Northwest Colorado emergency and law enforcement officials attended a social media training workshop Thursday at the Routt County Courthouse.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Northwest Colorado emergency and law enforcement officials attended a social media training workshop Thursday at the Routt County Courthouse.

Routt County emergency responders tapping into social media possibilities

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Twitter handles for various Routt County emergency management agencies and officials

@Nrfpdchief — North Routt Fire Protection District

@RouttCountyOEM and @RouttOEM — Routt County Emergency Management

@Oakcreekfire — Oak Creek Fire Protection District

@Westrouttchief — West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman

@WigginsGarrett — Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins

@MBRNFsTBNG — Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland

Follow the Steamboat Today @SteamboatPilot for breaking news and information about Steamboat Springs and Routt County

— Local emergency responders spent Thursday making strides on the social media front.

Armed with tablets, smartphones and laptops, the local officials were hoping to learn how to do a better job communicating with residents using social networking, specifically Twitter.

“There is absolutely no doubt it’s underutilized,” West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman said during a break in the training at the Routt County Courthouse.

The training was presented by Nathan Hunerwadel, a self-taught social media guru with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office who acted as a public information officer for the Lower North Fork Fire. The fire’s incident management team used a full-blown social media campaign to funnel information about the fire to impacted communities on the Front Range.

Hunerwadel was helped Thursday by Micki Trost, a public information officer with the Colorado Department of Public Safety. About 25 people attended the training, which was organized by the Routt County Office of Emergency Management.

Police, fire and government agencies in Routt County currently use Twitter and social media in varying amounts — from none to a lot.

“We’re trying to incorporate social media in the Sheriff’s Office,” said Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, who recently created a Twitter account and attended the training with Sheriff’s Office employee Dawn Smith.

Rickman realized the benefits of Twitter after attending a training session in February that focused on how it was used during the Lower North Fork Fire.

“I think I had a (Twitter) account, but I wasn’t really doing anything with it, but I am trying to use it a lot now,” Rickman said.

He said that in November his fire district is going to again ask voters for more tax dollars, and it is especially important to let residents know what the department is doing via social media. A similar tax question failed last year.

“The taxpayers needs to be aware of the calls we’re going on and how busy we are,” Rickman said.

In South Routt County, Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup (@Oakcreekfire) has been steadily posting and building an audience via social media in recent years. He got more into Twitter last summer so he could track the wildfires on the Front Range.

Wisecup will share information about road conditions, calls the fire department goes on and other incidents. During the town’s last water emergency, Wisecup said the fire department’s Facebook page reached more people than the Code Red reverse 911 notification system.

North Routt Fire Protection Chief Bob Reilley also attended Thursday’s training. His department has been using social media some in the past couple years, but he wants to improve the way they use it. He recently used the fire department’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed to let residents know they need a permit to burn wood piles. Looking at how social media was used during the large wildfires on the Front Range, he knows there could be a much more urgent need for it should a large fire break out in his district.

“In a bigger emergency, this is where people are going to get their information,” Reilley said.

Cheryl Dalton, who works for Routt County Emergency Management, said it was important for local emergency responders to be prepared.

“A Lower North Fork Fire could very easily happen in Routt County,” she said. “We wanted to make sure people were prepared.”

Dalton said some agencies in Routt County have some catching up to do when it comes to social media because emergency responders are realizing just how important it is.

“I think this training is just the beginning of more trainings to come,” Dalton said.

Dalton encouraged residents to follow local emergency responder Twitter feeds and to like their Facebook pages.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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