Managing Public Expectations….or not.

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: Washington, DC Metro logo

I live in the DC corridor and therefore I follow the WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) social media accounts. The authority has great social presence and I  find their Twitter feed especially useful. I look to them to see, for example, why I’m standing on a platform with no train for 20 minutes. More often than not, they will have posted the problem(s) that caused the delay.

Watching a conversation that took place with WMATA the other day, however, made me re-evaluate some of my own advice. I have often stated that it is important to communicate with the public how you will be using social networks in order to manage their expectations. For example, “This account is not monitored 24/7.”  The public, however, pushed back to WMATA for saying almost this exact statement.   I captured the conversation below.  They simply stated:

I’m not sure why WMATA said to report emergencies to that long number versus 911. Whatever the case, the idea that the account was not being monitored 24/7 was astounding to some:

The last exchange reminds me that exclamation points can demonstrate that someone is excited, enthusiast or sarcastic…I’m going with the last choice. Nonetheless, this exchange makes me a bit nervous. Is a 24/7 monitored social media presence now something the public will demand, especially for public safety organizations? If not today, will this be a demand in the near future? What are your thoughts?

Update: @WMATA responded to this post via Twitter. I really appreciate their replies!

For those readers that do not live in the DC area, the MTPD is the Metro Transit Police and they “have tri-state jurisdiction with responsibility for a variety of law enforcement and public safety functions in transit facilities throughout the Washington, DC Metropolitan area… MTPD police officers have jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout the 1,500 square mile Transit Zone that includes Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for crimes that occur in or against Transit Authority facilities. It is the only tri-jurisdictional police agency in the country and serves a population of 3.2 million.”

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8 responses to “Managing Public Expectations….or not.

  1. Absolutely- the expectation is that SM accounts are monitored 24/7 & that you should be able to report life threatening emergencies on them. It is up to organisations to manage expectations if they don’t already do this. It still stagers me that most EM organisations don’t accept reports via SMS, despite the technology being 20 years old.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment. Although I agree with you to some extent, the resources are just not there for some agencies, especially small local governments. I think others are nervous to set the precedent!

    • I wonder whether there is room for a consolidated 24/7 social media monitoring service at state or federal levels with hand-off to relevant agencies much in the same way that a lot of 911 type call centers operate.

  3. Well, I think people expect accounts to be monitored 24/7, moreover when we are talking of emergency service. To put but one example, people is used now to watch TV anytime, day or night, when 20 years ago no one could imagine watching TV after midnight. Being two very different things, what I mean is that “society” in general tends to be open 24/7 and it seems reasonable that emergency services serve citizens whenever they need them. The issue, as always, is how do we pay a person to be up all night monitoring social media, especially when most incidents occurs during the day and, certainly, there are other channels to get in touch? I think is a matter of time that all emergency accounts are monitored, to some extend, 24/7. We’ll see what happens in the following years.

  4. More than 2 years ago, the American Red Cross’ survey made this exact point that “69 percent [of respondent] said that emergency responders should be monitoring social media sites in order to quickly send help and nearly half believe that response agencies are already doing that.”

    Public safety agencies may protest all they want, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to say that they aren’t monitoring their social media portals 24/7 when they are using that same portal to share operational information (when it’s convenient).

    As far as calling MTPD directly, one of the benefits of a Next Generation 911 world will be that the person needing help will call 911 directly and based on their geographic location, be routed to the most appropriate (and available) public safety answering point. If the caller is in the Metro system, they will go to MTPD.

  5. Thanks much for your comments John and Maria. Yes, NextGen 911 will be a great help in the DC area where jurisdictions are not necessarily widely known by the public (I would have never known to dial the MTPD number in case of an emergency in the Metro had I not written this post.) I think, however, that it will be a long time before public safety organization agree to devote resources to monitoring social media 24/7. Some have only recently started monitoring at all.

    • It looks like emergency organisations have an “expectation management issue”. I would have thought that a social media command centre at state, federal or even international level, operating on a 24/7 basis would be able to at least monitor social media and triage issues to local organisations as needed. I honestly think that the real issue is not resources but priority. My experience with government agencies is that if an issue is considered high enough priority then the money & resources can be found from somewhere. There is a big disconnect here between public expectation and agency priority!

  6. Pingback: iDisaster2.0 Interesting and worrisome | Castillo Risk Management

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