Police Chief Joseph Solomon's cell phone wouldn't stop beeping Monday night as Superstorm Sandy hammered the city. At one point, it was making such a racket the chief had to hang up on a caller.
"Literally, I'm on the phone and it's going, 'ding, ding, ding,'" said Solomon. "I couldn't hear what the person was saying."
Every time one of the Methuen Police Department's Facebook or Twitter posts was shared online, Solomon received a notification on his phone. And thanks to Sandy, the MPD's social media updates spread like wildfire.
"It showed us how powerful this is," said Solomon. "We couldn't call this many people. It's phenomenal."
The Police Department's aggressive social media strategy was on full display during the storm. Nearly every time a downed tree, wire or utility pole was reported, Officer Gina Scanlon was ready at her computer to inform the public.
"It was just non-stop," said Scanlon. "I just sat in front of the laptop as calls came in. I pumped the information out all night long."
Methuen is leading the way with new media among local police departments. More than 2,240 people "like" their Facebook page (Facebook.com/MethuenPolice) and over 1,060 follow their Twitter account (Twitter.com/MPDBlotter).
Coming in a distant second is the North Andover Police Department, with about 130 Facebook likes and 650 Twitter followers.
Also very active is the Massachusetts State Police, which boasts over 15,000 Facebook likes and 22,000 Twitter followers.
In Methuen, Officer Scanlon was armed inside the city's Emergency Operations Center on Monday with a police radio and her laptop. She used the social media management program HootSuite to post information simultaneously to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the Methuen Police Department blog.
Many of the posts went viral, thanks to Methuen residents' hunger for real-time storm updates. That momentum continued a day later, when 96 people shared a Facebook post announcing Trick or Treat would be bumped to the weekend.
Information flowed back to Scanlon as well. Officers out in the field were able to send in quick updates. And when the volume of calls slowed, she was able to read through user comments and answer their questions.
"Everyone was happy to get the information," said Scanlon. "People just loved it."
Solomon said the department's social media effort began two years ago but is taking off in recent months.
When a rash of burglaries hit the city this fall, police used social media to ask residents to report suspicious activity.
"It increased awareness," said Solomon. "It worked very well."
And on Oct. 14, a Methuen Police Department post on Facebook was the key to locating a missing 12-year-old boy in Lawrence.
"In two hours and 10 minutes, we found the person that had been missing for 48 hours," said Solomon.
Eventually, Solomon said his goal is for Scanlon to train public safety dispatchers to publish routine news on social media as it occurs.
"We definitely have big plans for this," said Solomon.
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