Sign up to get Twitter Alerts from your emergency services

Emergency Tweets

Twitter has just launched a new service in the UK – “Twitter Alerts”. This is a new facility (already tested in the US) aimed at emergency services to enable them to get critical information out as quickly as possible to the general public.

All the UK’s 47 police services, the London Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service, Mayor of London, the Foreign Office and the Environment Agency have all signed up (you can see a full list of participating services here). From 18 November 2013, these organisations will be able to highlight critical information to their Twitter followers by marking Tweets as alerts, which highlight a Tweet with an orange bell for added visibility.

Twitter users who sign up for an account’s Twitter Alerts will receive a notification directly to their phone via SMS. Users of Twitter for iPhone or Twitter for Android will also receive a push notification direct to their mobile. It’s a very straightforward process to subscribe – it took me 10 seconds to sign up to the Met Police Twitter Alert page here. Twitter even filled in my mobile phone number automatically for me.

Twitter Alerts in action

It is up to each emergency service to decide in what circumstances it should use a Twitter Alert. But, obviously, services will want to restrict their use carefully to crisis, disaster and emergency communications where spreading accurate safety information is critical.

Here are a few examples of real-life Twitter Alerts from the US:


Tornado Watch in effect for all of NJ. Be prepared to act quickly if warnings are issued by NWS. http://t.co/bLiQJE5qyb #alert

— NJ OEM (@ReadyNJ) October 7, 2013


USCP investigating reports of gunshots on Capitol Hill. If in a #Senate office, shelter in place. If not go to nearest office. #alert

— SenateSergeantAtArms (@SenateSAA) October 3, 2013


It’s easy to think of recent circumstances in the UK where Twitter Alerts would have been invaluable. Ones that spring to my mind include:

  • When the murderer Raoul Moat was on the run in Northumbria
  • When the two people who murdered drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich were still at large
  • During the course of the recent storms on 28 October 2013

Twitter Alerts would also be an invaluable resource around major fires and bomb alerts. The fact that so many people are almost always online via their mobile phones means not only that critical information can be disseminated at great speed but also that those of us receiving the alerts can share and pass them on and target them at loved ones we know might be in harm’s way.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter Alerts operate in practice in the UK.


Who’s SMILE’n in Omaha

With two weeks until the next SMILE Conference® in Omaha, this is a list of the police agencies and companies sending at least one person to the conference. The SMILE Conference is hosted by Chief Todd Schmaderer and the men and women of the Omaha Police Department. Our keynotes include Deputy Chief Peter Sloly of Toronto Police and Commissioner Peter Muyshondt of the Belgian Police. Our second day will focus on event management from floods to viral videos to line of duty deaths and our third day features presentations from all three of our finalists in the Social Media Investigator category of the ConnectedCOPS Awards.

We will also explore social media monitoring, engagement, strategy and reputation management. There’s still time to register. Get a discount code from any of our exhibitors or LawOfficer.com.

  • Airbnb, Inc., CA
  • Arcadia Police Department, CA
  • Arlington PD, TX
  • Atlanta Police Department, GA
  • Aurora Police Department, NE
  • BAIR Analytics Inc.
  • Barrie Police Service, ON
  • Belgian Local Police, Belgium
  • Bellevue Police Department, NE
  • Bismarck Police Department, ND
  • Bismarck, ND, City of
  • Borders Limited, Nigeria
  • Boston College Police Department, MA
  • BrightPlanet, SD
  • Calgary Police Service, AB
  • Cape Coral Police Department, FL
  • Cobourg Police Service, ON
  • Crime Stoppers USA
  • Department of Justice/FBI, VA
  • Dover Police, DE
  • Geofeedia, Inc., IL
  • Hall County Sheriff’s Office, NE
  • Harris County Sheriff, TX
  • Helsinki Police Department, Finland
  • Houston Police, TX
  • IES Group/Media Sonar, ON
  • Iowa Department of Public Saftey- Division of Intelligence, IA
  • Iowa State University Police Department, IA
  • Johnson County Sheriff, KS
  • Kansas City Police Department, MO
  • La Vista Police Department, NE
  • LexisNexis
  • Longview Police Department, TX
  • Los Angeles Police Department, CA
  • Massachusetts State Police, MA
  • Milwaukee Police Department, WI
  • MusterPoint
  • NE Game & Parks/Law Enforcement, NE
  • Nebraska State Patrol, NE
  • New Castle County Police Department, DE
  • New Westminster Police Department, BC
  • Norfolk Police Department, VA
  • NYPD, Sergeants Benevolent Association, NY
  • Oakland County Sheriff, MI
  • O’Fallon Police Department, MO
  • Omaha Police Department, NE
  • Orange County Sheriff’s Office, FL
  • Peel Regional Police Service, ON
  • Peoria Police Department, AZ
  • Phoenix Police Department, AZ
  • Prince William County Police Department, VA
  • Real Time Crisis Intervetion
  • Regina Police Service, SK
  • Reykjavík Metropolitan Police, Iceland
  • Rhode Island State Police, RI
  • Round Rock Police Department, TX
  • San Mateo Police Department, CA
  • Tampa Police Department, FL
  • Tempe Police Department, AZ
  • Toronto Police Service, ON
  • Univ. of Nebraska – Lincoln Police, NE
  • Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, CA
  • Vermillion Police Department, SD
  • Waterloo Regional Police Service, ON
  • Winnipeg Police Service, MB
  • Winter Park Police Dept, FL
  • York Regional Police, ON

