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Monday, March 20, 2017

Students learn social media at Arizona Wildfire Academy

Arizona Wildfire Academy in Prescott, AZ
At first glance, government using social media might sound a little strange. You might think, “Why is my city government posting on Facebook?” or “Why is my state government tweeting?” In today’s tech age, it is undeniable that social media plays an integral role in information exchange and can be a powerful tool to create dialogue. As government entities search for  ways of serving citizens more efficiently and keeping them informed, departments like the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs are considering ways to digitally engage with stakeholders, partners, and the community. In order to communicate and serve the public effectively, government needs to go where the people are—and that is on social media.

Social Media Students 
The potential for informing, engaging, and inspiring constituents online is endless.  I recently learned this lesson  through a course on social media and incident response at the Arizona Wildfire Academy. During this course, it became evident to me that social media is not only a way of connecting with your community, but also a resource that can potentially help save lives and keep people safe.

Students Practice Filming on Facebook Live
This two-day crash course, taught by Michelle Fidler, National Park Service’s Fire Communication and Education Specialist, and Dolores Garcia, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management’s Public Affairs Specialist, was designed to give students an understanding of how to use platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter during wildfire emergencies. We practiced the basics from posting on timelines and creating pages to best practices regarding how to interact with followers during emergencies and how to monitor media for misinformation and rumor control. The diverse emergency management backgrounds of the students made for an interesting exchange of ideas, tips, and experiences. Some participants represented in-state agencies and departments such as, the Arizona Department of State Forestry and Fire Management, the National Weather Service Phoenix, and various fire departments. Students representing government agencies outside of Arizona also participated in the course and gave a unique out-of-state perspective.

Morning Briefings at the Academy
Now in its 15th year, the Arizona Wildfire Academy teaches a variety of courses on wildfire emergency response. During my time at the Academy, I learned that I was part of the 9,000 students that have gone through the program since its inception. Learning social media techniques and strategies was not only a chance for me to hone my skills as a Public Information Officer, but an opportunity to train alongside others who also work towards creating safer communities. Studying social media with emergency responders showed that beyond puppy dog videos and cooking recipes, social networks can be a place where important information regarding emergencies and preparedness can be shared with our families, friends, and communities.

For updates on incidents and fire preparedness information, visit these social media sites.
YouTube: AzEIN


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