Use of social media could be one of Ottawa County’s next moves in advancing its emergency preparedness.
“We are reviewing it. But it presents some challenges with the county policy,” said Fred Petersen, director of the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency. “The county doesn’t want its employees on social media (during work hours).”
The Ottawa County Commissioners recently approved an updated social media policy for its hundreds of workers. County engineer Dave Brunkhorst pushed for a more defined revision last year in hopes, he said, of heading off employee problems associated with the often-used Facebook and Twitter. Facebook boasts nearly 800 million users worldwide while Twitter accounts for another 100 million.
The revised policy, distributed to county employees in the last two weeks, “updates verbiage so things are clearer as to what we expect,” said Ottawa County Commissioner Steve Arndt.
Basically, Arndt said, the policy boils down to this: county employees are not allowed to use their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts while working; and during off hours, employees are not to discuss their jobs or co-workers on the social media venues.
“Everybody is entitled to an opinion. It’s when it’s posted as fact and it’s not is when it’s a problem,” Arndt explained.
Still, Arndt realizes, social media will soon be a part of county operations in some fashion as it is now in many business, education, television and news operations.
“Social media is here. It’s going to be a part of the process somehow. We just need to get in and develop them,” he added. “It’s a new dynamic we need to get used to. It’s like when we first switched over from fax to email. It took people a while to change over.”
With that in mind, Petersen hopes to evaluate the success of other emergency services’ use of social media and one day possible present a department plan to commissioners. That presentation is a while down the road, he admitted.
“We need to look at how to establish it, how to gain access and who would oversee it,” Petersen explained.
And, he added, “It’s not only about getting the word out if there is an emergency but for finding out things too. We found others have learned a lot by monitoring social media.”
That monitoring can help emergency service units stay ahead of possible problems – allowing them to be proactive to a potential crisis rather than reactive.
“We are definitely looking at it. I guess stayed tuned,” Petersen said. “Twitter and Facebook are on the radar.”