Social Media is The New Face of Disaster Response [Infographic]

Did you know that 76% of survivors of natural disasters use social media to let their friends know they’re safe? You can find more interesting facts about social media’s role in the wake of a natural disaster, including Sandy, in the following infographic developed by University of San Francisco’s Masters of Public Administration department. The infographic was most recently used in a congressional hearing shown on C-SPAN, demonstrating the importance of social media in a natural disaster.

A first in the UK for West Midlands Police

West Midlands Police made Press Conference history in the United Kingdom today LIVE at YouTube. For the UK, it’s the first time a police force has streamed a live press conference seeking a suspect or witness in an ongoing investigation.

In a Google world where fast is better than slow (on the web or in catching a murder), anyone can become their own media company.

According to YouTube and Magid and Associates, 25-45% of all videos viewed at YouTube are on mobile. So, creating a press conference that streams straight to someone’s pocket is sensible.

However, 67% of those mobiles views are at home (in the lounge or the bedroom) as a second screen. That means, a person is sitting in the same room as a switched on TV, but uses the mobile too.

What is happening at YouTube on their lap will not reach TV until a few hours or even half a day later.

This screen capture shows how Google favours a LIVE Video and rewards that in Search. We also have a few new features with Google+ Hangouts like a LIVE Rewind button that gives the audience complete control.

So, if you arrive at the LIVE feeds a few minutes late, one click restarts the broadcast (similar to sky or cable TV). Another click and you are LIVE again. As you drag the slider, mini thumbnails appear giving you a visual clue on what you have missed (TV does not do this).

We can also see YouTube generates a snapshot of the broadcast and places that at the YouTube LIVE page giving you an instant glimpse in the program.

Finally, this is free. Anyone can do this. Feel free to ask me how to get started.

In Canada, Constable Scott Mills of the Toronto Police Service uses backpack journalism to stream similar press conferences and reports from the street. We also have Kerry Blakeman from +West Midlands Police already using LIVE at YouTube with more planned broadcasts this month.

Constable Mills has lead the effort at Toronto Police to broadcast live from the scene of a homicide, and when Dean Wichar was arrested for the John Raposa murder, he broadcast from the lobby of Toronto’s 51 Division in the evening with an Internet signal tethered from a print media reporter’s iPhone.

Let me leave you with the Press Conference as it happened and the accompanying CCTV video of a man and a vehicle.

Editor’s Note: The officer in the following videos is Superintendent Mark Payne of the West Midlands Police. He has keynoted at The SMILE Conference and has written several articles on this blog.

Mike Downes – Teacher, Broadcaster, Google+ Hangout Specialist
After spending fifteen years as a school teacher, Mike moved to local media by starting whatsinKenilworth.com in April 2010. After getting noticed by mainstream media (by blogging about Library closures and local Policing), Google+ opened in June 2011 allowing a whole new experience. Mike quickly saw Hangouts as a realtime video tool that connected people. Anoek Eckhardt, Communications and Public Affairs Manager at Google said: “Mike is a great ambassador for Google+. His interaction with thousands of people from across the world to share knowledge, advice and learn together highlights the collaborative power of Google+.

Social Media Quick Tip: Managing the message in an emergency

During an emergency situation, ensure that the social media message is delivered through one source

Editor’s note: The SMILE (Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement) Conference provides officers with all the technical hands-on skills and the practical knowledge to utlitze social media platforms for public outreach, crime prevention and forensics. The conference is a great opportunity for those involved in social media efforts to share suggestions and stories on this ever-changing topic. Below you will find social media tips from one of the speakers at the conference.

The use of social media and policing isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Today’s police need to adapt and utilize social media in order to stay in touch with today’s online community, as well as make themselves available.

The use of social media during emergency management situations, whether it be natural disaster, large scale demonstration, terrorist attack or simply everyday emergency calls by front line police, need to be managed and monitored by policing agencies. The usage of social media during these situations not only alerts the public as to where they can get help, but also where they can locate loved ones, how to report and how to prevent disasters.

