Teamwork & Technology for Emergency Response
When I started in this position as Gilbert’s Chief Digital Officer and first Communications Director three years ago, one of the first questions I asked was what the relationship was like with the Police and Fire departments’ Public Information Officers (PIO). That question was met with silence. Since my position hadn’t existed, there wasn’t a relationship, coordination or trust. And it was my job to build it.
During the last three years of creating a department and assembling my team, I was also very focused on building relationships with our Police and Fire communications teams. From social media strategy to shooting videos to planning emergency response roles during large events, we spent a great deal of time finding ways to coordinate our efforts.
And to do that, we had to understand each other. A police perspective, on scene, is very focused on the investigation, while the Manager’s Office perspective is committed to getting information out quickly to the Mayor, Council members and the community. And we all want to help the media to be sure they have the most current and accurate information so they can inform the public.
This week, we had an officer-involved shooting that resulted from a traffic stop. At 9:41am, I received the dispatch alert on my phone and within minutes my Public Information Officer, Jennifer Alvarez, was in touch with the Police Department Public Information Officer and they were headed to the scene. Once they were there, Jennifer would handle all of the social media coordination while Sargent Jesse Sanger, the Police PIO, could focus on getting the most recent details related to the investigation and set up a staging area for the media.
This all took place just yards away from an elementary school. Immediately, the school was coordinating with our police department and placed the campus on lockdown. We were able to share real-time updates through Twitter so that parents would know their kids were safe. Some students were texting their parents and parents were asking questions on Twitter and we could answer them.
We were also encouraging all of our employees to follow us on Twitter where we were sharing road closure information and details related to the condition of both the officer and suspect involved. We’ve made our Twitter feed available on the internal website for employees so they don’t have to sign up to see the latest information.
We manage more than 20 social media accounts for the Town so it was important that only one, consistent message was shared across all channels. We used the Gilbert Police department’s Twitter handle as the primary source for information and then Retweeted the information from all of our other accounts.
One of the other most effective forms of communication during this incident was Periscope. For those of you who don’t know what Periscope is, it’s owned by Twitter and is used to live stream video and allows you to interact with viewers while streaming. And why would that be used in local government or during an emergency situation? Because more than 10 million people have created Periscope accounts and almost two million are using the app every day. It really is the best tool to take your viewers live to a scene before the 5 o’clock news is even in pre-production. We were on the air and on the web before anyone else. We were able to answer questions live from parents who had children to pick up from school and others who were just curious and looking for more information.
It is in these major incidents, although sometimes unfortunate, that we learn what works and what doesn’t. All of the practice exercises in the world can’t truly prepare a team for what will happen when the sirens blare, the water main breaks or the streets flood. And it’s the nontraditional methods of communicating that are helping to connect us to each other and our audiences.
Yesterday, as we debriefed the incident, Police Chief Tim Dorn, praised the efforts of the teams coming together; the relationship, the coordination and the trust. And you can be a part of it.
This article was written by Dana Berchman, Gilbert, Arizona’s Chief Digital Officer and Communications Director. Dana leads a digital team responsible for developing forward-thinking policies on social media, digital communications, web initiatives and other tools to better serve the public.