To Our Twitter Followers:

August 9, 2012 in

Since we first started using social media in spring 2009, @SF_Emergency has become a major public information tool for DEM. In this journey of learning how to integrate a culturally unprecedented mode of communications (we liken it to when the internet was first used), we have learned A LOT about crafting messages for the public on this medium, of particular importance being how to master the art of…brevity. With that magical 140 character maximum, us govies have really worked that muscle. So, in the process of learning to craft succinct messages, we adopted a formula of sharing only the basics. This formula predominately includes the 1) what to do (e.g., avoid the area); and 2) what geographic area is impacted. So, as we move forward on our social media journey, we are becoming aware that our formula (developed to honor brevity and unnecessary information that could cause more trouble than help) is missing something: the why. That said, we want you to know we hear you – you want more details when we advise you to avoid an area. I thought I’d take a minute and let you know why things are done the way they are and tell you what we’re going to do in order to try and meet your needs.

First, the why….simply put, sometimes the information you want isn’t ours to give. This is especially true of law enforcement incidents. In order to respect the wishes of the lead agency and make it easier on our Duty Officers, we adopted the generic “avoid the area” message as a courtesy notification to our followers. The idea was simply to provide a little heads up so that you could not get stuck in a traffic jam, find yourself stopped at a yellow tape line or waste a lot of effort trying to get someplace that you won’t be allowed to go. If the situation warranted a shelter in place or evacuation –we’d say that. The message wouldn’t be “avoid the area” – it would be “get out” or “stay inside.” Often shelter in place orders are delivered by officers - the short answer here is that if there is an action you need to take, we’ll make sure you get that in a very clear way.

So, why, you ask, can I find out the details from other sources – like @Emergency_in_SF (there’s others, were not endorsing this one in particular) or SFPD? Well, in the first case it’s because private entities are not bound by the same rules we are – i.e. they’re not a City agency. To be honest they get it right 80 percent of the time. In the other case – SFPD – they are probably the lead agency and if they want to share info they can.

Now… Here’s what we’re going to try in an effort to meet your needs and still stay within our parameters. We will begin to state whether an incident is law, fire, transit, or traffic. Then, if we see another stream is reporting details that are right, or mostly right, we’ll retweet it. We’ve tested this out over the last few days and have received some good feedback. We appreciate your support and we are listening. Keep letting us know how we’re doing!

@SF_Emergency's more detailed tweets and/or retweets from informed sources.