In order to do this effectively, the most important thing I can suggest is during an emergency situation, ensure that the message is delivered through one source. Too many sources can cause confusion with the message and potentially cause a broken telephone effect. Ensure the information that you want delivered is being delivered, and that your message is being heard.

Constable Nathan Dayler has been employed as a police officer for the Toronto Police Service for 10 years. Nathan’s current assignment is a full time Tactical Trainer for the Public Safety and Emergency Management Unit of the Toronto Police specifically the Crowd Management Section. Nathan is also the Social Media representative for the Toronto Police Public Order Section and was a member of the Social Media Workgroup for the Toronto Police Service. Previously, Nathan spent five years with the Sex Crimes Unit working as an Online Undercover officer within the Child Exploitation Unit, as well as with the Special Victims Section.

Social Media Quick Tip: Be the official source of information in a crisis

If you aren’t already on social media when a crisis hits, there’s a whole conversation that’s happening without you & you can’t afford not to be listening & participating

Editor’s note: The SMILE (Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement) Conference provides officers with all the technical hands-on skills and the practical knowledge to utlitze social media platforms for public outreach, crime prevention and forensics. The conference is a great opportunity for those involved in social media efforts to share suggestions and stories on this ever-changing topic. Below you will find social media tips from one of the speakers at the conference.

1. If you’re already on social media, you likely already know who your influencers and detractors are. Your influencers are the people that follow or “like” you that have a large following and tend to re-tweet your messages or make positive comments on your posts. Your detractors are those that continually counteract your social media efforts through negative or harmful comments. Keep track of both groups and keep a list of them handy. In a crisis situation, you’ll want to reach out to your influencers to increase the reach of your messaging. You’ll also want to monitor your detractors to ensure they aren’t sabotaging your communication efforts.

2. If you’re a police agency, people on social media are talking about you. If you aren’t already on social media when a crisis hits, there’s a whole conversation that’s happening without you and you can’t afford not to be listening and participating. In a crisis, social media is becoming the primary place where people go to look for information, and if you aren’t there putting out official messaging, someone else will do it for you–and their information may not be accurate. Be the official source of information in a crisis by building your audience and credibility when the waters are calm. Prep your key messages (think 140 characters or less!) and have a crisis communication plan so you can make it through the storm unscathed.

Stephanie Mackenzie-Smith is the Corporate Communications Supervisor at York Regional Police in Ontario where she is responsible for the branding, marketing and online strategy of the 2,000 member police service. Her role includes strategic communications planning and the development of crisis communication plans, best practices documents and standard operating procedures as they relate to social media. She also teaches Media Relations Officers and Public Information Officers on social media use at the Ontario Police College and regularly presents on social media policy, procedure and misconduct. Stephanie holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Ryerson University.

CCSO Website Turns Into Storm Central When Weather Threatens

Karie Partington is the Public Affairs Manager at the CCSO

The corporate world is known for using dark websites as a crisis management tool, but the Collier County Sheriff’s Office has developed one specially designed to be a community resource during major storm events.

A ‘dark site’ is a pre-prepared and ready-to-publish site to facilitate information sharing in the event of a crisis or emergency. In this case, the emergency was the growing and rapidly approaching Tropical Storm Isaac.

“I felt it was important to provide our community with comprehensive news and information that would help them not only prepare for the storm and track its approach, but also be a resource afterward by providing specifics about storm damage,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.

Sheriff Rambosk said the website is the first of its kind in Southwest Florida, and possibly the state.

While Isaac ended up tracking westward of Collier County and having a minimal impact locally, it provided the agency with an opportunity to put its dark site to the test.

The site, www.colliersheriff.org, offered a live Isaac Tracker through The Weather Channel and weather updates including a map of current weather conditions through www.accuweather.com. There were links to state and local storm-related resources, including the Collier County Emergency Management website and the National Hurricane Center website.

Visitors could also watch CCSO videos about hurricane preparedness and see educational information, including the proper procedures when traffic signals aren’t functioning. The site also offered contact information for area cable, telephone and electricity providers as a resource for citizens needing to report outages.

A customized Google map displayed the six storm shelters that were activated. Had the community received damage, that information, along with road closures and power outages, would have been mapped as well.

Following any major storm event, deputies are among the first people to go out in the weather. CCSO deputies were prepared to shoot photos and video clips of damaged areas as soon as it was safe to deploy into neighborhoods and e-mail them to the agency’s Public Affairs staff to be shared with the community quickly.

Quick access to photos and videos and maps of affected areas is particularly critical in Collier County because hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, when many property owners are up north. Thanks to the photos, videos and maps of damaged areas, finding accurate information on how their neighborhood fared during the storm is as simple as visiting www.colliersheriff.org.

