Pennsylvania's South Central Task Force looks into social media hazards, opportunities

Pennsylvania's South Central Task Force, along with Harrisburg Area Community College and Millersville University's Center for Disaster Research and Education, is hosting a conference to address social media issues.

Social media presents emergency service professionals with an opportunity to engage the public, but also contains numerous risks when used inappropriately.

The opportunities can give emergency service organizations a chance to build a good reputation when they communicate with the people they serve. Social media can also be a useful tool when there is a major emergency. Using social media effectively, however, can be challenging.

"Social media is very much a double-edged sword," Dave Statter, former firefighter and a presenter at the conference, said. "There are many cases where social media has created serious reputation management issues for firefighters, EMS crews and police officers."

Improper use of social media can reduce an organization's standing in the community, harm their reputation and interfere with operational control. These problems can be difficult to address.

"Heavy handed solutions to these problems creates the potential for unfair labor practice charges from employees and First Amendment claims from members of the public and employees," Edward S. Robson, a lawyer at Robson & Robson LLC, said.

The conference - The Proper Use of Social Media for your Organization, including Policies, Laws, and Best Practices - will be on April 5 at the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center.