By Mary Rose Roberts
For Fire Chief
In the world of social media, word travels fast. In fact, an inappropriate post from a firefighter can move quickly through cyberspace and wreak havoc on a fire department’s reputation after the fact. Because of the power of social media, it is important to have code-of-conduct rules that are broad enough to cover actions on social networks as staff shortages and the sheer size of the networks makes it impossible to realistically monitor it, said Capt. Rita Burris, the Indianapolis Fire Department’s public-information officer.
Among other duties, Burris runs and monitors the department’s social-media sites. The department often uses Facebook to promote events, such as safety fairs. The site also offers a storytelling opportunity for departmental awards and a medium to educate citizens by posting fire-safety tips.
Burris admits social media is not her top priority, simply because she does not have time during her day to regularly update the site. Indeed, she advises those departments implementing social-media strategies to create a dedicated, full-time position for posting and continually monitoring sites.
Because IFD doesn’t have an employee to monitor social-media sites 24/7 — which Burris said is virtually impossible — she does not encourage citizens to post data or report incidents on the department’s Facebook page. Her concern is that it deters citizens from calling 9/11 or they may wrongly assume their issue is seen by someone when it may not be.
“We would prefer they go straight to 911,” she said. “I don’t want to miss something on the Facebook page because I am not on there enough. The minute you start encouraging people to communicate an incident on Facebook, you run the risk of people not calling 911 and thinking they are going to get a Facebook response immediately.”
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