Importantly, site visitors were still able to reach the agency’s standard website and all of its content via a handy button on the home page. Other buttons provided access to the agency’s Facebook and Twitter pages and its video site, www.ccso.tv.

The site was taken down after Isaac passed Southwest Florida, but it will be activated again the next time a major storm threatens Collier County.

Collier County Sheriff Rambosk Launches Storm Website

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is Storm Central for Tropical Storm Isaac.

In fact, whenever severe weather is approaching the community can now turn to CCSO’s new website.

The site is always viewable at www.ccso.tv/ccsostormcentral.html. When Collier County experiences a significant storm event, such as Isaac, the website will override the Sheriff’s main website. In the case of Isaac, that override launched Thursday evening.

“Whenever a major weather event is threatening Collier County it is critical to provide information. This new website does just that,” Sheriff Rambosk said. “I’m committed to keeping residents up to date about our emergency preparation. The goal is to have information in the hands of the community so they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their property.”

The website offers a live Isaac Tracker through The Weather Channel and weather updates including a map of current weather conditions through www.accuweather.com. As Collier County begins feeling the impacts of Isaac, it will also feature up-to-date photographs and videos of the storm in action taken by CCSO members out in the field.

There are links to state and local storm-related resources, including the Collier County Emergency Management website and the National Hurricane Center website.

Visitors can watch CCSO videos about hurricane preparedness. There’s also useful information for after a storm, including a map that will display affected areas such as road closures and power outages; and information about curfews and re-entry procedures for residents in affected areas.

There’s educational information including proper procedures when traffic signals aren’t functioning as well as frequently needed phone number before and after a storm ranging from law enforcement to utilities.

There are also links to the CCSO website, www.colliersheriff.org, as well as ccso.tv and the agency’s Facebook fan page and Twitter feed.

Volunteerism and Social Media Saving Lives

Imagine opening up a social media platform and reading a post leading you to believe someone may be contemplating suicide – What would you do? This scenario recently landed in the lap of a teenage Colorado girl. It was no accidental discovery though; this young lady is part of a loosely knit group of people who form Compassion Alert on the microblogging website, Tumblr.com.  Tumblr is a site where people can post just about anything, like photos, videos, music, quotes, or basically anything impacting their lives.

Compassion Alert is a group and page formed on Tumblr to assist those contemplating suicide.  “Compassion Alert’s mission is to help Tumbloggers execute ‘reverse cyber-bullying’. We strive to let those who think they are alone know that they are not, with a strong focus on those who are considering suicide.”  The page was created by a 19-year-old young lady named Madden.  The page advises those contemplating suicide to seek professional and public safety assistance, immediately.  But, moreover, the page also acts as a message conduit to notify Compassion Alert’s followers about messages and posts by other Tumblr members, where indications of potential suicide or depression are present.  Messages are categorized by severity and then posted.  Compassion Alert members will acknowledge the post and advise if they can attempt communication with the depressed or suicidal individual. Their presence can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Like other members of Compassion Alert, our Colorado teen was volunteering her time to review and respond to alerts one evening, not too long ago.  She came across an alert that said a teenager had posted a photo and messages on Tumblr talking about committing suicide.  The Colorado girl looked further into the postings and was able to determine the suicidal teen possibly lived in Arcadia, CA.  Concerned for the safety of the suicidal teen, the volunteer called the Arcadia Police Department and reported the posts, asking the police for assistance.

The police dispatcher taking the call was not familiar with Tumblr, other than it was a social media platform.  The dispatcher took the information and sought the advice of a patrol supervisor, who was better versed in Tumblr.  The supervisor was able to cross-reference the possible victim’s information between Tumblr and Facebook, with other departmental resources, and located a friend of the victim. The victim’s friend was able to provide a home address for the victim. Officers went to the victim’s home and with the help of the victim’s parents, appropriate medical and professional assistance was obtained for the teen.

This story is a great example of volunteerism and caring at its best. From Madden taking time to create and monitor Compassion Alert, to the young Colorado teen caring enough to get involved, and to the teamwork displayed by public safety personnel, each individual deserves acknowledgement.  Job well done!  Thankfully, staff was familiar enough with social media to have a positive impact on this incident.  Take note public safety – train your personnel in new technology, terminology, and Internet based platforms used by your community.  Traditional response and investigative means for handling calls for service may not work in the virtual or Internet based society where we now live.

This incident is also an example of how social media can play a role in saving lives.  Many people share personal information about their lives quite openly on various social media platforms.  A good majority of this information can place persons in danger or perhaps cause them to be victimized by outsiders viewing the posts. Thankfully, the outsiders viewing this post and others like it were doing so while looking out for the safety of another.  In this case, social media and volunteerism contributed to quite possibly saving a life.  Great timing for this post since we are acknowledging the work of all volunteers this week as National Volunteer Week 2012.