Michelle Miller of Phoenix Fire Department demonstrating how Nextdoor works.

Allison Hurtado/AFN

A newer social media website is becoming a useful tool for emergency crews in Phoenix.

The Phoenix Fire Department recently began using the social networking site Nextdoor to send safety-related messages to specific neighborhoods, which the Phoenix Police Department has been doing since January.

Nextdoor has been around since 2011 and is slowly gaining popularity. The home screen is set up somewhat like Twitter, but the content is hyperlocal. Users sign on with their address and use a phone number or credit card to verify their address, and then they can communicate with other users in the same neighborhood. Public safety agencies like the Phoenix Police Department and the Phoenix Fire Department have been allowed to use Nextdoor to send out emergency messages. They can type in an address of an incident, select neighborhoods surrounding that incident and then send out a message to users in those areas.

“We are using it as a tool to communicate directly with individual neighborhoods,” said Michelle Miller, public information officer for the Phoenix Fire Department. “Before that we had Facebook and Twitter to target certain audiences, but we were never able to break it down into neighborhoods within the city of Phoenix. This way, we can send out a generic safety message to the whole city or we can break it down to neighborhoods by an address.”

The technology could be useful to warn neighbors about a fire, street closures or even to inform them of a drowning in the area, Miller said. The Phoenix Police Department has also used Nextdoor to warn neighbors about trends in crime in their area or to let them know about important community meetings.

“We are using it as a virtual block watch,” said Sgt. Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department. “When we need to send out information, we’re able to do that. We recognize that times are changing and people are communicating differently. In as much as before this, you had people go to block watch meetings in person. Although we still have those, this is another way for us to communicate to the community. Anything we can use that opens dialogue with the community, we will certainly look into.”

The social network is not geared toward emergency messages. It is designed mainly for casual conversation between neighbors who may be selling items or holding community events and want to get the word out. Phoenix police and firefighters are able to post messages in neighborhoods’ sites but are not able to view what people are talking about within their neighborhood — unless invited.

More than 418 neighborhoods, representing 63 percent of the neighborhoods in Phoenix, have launched Nextdoor websites. Residents can locate their neighborhood by signing up online with their address. The site is free for users and police and fire are able to use the site at no cost to the city.

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