A line-of-duty death, like other types of sentinel event, is an unexpected occurrence that immediately impacts operations and likely initiates a sequence of events, such as investigations or a memorial service, as well as media coverage. Regardless of a department's size or capacity to issue news statements, civilians, reporters and other emergency responders will seek out information and photographs on the department's Facebook page.
A LODD is unpredictable, but like any other low-frequency, high-consequence incidents, pre-planning is critical to how your department will communicate with personnel and to the public. The following ideas and tips are based on observing department communications after dozens of LODD. The intent of the tips is to lighten, even by a small amount, the burden of tasks that will rapidly become all-encompassing for department officers and officials.
Of course, meeting the needs of media is secondary to the operational continuity of the department and the emotional support of its members. Nonetheless, there will be a thirst for information from the community you serve and the fire and EMS communities to which you belong.
Facebook LODD pre-plan actions
Every EMS agency and fire department needs an official Facebook page. During a crisis, the department's official page — not a page from a station, labor group or rescue team — is the preferred social source for all LODD information.
Here are five important pre-plan actions, which might be part of a larger LODD prevention and preparation effort.
1. Member photos
Media outlets will look to Facebook for a recent photo of the deceased. Too often the most widely-shared photos are cropped and resized photos from a personal page rather than a department's official photo. Capture a high-quality headshot photo of every member in their class A or highest level of uniform. Make sure to store photos where they are easily accessible to the department PIO and leaders. Update photos at least annually.
2. Black band around badge or logo
The black band around a department's badge, logo or patch is a sign that the department has experienced a loss and is grieving. The graphic design skill to add a black band around an image file is relatively easy, but the work is best done with a high-quality resolution file. Save the black band badge or logo with other important of LODD documents and checklists.
3. Write announcement of LODD template
Draft a 100- to 150-word announcement of a LODD that acknowledges a LODD, asks for prayers and condolences, assures that support to family and co-workers is being provided and says that memorial service information will be posted when available. Consider writing a few additional sentences that can be modified as needed to include the member's length of service, certifications and rank.
4. Facebook page posting
Make sure two or more department officers or officials have permission to post as the page. Regularly practice posting as the page to announce department events, incident summaries, new equipment arrivals or training accomplished. Facebook, like any tool, is used best most effectively when it is used regularly.
5. Department roster
Maintain a department roster with each member's name, age, emergency notification information and certifications.
After a line of duty death
Many deaths occur during an actual emergency incident. Simultaneous to the ongoing mitigation of the emergency, family or next of kin notification is the highest priority for the command staff. Because of our social network interconnectedness, an official message needs to be posted on the department's Facebook page as soon as possible — think minutes, not hours.
Keep in mind that comments written on the deceased's Facebook wall could begin within minutes of death. Learn about Facebook's Memorialized Account features and encourage your personnel to add a legacy contact to their Facebook profile.
Use Facebook and other media outlets to let residents in your jurisdiction know what departments will be providing coverage during your period of mourning and for the funeral.
If you ever need to post a LODD notification to your department's Facebook page consider these practices:
1. Unpin the "Pin to Top" post
Facebook has a setting to set a post to appear first. These are used more often for open hiring processes or to announce major events. Unpinning a "We need paramedics" or "Now recruiting police officers" call for applicants post is especially important after a LODD.
2. First post
Write the first post, adapting the pre-written announcement, with available information and include either an image of the deceased, if available for release, or the department logo with the black band. A few words about the person's character and personality go a long way to remind others that the life lost was a very real person. This can be as simple as, "She was a paramedic who never refused a request for help and was always the first to ease tension with a joke."
3. Second post
Provide additional information to the media with the name of the department's PIO, how to reach the PIO and an official news release.
In the hours and days ahead, continue to use the department Facebook page to:
- Announce funeral and memorial details.
- Provide information on how to participate in an honor parade or processional.
- Answer questions the PIO might be receiving about the funeral and honor parade.
- Share links to a memorial or tribute fund for the deceased's survivors.
- Repost the obituary.
Finally, the department's members will continue to provide service to their community. After a period of mourning remember to resume regularly updating the department's Facebook page with accomplishments, event announcements, tributes to retirees and new member introductions.
Learn more about LODD pre-planning and management from these EMS1 and FireRescue1 articles.
Share your tips, recommendations and resources with others in the comments.
This article, originally published July 12, 2016, has been updated with current information.