Newswise — When a disaster or emergency happens, much of the public now relies on social media tools to call for help, stay up to date with the latest news, and to share information. Social media tools also can provide the nation’s first responders with inexpensive, easy to use, and accessible ways to share information, train personnel, and educate the public, and now they have a place to discuss such initiatives.

The Make America Safer through Social Media Community on First Responder Communities of Practice – located at – serves as a national resource for practitioners from all sectors and levels of government, as well as academia and non-governmental organizations, to discuss and collaborate on best social media practices. The site serves as a platform to discuss the effective and safe use of social media and other Web technologies for public safety, and to develop solutions with colleagues. Topics frequently discussed in the community include privacy, security and liability concerns, as well as stakeholder engagement and program strategy. All prospective members of the site are vetted to verify their identity, and once they are, they may contribute to the site’s various communities, including the Make America Safer through Social Media Community.

The Make America Safer through Social Media Community now has vetted members in 33 states, and they work in a variety of disciplines including law enforcement, decontamination, public health, and emergency management. On the Website, they share their experiences and provide details about the operational procedures their agencies have developed regarding social media adoption. Site members collaborate on projects and share information using the Community's tools, which include discussion boards, blogs, bookmarks, and shared calendars. To expand the conversations and provide useful references, members collect and store social media policies, handbooks, and standard operating procedures in the Community's document repository and wiki.

Recent discussions have included how to develop strategies for monitoring social media during emergencies to improve situational awareness, as well as challenges associated with using social media for communicating with the public before, during, and after emergencies. Through the Community, emergency response and homeland security professionals implementing social media into current procedures can save time and money by leveraging others’ experience and expertise to enhance response capabilities.

In addition, the Make America Safer through Social Media Community is home to the Virtual Social Media Working Group, composed of first responders and homeland security professionals with expertise in leveraging social media technologies to pursue the missions of their agencies. The Virtual Social Media Working Group will focus on common responder issues regarding the use of social media tools, such as privacy, security, authenticity, training, etc., and will engage various subject matter experts to work towards resolutions to these issues. The Community and the Virtual Social Media Working Group is a way for emergency response and homeland security professionals to share best practices, pose questions, and discuss new advances in the world of social media.

“We look forward to exploring what the future will bring by means of social media tools that will assist us in communicating and serving our friends and partners more effectively,” said Capt. Mark Basnight, spokesman for the Charlotte Fire Department Office of Public Affairs and Chair of the Virtual Social Media Working Group.

To learn more about the Virtual Social Media Working Group, view a growing repository of social media policies and tools, or participate in forward-thinking discussions with others engaged in this field, join the Make America Safer through Social Media Community at