Troopers make new friends on Twitter

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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Washington State Patrol is getting a little more social.

The agency hopes websites such as Facebook and Twitter will help it forge new lines of communication with the public. To that end, the organization held a social media outreach day on Wednesday to tweet and share wall posts of its daily activities with the online-savvy public.

The patrol shared information on its toxicology lab, crime scene response team, commercial vehicle division and aviation section. In addition, it posted updates throughout the day on trooper activities, including responses to traffic accidents and road closures.

“It was busy and hectic,” said state patrol spokesman Dan Coon, who was one of three people managing the patrol’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. “It was fun talking to people, responding to people … we had some really interesting conversations over Twitter. I enjoyed it.”

The patrol has been using social media for several months now and in that time has seen interaction with the public grow, Coon said.

That trend continued on Wednesday. The state patrol nearly doubled its number of followers on Twitter during its one-day social media campaign, Coon said. Now more than 2,000 people keep up with the state patrol via the online micro-blogging service.

Other public safety agencies are also getting online to share information with the public.

Cheryl Bledsoe, emergency management division manager of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency has been a local proponent for social media in the public sector for years. She helped build up CRESA’s blog and social media presence a few years ago and even brought a high-profile Twitter conference to Vancouver in May. She says that public safety organizations’ use of social media is on the rise.

Engaging with the online community helps organizations get a sense of key issues and problems and allows them to share information directly with the public, Bledsoe said.

For many agencies, the newfangled ways of the Internet aren’t replacing traditional communication means, only improving them.

“Social media allows us to put information out there and have people get the same message at the same time,” Bledsoe said. “From a public information perspective, it is a much more effective way to share information.”

So, what’s next for the state patrol? It wants to make sure it keeps its followers interested by continuing to tell its story over social media. Spokesman Coon said the state patrol is encouraging — but not requiring — regional spokesmen and spokeswomen to use social networks to communicate.

That includes regional patrol spokesman Ryan Tanner, who serves Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania and Klickitat Counties.

For now, people are always welcome to follow the state patrol and ask it questions through social media, Coon said. Those interested can find WSP on Twitter with the handle @wastatepatrol or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WashingtonStatePatrol.