I’m sitting in a Houston airport waiting for my flight and my Twitter and Facebook feeds blow up with news the Los Angeles Fire Department social media sites had been shut down due to patient privacy concerns. “Nah, that can’t be true” I thought to myself. Surely, the progressive City of Los Angeles is on top of any legal issues related to the government use of social media tools. Umm…. Nope. In fact, Brian Humphrey, Lead LAFD PIO , had earlier tweeted that their SM channels were on “temporary hiatus” citing patient privacy concerns. The issue came to light when news agencies and others searched for information about a double fatality fire last night, with Brian posting the “hiatus” at 1:39 a.m. this morning. “All of our social media is on hiatus until we get clarity and develop a plan of how orders are to be implement in regard to our social media presence”, Humphrey said.
Well, guess what? The mainstream media and all of us who consider the @LAFD social media accounts to be some of the most engaging and informative emergency response organization information pipelines in the country started asking hard questions. The response? Battalion Chief Stephen Ruda forcefully refuted the initial tweet of a “hiatus”. “The hiatus is not a hiatus. We are not taking a vacation.” Really chief?
It is now 45 minutes since I first read the social media feeds announcing the shutdown, and already a reversal statement has been made by the LAFD, and the LAFD’s social media feeds are being restored. Word on the street is Mayor Eric Garcetti, a strong social media advocate, blew a gasket. “Frankly, it’s ridiculous. We immediately told the department to fix this, and it’s being fixed. The Twitter account is going back online, and they’re going to be giving out the information they are supposed to be giving out”, stated spokesman Yusef Robb. He goes on to note city leadership learned of the policy change through the media, and immediately told LAFD to rescind the order.
At least the Mayor gets it.
What makes this story really interesting is yesterday’s announcement of a special award to be given to LAFD PIO Brian Humphrey by the Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, in recognition of his hard work in using social media and other channels to improve information flow and engagement with the LA community.
I wonder what prompted the LAFD leadership to take such drastic action? Hiding behind a federal privacy law enacted in 1996 comes across as a lame excuse, especially since LAFD’s social media presence is used as an example of how to implement social media strategies while protecting patient privacy per HIPAA requirements. Keep up the good fight Brian and the rest of the LAFD PIO team. You folks do great work in spreading the outstanding work of the LAFD.
Perhaps Chief Ruda needs a vacation. Anyone know if he has a Twitter account? I’d like to wish him Bon voyage…