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Posted 3 months ago
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| Posted 3 months ago
The South Orange Rescue Squad in South Orange, N.J., is one EMS agency that has embraced the use of online networking in its daily operations, maintaining an active presence on Twitter and Facebook.
"South Orange is mostly a volunteer squad, so we need community donations to cover expenses," Captain Don Boyle said. "We've been struggling for people to become aware of us, so one of our members — a social networking enthusiast — decided to create our accounts. Happily, we’ve received quite a reaction so far in our small part of the world."
Capt. Boyle not only sees online networking as a tool for garnering community support, but also strengthening the morale and quality of the squad itself.
"This provides an easy way for our members to get in touch with one another," Capt. Boyle said. "Our volunteers often work one 12-hour shift per week, so interaction can sometimes be sparse. These sites help to establish a sense of camaraderie both among ourselves and within the community, which also aids our recruiting efforts."
EMS1 columnist Greg Friese, author of EverydayEMSTips.com and co-host at EMSEduCast, sees social networking as an asset to EMS agencies providing they stay focused on the organization’s mission.
"It's easy for those of us in social networking to get sucked in and distracted from the larger purpose," Friese said. "For an EMS chapter's efforts to have some measurable effect, the online interactions must be targeted on helping to achieving specific goals."
Further, Friese notes that social media is an invaluable way to spread real-time information during an emergency.
"Anyone can now be a public information officer if you have a Blackberry, iPhone, or palm pilot," Friese said. "We can now send out information before the media outlets are even on scene. Bystanders, witnesses, and responders who choose to tweet, blog, or post pictures can be a huge help to the hospital who will be tending to the victims of a MCI."
While Friese is enthusiastic about the potential, he also notes the need for it to be monitored.
"While this can be very beneficial to the industry, it's also important to establish firm guidelines," Friese said. "You don't want an on-duty EMT texting in the back of an ambulance when they should be tending to a patient."
Dave Konig, Communications Manager and NYC Director of Operations at TransCare Corp., encourages all responders and public citizens — regardless of age or generation — to become involved at some level with first responder social networking.
According to Konig, first responder use of online networks is on the rise, but agencies have yet to claim any ownership. Rather, it has largely been a grassroots effort taken on by responders themselves.
"Currently, there isn't a strong public safety presence out there, and someone needs to step up," Konig said. "There also needs to be an established policy to prevent online abuse. Those in charge of the agencies don't want to be bothered, but ultimately, they will be held accountable, as their names are out there. It's important to be aware of your online presence so you can continuously monitor your name and reputation."
Konig also believes that if an agency maintains a strong social networking presence, responding to an emergency will be much smoother.
"If a local disaster happens, citizens aren't watching CNN, but monitoring social networks," Konig said. "As a result, the agency can get more volunteers, acquire help for shelter in the region, provide traffic updates, and treat the public not as a liability, but an asset."
They key in making social networking work, Konig said, is using it, and using it frequently.
"If agencies start an online 2.0 presence, they need to actually use it and be consistent," Konig said. "If they update sporadically, they won't have the audience when they need it the most."
Despite the challenges presented by the new medium, plenty in the industry have already seen and will continue to develop the potential.
"It's too soon to know the end result," Boyle said. "But we are excited to see where this goes."