Social Media proves very useful to police during state of emergency

LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (WAFB) - When you log on to Facebook or Twitter, you may not be expecting to run into the police, but many law enforcement agencies are hoping you will, especially during a disaster.

As sleet and ice moved into Louisiana this week, the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office knew social media would be the fastest way to get critical information to the public- a public that was largely stuck inside.

After the curfew lifted yesterday, a lot of people decided it was safe to go out on the streets," said LPSO spokesperson Lori Steele. "Once we started posting pictures of cars in the ditches that slowed down, those accidents decreased. So it does work."

A few residents told our news crew that social media played an important role in keeping them informed.

"Just to kind of hear what the general population is saying I will turn to Facebook and see ya know, this road is worse than what they're saying it is," said one resident.

Another also said, "We receieve e-mails and text messages from LSU and a lot of people screen shot it from their iPhone and they may put it on Instagram, and you can also put it on Facebook, too."

A good example is the text from Entergy that went viral, warning of possible power outages. Also the Louisiana State Police, who have a dedicated following, used their access to take users onto the icy highways instead of just sharing which roads were closed.

The average Facebook user checks their newsfeed about 14 times a day, and studies show nearly one-third of Americans use Facebook as their primary source of news. From police to businesses and media- anyone with a message to get out wants it showing up there because it's their message delivered instantly.

In fact, it is changing the way police agencies operate.

Steele explained, "Sheriff Ard said if you're out, all LPSO employees, when you're out, if it's safe, snap a picture, send info in. It was an organization-wide effort that worked and it was around the clock. it was 24 hours."

For those not on social media, the LPSO also now has an emergency alert system. Users can choose to be notified via phone calls, text, or e-mail in case of an emergency.