In a dynamic and fluid situation, Cumberland County officials say there are several ways they can notify the public of a dangerous and ongoing incident.
In an incident such as Monday night’s, which ended with two state troopers injured and a bank robbery suspect dead, county officials said much of that information flowed through social media and the general media.
Megan Silverstrim, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Department of Public Safety, noted the challenges the county faced with that particular incident.
“Last night was definitely an incident that involved multiple agencies, so the big thing is coordination throughout all those agencies,” she said.
In incidents such as those, she said the messages need to be coordinated so that everyone is in the same page.
“We need to coordinate any kind of message that is put out by any of the agencies together so that we are all saying the same thing,” she said.
Monday night, Shippensburg University alerted its students during the police chase, which occurred near the campus. The university uses several platforms — including Twitter, Facebook, the university website, email and text message — to reach out to students, teachers and parents, according to Peter Gigliotti, executive director for university communications and marketing.
He said the text message alert alone reaches about 3,000 students and parents.
“It’s a combination of a variety of systems to share information on a very quick and very broad basis,” he said.
Gigliotti said police called the university Monday evening to warn them about the Franklin County bank robbery suspect moving toward their general direction. Within a minute, Gigliotti said the university sent out an alert to more than 11,000 contacts, among various platforms.
He said last night’s incident was a good example of an appropriate use of the system, which is used in an event that is “immediate, life threatening and poses a serious threat to the community at large.”
While the university notified its group of contacts, the county, however, only sent one alert out on Twitter and Facebook, urging Upper Mifflin Township residents to remain indoors. That alert came a few hours after the incident had started in Franklin County.
The Cumberland County Department of Public Safety did set up a staging area for the media at the Cumberland County Public Safety Building around 6:30 p.m., and updated area media representatives regularly until about 10:30 p.m., when they were notified of the death of the suspect.
The department updated its Facebook page letting readers know the incident was cleared an a news conference was scheduled for Tuesday.
Silverstrim said an important way for them to get information out the public is using social media and the media outlets in the region. “We understand the importance of communicating with the media,” she said. “They are obviously putting things on their websites, on the television ... that is kind of the route we went last night to get information out there.”
Officials, however, do have other avenues in reaching the public. “We had the option of utilizing our emergency notification system last night,” she said. “We discussed using it last night to send out an alert of ‘an active law enforcement incident, stay inside’ that kind of message, but the incident was moving around so much, it was hard for us to determine a geographical area to send that out to.”
She also said dispatchers handled calls from the public, who were calling the non-emergency number asking questions.
“There are a lot of different avenues that we can take,” she said. “No one is perfect, no one is foolproof and no one is going to reach every community. But we make the best effort that the public is notified and that they can take safety measures they need to or precautions, whether it be a law enforcement issue or a flooding incident. One of our responsibilities is to let the public know what they can do to protect themselves.”
Reporter Christen Croley contributed to this report.