BlueLightCamp: Weekend Camping (Pt1)

First thing in the morning on Sunday 15th April there was barely a cloud in the sky above Manchester. The sun shone, the sky was blue, and I was off camping.  It was a few miles walk to the camp site, so I left my hotel early to make absolutely certain I was there on-time. I was on holiday and – despite my backpack – there was a spring in my step. To be fair, it was a very light pack, which contained only a few essentials for the day.

So confident was I that my fellow campers would be well prepared, I didn’t bother to take survival rations or a first aid kit. Had there been a crisis, I couldn’t have wished for a better bunch of people to be with. There were experts many fields, including:

Image of a tent, associated with hiking, camping or trekking
Wrong kind: light blue camp
  • paremedics
  • police
  • fire & rescue
  • crisis management
  • hospitals
  • community sector
  • voluntary sector
  • government crisis response
  • mental health
  • councils
  • universities
  • many others

Not that kind of camping

We were camping, but there wasn’t a tent in sight. This was BlueLight Camp, the first ‘unconference’ aimed at – but not limited to – people working in-and-around the emergency services. If you don’t know what an ‘unconference’ is, then have a look at Steph Gray’s article in The Guardian, or read the definition on BlueLightCamp’s web site.

BlueLightCamp logo with unconference word cloud

I was one of a small contingent from local authorities – others included some of my Twitter heroes: @danslee, @Ermintrude2, and @anngriffx. Some also managed to attend from afar, including @SweynH aka @IslandGovCamp.

I’ve attended a few unconferences before, and blogged about a couple of them: UKGovCamp and LocalGovCampNW.

I’m not going to attempt to write about the whole event, as it’s been comprehensively covered by others in some excellent articles, including: herehere, here, and here. There’s also masses of content on Twitter under either or both of the #BlueLightCamp or #BLCamp hashtags. John Popham has done his usual brilliant job of streaming content via Bambuser and Youtube.  Andy Mabbett has also set up a Pinboard with more links.

I’ll just try and summarise a few of the highlights for me, and point you towards some more information.

Surrey Police

Early on I met Angus Fox who showed me an iPhone app that he’s developed for Surrey Police. It must have taken ages to come up with a name for the app: Surrey Police. It let’s front-line staff communicate directly with the public via social media, and helps to make it quick and easy for them to do so. It’s just being piloted in one area at the moment, but will be extended to cover the whole of Surrey later in the year.

We chatted some more about the Surrey Police app, and I mentioned the Crime Reports site that’s recently been introduced for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, which also has a mobile app. Both apps are innovative, just with slightly different purpose.

Warning and Informing using Twitter

Andrew Fielding led the first session I attended. Andrew works for Surrey police and recounted a couple of major incidents, and how Twitter had featured in both one way or another. In the first example, a lorry had fallen on a train and the train driver had tweeted about it before the emergency services had even arrived on scene. Curiously, he added a smiley face to his tweet.

Andrew then told the story of an incident in a town centre which resulted in members of the public dialling 999.

Zombie rumour abounded on Twitter
Don’t believe everything you read on Twitter
The police arrived amid rumours on Twitter of a bank job, a bookies being done-over, and a gun having been seen.

The truth was rather less worrying – someone was making a zombie movie, but hadn’t bothered to tell anyone.

As soon as the first responder arrived on site and realised what was happening, the Police tweeted the facts.

All of the activity on Twitter from that point onwards was just people retweeting the police message.

Just one tweet from a trusted source killed the Zombie-inspired rumour, dead.

Working together

CrimeReports Twitter report screenshot on TweetReach
Screen Shot of Crime Reports on TweetReach

Andrew suggested that a good next step might be for organisations to work together to help spread an authoritative message, thereby extending the reach.

He said his favourite tool to track the impact and reach of tweets is Tweetreach. I totally agree – I listed it as one of my ten favourite Twitter reporting and analysis tools in a previous post. I used it when the Crime Reports app was first launched, and noted at the time how the reach could be increased through organisations and individuals retweeting each other in a coordinated way.

‘Managing’ Twitter

The discussion then moved on to how to ‘manage’ Twitter when an incident occurs. I’ve put that in quotes as the discussion was really about how to minimise the impact of the rumour mill, and maximise the spread of factual information. Suggestions included:

  • Get in there first, and set up a hashtag
  • Tweet the facts, as quickly as possible
  • Ask partners to retweet the facts
  • Keep it short, leave enough space for re-tweeters to add their own comments
  • Whenever possible, link to a web page where there’s more space for detail
  • Link to video footage or other content people can trust
  • Early on, establish where to go for updates
  • Then use all available channels to link back to the trusted source material
  • Use social tools between responders to make sure you’re connected (even if you’ve never met in person, you can build a rapport really quickly through chat)
  • AlertSA in Australia is a great example of bringing together various channels
  • Cross-post links between platforms e.g. from Twitter to LinkedIn, Yammer, Facebook, Google+ (although consider tailoring content to different platforms)
  • Facebook ads potentially reach a very large audience, and can be quite low cost
  • Digital TV switchover, investigate using the red button on the remote to reach those who don’t access the Internet (Kirklees council has done this with LookingLocal)
  • A text message sent to a landline results in a voice text
  • Go where the people go e.g.
    • Pubs, clubs, and supermarkets
    • Online shopping sites (strategic)
    • Search engines e.g. Google (strategic)
    • Wikipedia
    • Maps (people often look at maps online to find out where an incident is)
  • There’s loads of useful information on Steph Gray’s Digital Engagement Guide

I hope you’ve found some of this post useful. In the second part, I’ll talk a bit about two other sessions I attended, including the superb briefing Farida Vis gave on ‘Reading the Riots’.

I’ll also remember to thank the sponsors and organisers who made the event not only possible, but such a success.

Zombie Photo credit:

By Bob Jagendorf (originally posted to Flickr as Happy Halloween !-1) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism


  1. Thanks for mentioning meeting me Mark. I enjoyed chatting to you too and I got a lot out of BlueLightCamp. I’ve been down since to meet with the hants team responsible for their Crime Reports based apps and we spemt a couple of hours doing show and tell a out our respective capabilities. I think we agreed what we are doing is complementary and we need to figure out how to engage with each other.

    We also have a great belief in the resilience agenda and believe we have a solution to that problem which we can deliver quickly and are looking for a pilot / design partner customer.

    Lastly we altered our strategy for our apps based on the feedback from the sessions at BlueLightCamp with potential police commissioners and the one on what should we do next. It became absolutely clear to us that there is a need to widen the capabilities of our apps to include policing partner agencies and key stakeholders and we have squeezed the first crack of that into our next release for Surrey Police. If anyone reading this wants to be an early adopter / tester of our mobile apps for social engagement just follow me on twitter and message me.


  2. Hi Angus,
    Thanks very much for leaving a comment. I’m glad you met with the crime reports team. I’ve not been directly involved in that project, but it does seem that there might be some common ground.
    I see that @Alexstobart has already replied to your invitation to be an early adopter / tester – hope that works out. Best wishes, Mark

  3. Love the ‘Managing Twitter’ list – all very useful, and can be transferred to a general social media principle. Tested TweetReach last week for our up and coming campaign, looks like a good, quick and easy tool. Great blog Mark.

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