Police and Emergency Services Becoming Social Media Savvy

Photographer: Levi Washburn

Lynchburg, VA- If you're ever stuck in traffic, you can probably check Twitter or Facebook to see what was going on. Thanks to social media, the way we send and receive information has completely changed. Police departments and emergency services are using social media to send out important messages. They're taking advantage of our fast-paced world. With Facebook and Twitter, they're stepping up their internet presence, and learning to be social media savvy.

"Since the early 90s the Lynchburg Police Department has been heavily involved in community policing, and social media is described as the community policing of the 21st century," said Steven Wood, Lynchburg Police Department's Community Services Coordinator.

In September, Wood went to a SMILE conference--that's Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement. There, he learned some tips on technology.

"It's allowing us to have a better communication with the city," said Wood.

And as we all learned last summer, communication is key. The derecho was LPD's first real taste of social media.

"For the first time we used social media for an emergency situation where we were giving updates on sometimes an hourly, daily basis," said Wood.

That's something Lynchburg Department of Emergency Services, or Lyncomm, is quite familiar with. Every day they send out multiple updates on traffic.

"We used to send out most of the road closures and information like that over fax. And then that would be disseminated to the different media outlets," said Melissa Foster, Deputy Director of Lyncomm.

But now with Facebook and Twitter, in the time it takes to send one fax, Lyncomm can go on a media blitz. Within minutes of an accident, Lyncomm can tweet and WSET can re-tweet the information, reaching thousands of people.

"We're reaching a greater number of people now than we ever were before," said Foster.

"It's just this big vicious circle that, it's just crazy the way social media moves forward," said Wood.

In an effort to keep moving forward, LPD is launching a media campaign. They've started Throwback Thursdays, where they share an old picture of the department. Soon they'll start featuring some of their officers, to help the city get to know them better.