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Geelong Unit getting social

Published 26/02/2013

Victoria State Emergency Service’s (SES) Geelong Unit is using social media to connect with their community.

The unit includes over 30 active volunteers who devote their time to keep Geelong safe from flood, storm and road crash emergencies.

When a storm hits, for example, volunteers spring in to action.  They protect lives and property by putting tarps on roofs, shoring up damaged walls, cutting up fallen trees and performing a myriad of tasks at all hours of the day or night.

But part of weathering a storm is being prepared, and to that end the unit is always looking for ways to interact with the community well before dark clouds start to gather.

When 21-year-old Stephen Sennett joined the unit early in 2011, he was keen to apply his appreciation for social media to the way the group reaches out.

“Social media is a way for SES to engage with people of my generation who are not being found through traditional media channels,” Mr Sennett said.

It’s a common tale. SES has strong relationships with broadcasters and newspapers, but how to reach those young people who eschew their radio for Spotify streaming and learn about current events from links posted to Facebook or Twitter?Geelong Facebook page

The answer is to go to them.

The Geelong Unit Facebook page was set up in March 2012 and has since garnered 74 “likes”.

Mr Sennett, the unit’s Deputy Controller, shares responsibility for the page with the Controller and Public Relations Officer.

The trio keep the page regularly updated with information, photos and updates on the unit’s activities, and Mr Sennett said it was not a heavy workload.

“It’s really finding a way to engage with people using our existing content,” he said.

Rather than viewing Facebook as a big new job that needs doing, Mr Sennett sees it as a new way of doing existing things. When the unit holds a PR event or attends a large-scale operation, they’ve always taken photos and shared their experiences, now they extend that into the digital world.

Similarly, warnings and emergency information already exist; the Facebook page adds another way to deliver them to the local audience, rather than reinventing the wheel.

SES’ state-level body already features a strong social media presence, with SES accounts delivering warnings, information and news to both Twitter and Facebook.

“We’re talking directly to Geelong, so we can make ours a bit more personable and tailor it to the local community. We share that we’ve been doing but also emergency warnings that will impact Geelong from SES and also CFA,” Mr Sennett said.

The most popular posts have been about the unit’s involvement in big community events such as the Festival of Sails, showing that communities are keen to connect with their local volunteers.

The benefits are clear. Building a relationship and trust with the community gives people a better idea of SES’ role and makes emergency response easier as a result.

Mr Sennett encouraged all SES units and community groups to give Facebook a try.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it shouldn’t be a chore,” he said.