Social Media in Public Safety

Social media in public safety has become an interesting and ideal area of debate in the last few years. As technology changes and demand for instant results continue to improve our way of life, it also has an impact on the way we deal with social issues at any given time.

For instance, during the Route 91 shooting event, there were a number of outlets that one could listen to the actual discussions going on between attendees as well as first responders that were responding at the scene. On one channel, you could listen to the dispatchers assigning units and personnel while on another channel you could listen to law enforcement perform tactical strategies and on a third channel you could listen to emergency medical personnel respond to local hospitals. The actual video capability available through the various social media outlets allows for the public to be right in the mix of any type of event as long as there is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi availability. In addition, drones are being utilized for large scale events for the immediate response capabilities including those of amateurs and licensed drone operators, providing video footage of disaster areas both natural and man-made.

Where/How does “Public Safety” Capitalize on the Benefits of Social Media in a Positive Way?

That’s the million-dollar question. In the eyes of the “older” first responder, social media has no place in public safety. Social media is not confined to groups or generations but it is confined to what is acceptable in each line of work. In forestry, social media can be a great asset when describing the beauty of the National Park system which entertains millions of visitors each year, some of it based on the visual aspects published. This creates a revenue stream that is very beneficial to different governmental entities that rely on monies collected for future funding projects.

In cases of wildfires, social media displays instant coverage of the travesty as it occurs. Social media can also be utilized for public information emergencies providing directives and directions pertaining to evacuations again both man-made and natural. With active shooter incident, social media has been an aide for information and updates, and has also challenged first responders with the threat that individuals can watch any given channel and this itself can be counter-productive as it gives live video to on-going tactics to neutralize the situation or assailant.

The Negative Impact of Social Media

As much as we see the need/potential and applications of the various platforms of social media, we need to also address the negative impact that it has been associated with. As in any agency, policies are created to lessen the negative behavior or actions of those who attempt to ‘bend the rules’ or challenge administrative decisions. SOP’s are directives that drive personnel in the right direction either on the incident scene or at the station. Idle time has always been responsible for wandering minds and actions of some personnel. With the multiple social media platforms that are available on Wi-Fi/internet, agencies need to be aware of the activities of those who like to “see what’s out there.” With numerous incidents across the globe one can get themselves on social platforms that range from academic to any level of social deviance. Not only are these types of activities against agency policy and procedures, some are illegal at all levels, local, state and federal.

As much as some people argue against it, employers in the private/public sector can ask for access to an individual’s social media accounts. This request may have a poor impact on the employment opportunity or even a promotion. Not that the candidate is or is not a quality individual, it becomes a question of their character or judgement for the public image. What type of postings are being posted and how would an organization react when questioned about social displays of an employee. Positive social media/news will always be overlooked when something of negative and selling ability becomes public and someone can be taken down.

Social media has become a necessity in multiple areas ranging from advertising for academic institutions to selling automobiles with great results. When applying social media to public safety, it can have some of the most current and accurate information available and can also be utilized for major incidents and disasters with incredible information. Applications and usage will be the wave of the future for public safety to utilize any of the available platforms and this will also be an avenue for the newer generations to apply in the workforce.

Mark Rivero worked for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, Fire and Rescue from 1992 until 2011, holding positions as firefighter, training officer and, ultimately, professional development officer, creating degree pathways for fire service personnel and bringing in educational institutions to address higher education topics and degrees that were specific for the fire service. He currently serves as a program advisor/site coordinator for Southern Illinois University, and as the chairperson for the doctoral degree path committee for professional development at the National Fire Academy. He also works with the American Council on Education, reviewing fire service courses at various institutions across the United States. Rivero received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2004.

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