Like most people, I'd say the Richmond Police Department was more than a little surprised this week when an earthquake shook the area. Heck, I'm sure the majority of the East Coast was surprised since these events are usually a West Coast phenomenon. But, like most crises, police departments don't have much time to react. They just respond as they are trained to do to keep people safe.
Our Public Affairs Unit was no different. After a brief conversation, during which I think I was still shaking even though the earth had stopped, we decided to tweet that if people needed police or fire response, but couldn't get through via phone, they could tweet us. Nearly all cell service was down and many landlines weren't working either. But Facebook and Twitter were. As civilian employees, we don't carry a gun or a badge, but we play an important role at the department and we use the tools available to us to represent the Department and help people. One of those most valuable tools is social media.
Within seconds, our tweet
of "Please try to remain calm and please let us know either by phone or tweet if there are injuries or damage & police response is needed #rva" had been retweeted so many times, I lost count. With Twitter practically exploding with earthquake comments, I knew things were about to get even crazier.
With the assistance of my fellow tweeters, we tried not to overload Twitter more tweets, but with just a few we thought were important for people to know, such as:
*an earthquake safety checklist. We retweeted this link by the Richmond Red Cross (@RedCrossRVA
) both to give people important information and to let them know to follow the Red Cross for important information as well
*what to do during an earthquake
*what to do after an earthquake
*the status of the city as we knew it at that time
*an obvious, but helpful and important statement kindly reminding people that police, fire and EMS personnel are incredibly busy right now and to have patience and work with us
*a few retweets from the city's main Twitter account (@CityRichmondVA
), the Virginia Department of Transportation (@VaDot
) and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (@VDEM
), which let people know the agencies were on top of their responsibilities and that they could follow them on Twitter too for more information.
The response was amazing. Many more retweets of our tweets and a huge outpouring of appreciation, both from local and non-local tweeters who thought it was great how we were communicating with people during a crisis via social media. This is why we also sent out a few thank you tweets when we had time to acknowledge and tell people we appreciated their comments.
We also monitored tweets about Richmond and Richmond Police via Twitter, which allowed us to tweet a clarification that though our 911 Center was swamped with calls and we were offering to help via Twitter, our phone lines were NOT down, as someone mistakenly tweeted.
All of this is to show that social media is critical during a crisis and it's best to be prepared before something happens and know how your agency will respond. And now that the earthquake and its aftershocks are (knock on wood) over, it's time to continue preparing for Hurricane Irene!