[NOTE: Twitterville Notebook are selected notes from interviews I've conducted with over 150 people for my new book, Twitterville, which will be published in September by Portfolio. Twitterville tells the stories of people in enterprises, media and small businesses; consultants, media, government and non profit organizations have done so far on Twitter in the hope it will inform others of the enormous potential to thrive on Twitter even during tough times like these.
I am crowd sourcing the book. Over three-fourths of the stories I discuss in Twitterville came to me on Twitter. The book should take me about five months to complete. Had I not used Twitter and this blog, it would have taken more than two years to gather the research. Also comments I receive ere and on Twitter, greatly infuence which interviews get major--or minor--play.]
This post, which completes my research on my Twitter in Government & Politics chapter, results from my interview with Brian Humphrey, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department [LAFD]. He is now a Public Information Officer. Humphrey has been awarded honors on the battle lines of countless storms, conflagrations and disasters -
In the previous chapter, I discussed the citizen journalism that started with the video recording of the 1992 police beating of Rodney King. Humphrey's story really begins in the aftermath, when riots broke out causing more than $1 billion in property damage and about 70 people dead. Humphrey was a rookie then and he was active on the front line when firefighter worked exhaustively to quell arsonist action plus provide First Aid to injured people in what can best be described as a war-torn zone.
Since 1993, he's managed external relations, dealing firsthand with all aspects of print, radio, television and internet journalism. From both a traditional and social media perspective, Humphrey very often is the face and voice of LAFD.
LAFD is generally considered the pioneer for both government and disaster activity in social media. The following is extracted from my email conversation wth him:
Q 1.How much of your work is related to social media?
I was an early proponent of Google's '70% Solution': https://snipurl.com/e3f8d ... in my case: 70% for the ever-blurring line between traditional and new media, 20% for personal interaction with those in the new media sphere and 10% to development and better understanding of new media tools and trends.
Q2. Can you tell me when and why the LAFD started using Twitter?
It was March 2007, admittedly as a 'new shiny thing.' Within weeks - May 8, 2007 to be exact, we discovered the potential of the now ubiquitous SMS tool during a wind-driven wildfire in LA's Griffith Park.
Q3. Was LAFD the first crisis-repsonse organization to use it?
While we've never touted ourselves as the first, LAFD's use of Twitter does pre-date its oft-cited use during Southern California wildfires in the fall of 2007. In the years since our first use of Twitter, we're pleased not only to have been a springboard and proof of concept, but also remain humbled by the mention of @LAFD by Twitter's principals, including this video keynote address by founder Jack Dorsey making direct reference that LAFD and Twitter fit like hand in glove:
Q4. What was the original thinking?
We were notably different than most Twitter users' in the early days. There were no corporate or other government participants to speak of, and
we shared a blissful and mistaken notion with many early adopters that
Twitter was a dissemination tool. Like the proverbial kitchen gadget at
the County Fair, we soon learned it was far more.
It wasn't long, especially with the growth of API's that we saw Twitter as a multi-dimensional tool, specifically one that allowed us to have situational awareness in times of duress with simultaneous immersion into the lives and concerns of our many stakeholders.
Q5. Are you the sole author of @LAFD? Is it just used for alerts?
I am but one of three persons that staff our LAFD Public and Media Relations office around-the-clock every day of the year. At this time, @LAFD is mostly an automated simulcast of our popular real-time LAFD_ALERT e-mail list ,which focuses on Breaking News. While we offer safety or public service messages every now and then. We are deeply sensitive to "signal to noise ratio" and the fact that many of our wireless recipients are paying my the message. Therefore, the outgoing messages via @LAFD seek to address the key elements of the crisis messaging triangle: "What's Happening?" "What Are You Doing About It?" "What Does It Mean To Me?"
We don't get more conversational because our @LAFD format was driven by the legacy LAFD_ALERT e-mail system on Googlegroups which automatically sends to @LAFD via Twittermail . It simultaneously produces RSS Feeds and Widgets from which we encourage syndication.
But I do actively engage users of Twitter and other social media by automated keyword searches. I read and reply to every direct tweet and @ reply whenever possible.
The issue for us is engagement, and our approach is flexible.
Q6. When do you used @LAFD and when do you use your personal @BrianHumphrey?
As a public safety agency information officer, I'm often saddled by the inability to share my opinion (as if anybody cares) on or off-duty about anything more serious than the weather - which isn't really saying much in Southern California.
I know that many of the Twitterati used an on-line forum and wanted to know more about what I was doing, hence, I started @BrianHumphrey. I've also recently opened a side channel @LAFDtalk to discuss non-emergency issues.
Q7. Have you considered following more people or do you feel that sidesteps your primary mission?
I think @LAFDtalk account will follow more people, and serve as an informal gathering place for Twitter conversation about LAFD without polluting the potentially lifesaving stream of incident and alert information sent via @LAFD.
Q8. What other social media tools does LAFD use?
For the most part, you name a
popular tool and we are using it or at least experimenting with it. I have a self-imposed limit
of 100 in the "LAFD Lab," which exists wholly in my laptop computer. I hover around that
number, and sometimes have to scratch a marginally applicable tool for
one that is showing greater promise.
Q9. Do you think that Twitter has ever helped save lives? '
Yes. A recent situation with an overcrowded nightclub in Los Angeles was recently brought to my attention . It was a matter of moments later that we dispatched
inspectors to close down a venue that could have resulted in a tragedy.
It is only matter of time before Twitter plays a life-saving role during wildfires or floods.
Q10. Do you have a great story for me regarding LAFD and Twitter?
I have many. One of my favorites is the mention of the Starbuck's Barista contained in the post below, when my colleague Ron Myers and I were off-duty, out of uniform - and nearly sprayed our coffee across a local Starbuck's.