lowers socially. Status updates often include names or initials to reinforce that there are real people behind the account.

The value of the LAFD’s engagement of the public through social media was highlighted during an incident in which an explosion was reported at the Los Angeles International Airport. The LAFD could see who had recently indicated via Foursquare3 that they were at the terminal where the explosion was reported, and asked these individuals (via Twitter) to contact its public affairs office by telephone. By asking these individuals what they had observed, the public affairs office could provide first responders with information about the event even before they were on the scene; in this case, the public affairs office was able to tell the responders that the explosion was in fact the result of a lithium battery overheating, a relatively minor incident.

Nevertheless, some potentially useful tools for using social media have proven too expensive to acquire, and some uses of certain tools are precluded by the terms of their end user license agreements, commented Humphrey, but he noted that the LAFD has identified a set of free or low-cost tools that are useful for disseminating and monitoring information. Many of the LAFD’s social media accounts are fed by email using the services Ping.FM4 and HelloTXT.com,5 which makes it possible to quickly provide or request information through the approximately 80 social media accounts managed by the LAFD. These accounts, including @LAFD and @LAFDtalk, can also be used individually to interact with the public.

Different social media tools are useful during different stages of a disaster. For example, according to Humphrey, Blog Talk Radio6 is a tool that is particularly helpful during the recovery stage. Blog Talk Radio can be used to create Internet radio stations, which can take calls from users. Other related tools are also useful. Standards such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and various XML (Extensible Markup Language) schema make it easier to represent, distribute, and analyze information.

One task for which better tools would be helpful, Humphrey observed, is in extraction of information from photographs distributed over social media. Currently, the LAFD relies on manual searches for potentially useful pictures based on the social media tags they are associated with. Another possible source of information is the metadata included in image files, such as the time or location. It would also be helpful to have tools


3 Foursquare is a location-based, social media application for mobile devices. Users “check in” to locations found near their current location, which is detected using the GPS hardware in the mobile device. See https://foursquare.com.

4 See https://ping.fm.

5 See http://hellotxt.com/.

6 See http://www.blogtalkradio.com.

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