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“A Gov 2.0 Pioneer”: The Los Angeles Fire Department’s Brian Humphrey Was Using Social Media Before Social Media Was Cool

June 7th, 2010 · 2 Comments

bhumphrey2.jpgThere’s a nice — and well deserved — profile of government/emergency social media innovator Brian Humphrey, “A Gov 2.o Pioneer,” by Michelle V. Rafter in the blog, Prime Time. Humphrey (photo left) is a veteran Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) public information officer who has made the LAFD a leader in the use of governmental social media, particularly in the area of emergency communications. Personally, I have learned a lot from his work.

Social media is now seen as an obvious communications tool for emergency entities, but not so long ago the LAFD was one of the only government operations using this new technology. It’s ironic, the article points out, as early adopters usually aren’t in Humphrey’s age demographic:

When Brian Humphrey showed up at CrisisCamp Los Angeles to help brainstorm how aid agencies could mobilize online after the Haiti earthquake, people didn’t expect the Los Angeles Fire Department’s social media expert to be 50 years old.

Humphrey gets that a lot. In an industry full of 20-somethings, the 25-year LAFD veteran doesn’t fit the image of today’s plugged-in social networker.

But Humphrey is well connected. In fact, the long-time LAFD public information officer was one of the first government spokesmen in the nation to embrace social media for disseminating information in crisis situations.

Humphrey is the first to say it’s not as hard as it looks for any government worker–or anyone, really–to follow in his wired footsteps, no matter what their age. “If we don’t master these tools, we’re not serving the public,” he says.

The article describes Humphrey’s pioneering forays into social media:

Humphrey is a pioneer in a movement known as Gov 2.0–government agencies using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, mobile apps and other technology to benefit the common good. He travels extensively preaching what he’s learned to representatives of government agencies of all levels and the military.

Humphrey’s first foray into social media was an internal blog he created in 2003 to keep the LAFD informed during a Department of Homeland Security disaster preparedness drill. He opened the blog to the public in 2004 and joined Twitter in 2007, not long after the social network’s debut. Within two months, a brush fire broke out in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park and the department used Twitter to provide updates on the fast-moving blaze. The LAFD returned to Twitter later that year when wildfires engulfed neighborhoods in San Diego and elsewhere in the state.

As social networking technology has become more sophisticated, the ways Humphrey uses it have, too. He recently split the department’s Twitter account in two: @LAFD, which is reserved for fire and accident reports, and @LAFDTalk, which people can use to ask questions about fire extinguishers or whatever else is on their minds.

Under Humphrey’s watch, the fire department has embraced smartphone apps, including SeeClickFix, which lets people snap pictures of potholes and other road hazards with their cell phones and then routes the information to the proper authority. He created an LAFD breaking news widget that he says has been added to approximately 800 websites throughout Southern California. Today, instead of the LAFD hosting meetings to discuss fire or safety issues, Humphrey uses services such as Meetup to find out where local groups are gathering and takes the department’s fire safety messages to them.

Humphrey says he’s met with younger social media practitioners who initially surmised what he did or didn’t know about Gov 2.0 based on his age. He confesses to holding similar preconceptions about the often tattooed 20-something tech experts he meets. In most instances, all those stereotypical views disappear once everyone starts talking and realizes how much they can learn from each other. “My eyes have been opened,” about younger Gov 2.0 enthusiasts, he says. “They’re more civically involved than society gives them credit for and they learn that a government worker has something they can learn from.”

Co-workers tease Humphrey about hiding a propeller under his fire helmet. But, he says, you don’t need to be a tech geek to understand enough about social media to use it at work.

Get started by tinkering around at home. Create a Twitter or Facebook account, go online and before you participate, listen to what people are saying, “just like you wouldn’t come into a town hall meeting and start shouting,” he says. Start a blog “about your marble collection or the link in your pocket. You’ll see how simple they are to use and update.”

Much of what’s disseminated through work-based social media is information people already share via email, Humphrey says. It’s easy to repurpose that information as blog posts or through e-newsletters or Twitter updates. Use tools such as or HelloTxt to write one message and amplify it across multiple online platforms, he suggests.

Today, government agencies are doing the public a disservice if they don’t use what’s out there, Humphrey says. “It’s a way to make our dollars go further, to save our time and help people who want to be” part of the process.

The full article can be found here.

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Tags: Preparedness 2.0

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