L.A. Fire Department Imposes Information Blackout

The blackout appears to be a revival of a policy briefly employed by the fire department in late March and early April of last year.

By City News Service

The Los Angeles Fire Department has put its social media accounts on “temporary hiatus” Thursday, officials said. The department will also no longer release 911 audio recordings and records of the department’s response time to emergencies.

“All of our social media is on hiatus until we get clarity and develop a plan of how orders are to be implemented in regard to our social media presence,” LAFD Spokesperson Brian Humphrey said.

In a subsequent interview Thursday morning, LAFD Battalion Chief Steve Ruda — recently appointed as the department's new Community Liaison officer to oversee the agency's community and media relations functions — told City News Service that his department now had instituted the policy because of concerns about violating the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a medical privacy law enacted in 1996.

Ruda said he and his staff met recently with a deputy city attorney who told them that, under HIPAA, "we were not allowed to divulge any information that would compromise (a patient's) privacy."

Until the policy was re-introduced, the LAFD had been releasing the information — except during a brief period in late March and early April of 2012, when then-LAFD Chief Brian Cummings ordered his department to stop releasing incident locations and injury information to the public.

Cummings cited an oral opinion from City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's office that the LAFD risked violating HIPAA.

The blackout appeared to be a revival of a policy briefly employed by the fire department in late March and early April of last year. Last year’s blackout drew objections from news organizations and lawyers specializing in media law and first amendment cases, and prompted then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to order the department to resume releasing information about emergency incidents.

But the blackout seemed to be lifted by midday Thursday, with LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore saying the department will resume “business as normal” in providing basic patient information.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, LAFD’s popular Twitter feed is still on “temporary hiatus.”


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