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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

In Reporting Recent Incident, Los Angeles Fire Department Adds A Human Touch To Its Pioneering Emergency Response Alerts

August 1st, 2010 · 1 Comment

I was doing some research on separate blog posts for next week on the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) and the need for government to better personalize citizen emergency preparedness communications. I happened to see a small example that actually involves both subjects and thought I’d pass it on.

As I’ve discussed before, the LAFD is a pioneer in the use of communications technology including social media to inform and engage the public. I am a subscriber to its text/e-mail breaking news notification system, LAFD_Alert, which provides has provided as much up-to-date information direct to the citizenry as any governmental emergency agency that I am aware of. This can be particularly useful for those in the Los Angeles area in quickly changing situations such as wildfires. Officials can use the alerts and the LAFD blog to disseminate information about fires (or other incidents such as a building explosion in South Los Angeles), and the Department’s response and instructions for the public.

What I wanted to highlight today is more trivial, but I thought was worth a mention. In two of his news alerts Friday, LAFD PIO Erik Scott added some humanity to a communications form that tends to be pretty straightforward and antiseptic. He wrote hopefully about the aftermath of a structure fire in which a one adult male was killed but another was “critically burned but *ALIVE*”.


Subject: [LAFD ALERT] Structure Fire 7/30/2010

Date: July 30, 2010 5:09:15 PM EDT


*UPDATE: 936 E 59th St* CORRECTION: 2 total victims: 1st patient- Adult male DECEASED due to electrocution. 2nd patient- Adult male critically burned but *ALIVE* [my bold]  in ICU at California hsp & will be tsp to USC hsp. – Erik Scott###


In a subsequent text, Scott offered an update adding a small editorial and human comment: “Sadly Both victims have deceased.”

Subject: [LAFD ALERT] Structure Fire 7/30/2010

Date: July 30, 2010 3:01:22 PM EDT


*UPDATE: 936 E 59th St* Sadly Both victims have deceased [my bold], 1 from the blast & the other from electrocution. The fire was caused by illegal tampering w/ gas meter. NFD – Erik Scott###

I’m not saying that every governmental emergency alert needs to have that personal touch on each message. However, as the authorities increasingly try to get citizens to subscribe to these useful notification systems it can only be helpful if the messages are sometimes more engaging than usual government communications. Anyway, I will have some more thoughts about personalization in citizen preparedness messaging on Monday.

The LAFD Breaking News alert widget

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Tags: City Preparedness · Emergency Alerts

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 H A Marnell // Aug 2, 2010 at 6:33 am

    You mention the generally infrequent inclusion of “humanity” and the “personal touch” in most governmental communications, and I salute your bringing attention to the Los Angeles City Fire Department’s longstanding tradition of doing so in the internet age.

    I first specifically noticed a similar very human and humane element several years ago in LAFD’s report on a multiple-fatality traffic accident. It said in part, which I’ve abbreviated significantly,
    “On Monday, March 13, 2006 at 10:59 PM, … LAFD .. responded to a Traffic Collision with Fire and Multiple Civilian Fatalities on the Golden State Freeway in Sylmar.

    “One of the vehicles was engulfed in flames [and] Firefighters discovered the remains of as many as three persons within the one burnt car.

    “Firefighters remained at the scene for nearly an hour to assist the California Highway Patrol, and later returned to assist the Coroner’s Office with the dolorous ninety-minute task of disentangling remains from the wreckage in a discrete and dignified manner.

    “Brian Humphrey
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department”

    Public servants such as Mr. Scott and Mr. Humphrey (and their cohorts) certainly deserve much credit for the manner in which they invariably use the utmost sensitivity and careful phraseology, while still reporting the significant details of what are often unspeakably horrendous events.

    While this small group of people, because of their duty assignment, are the ones we hear from regularly, I can’t help but believe the sentiments and sensitivity they display publicly mirrors that of the vast majority of the thousands of other employees and the management of their department.

    We hear of the occasional scandals and other unfortunate events that a few bad apples will always get involved in, but the day-in and day-out actions (often genuinely heroic) and attitudes of the rank and file members of the LAFD must certainly be much more closely aligned with those which the likes of Firefighters Scott and Humphrey display.

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