that be that if we provide that information we are in violation of
federal law.” (4)
According to the LA Times “Fire officials said the change in policy was the result of a new
interpretation of a 1996 federal healthcare privacy law by city attorneys, who now say it should shield
the release of all information related to medical rescues, including the response times.” (4)
All of this of course was later corrected and refuted as LA Observed writes: Mayor Eric Garcetti put
out a statement (through spokesman Yusef Robb) “Frankly, it's ridiculous. We immediately told the
department to fix this, and it's being fixed. The twitter account is going back online, and they're going
to be giving out the information they're supposed to be giving out.” “Robb said the fire chief learned
about the policy change from the media.” (5)
(1) LA Observed http://www.laobserved.com/archive/2013/12/spjs_distinguished_journa_1.php
(2) California Fire News article LAFD Fire Chief Appoints New Community Liaison Officer #CaFire
(3) LAFD Social Media Hiatus http://storify.com/northlandfox/lafd-social-media-hiatus
(4) LA Times http://www.latimes.com/news/local/lafddata/la-me-lafd-data-twitter20131012,0,7598794.story#ixzz2nMddFieK
(5) LA Observed “LAFD fumbles on Twitter and 911 info”
The Los Angeles Fire Department has always been at the forefront of Gov 2.0 leading in Social
Media/Internet use for Emergency Management and Government Communications.
So what are the takeaways from something that could have turned into a real Public Relations
nightmare? First of all it’s a given things change; position titles, departments reorganize, people
move on whether they are reassigned, retire, quit, or pass away. And the fact is those people are the
accounts they represent in personality, knowledge base and in spirit. I’ve seen many accounts of
companies and agencies just die off because that individual was no longer there. You can never
replace someone but you can mitigate the effect.
If there’s one thing to remember from this post is to put the public first, make sure not to let personal
differences, egos, and professional aspirations get in the way or take something away from the public
you serve. Social Media content takes time to develop and is to be considered an investment for the
long term. Videos, resources, contacts, content then first and foremost the relationship with
stakeholders and community partners built up over time are invaluable.
Information is instant, as spokesman Yusef Robb was quoted as saying, “the fire chief learned about
the policy change from the media.” (5) What if anything can be done ahead of time? Communication
whether it is in crisis mode or on a day to day public information basis should be planned via a
strategy and with policy in place. Know if your local Government, Agency, or Department has policy
for Ethics, Communications, and/or Social Media.
In this instance if it really was an issue of HIPPA (Health Information Privacy) would it affect all
accounts? Could it be more a matter of protecting the account as with the option Twitter provides as
opposed to stopping someone from posting? Could you continue to post as long as it wasn’t HIPPA
related? All questions your legal should answer yet a must know immediately especially if you have
thousands of followers.
Accounts need to be archived on a regular basis something many like Twitter and Facebook offer.
Moments, incidents, activity can also be saved via a Google Doc. Nothing should ever be deleted
without being redacted and saved in an archive. Personally oppose deleting anything Social Media
related unless an extreme case of violation of TOS (terms of service) of the platform used because it
has the potential to have the opposite effect and even then should be redacted. If you admin on an
account would advise keeping records and copies of everything you do. Many account holders own or
claim ownership of content including text, pictures, and videos so be forewarned.
Advisable to have admin/account decisions decided by two to three individuals in case someone
needs to have privileges revoked, account changes, or there are legal issues to name a few instances.
As in this case if someone new is appointed there would have to be a procedure in place before any
changes were considered or made. Those in decision making positions should also have the
experience using Social Media platforms including any other method used that is communication
related or advisement from someone with the experience as described.
With an ever increasing number of digital citizens, an agencies outreach and social footprint is key to
its survival and growth so best if more proactive than reactive for optimal results.
Dawn Dawson @northlandfox