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YouTube Is Your Friend

Kerry Shearer, of the Sacramento County Public Health Division, talks about using video technology to expand his organization’s communications activities

During a public health emergency the media can either be a help or a hindrance in getting accurate information to the public. With the use of video technology and online tools like YouTube, public health officials can quickly create videos to get precise information to the public on immediate health risks. YouTube is a free, online video streaming service; anyone can open an account. When an account is set up, it includes a free YouTube channel.

computers doctorIn the fall of 2007 several schools in California reported unrelated cases of methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which caused a media frenzy. “In order to get accurate information to the public, we set up a YouTube site,” said Kerry Shearer, Communications and Media Officer for the Sacramento County Public Health Division. “Using YouTube, videos are exposed to a much wider audience, whereas you may not have a large audience coming to your individual home page.” The video that the Sacramento County Public Health Division created featured the deputy health officer speaking about MRSA. This video link was also sent out to the Sacramento County Office of Education and the School System Web site. (The channel for Sacramento County Public Health can be accessed at

Within days there were hundreds of hits on the school system’s Web page and within weeks there were thousands. The County was able to track these numbers because YouTube’s Web site automatically updates the number of times a video has been viewed after the play button is clicked. Because Shearer had access to this information, it was easy to draw attention not only to the capabilities of YouTube and online reach, but also to provide quantitative data about how many audience members were getting the message.

Most government organizations have strict guidelines and firewalls controlling what can and cannot be posted to their intranet and/or Internet sites. Shearer figured out a legitimate way to bypass these restrictions by creating a video section on the county’s website called PHTV (Public Health Television). This page looks like it has a video player on it, but in actuality, it is just a graphic. Clicking on the graphic redirects the user to another site where the videos are saved.

Shearer notes that YouTube provided a unique opportunity during another recent public health emergency. Not long after the MRSA scare, in the summer of 2008, the Sacramento County area was inundated with thick smoke from wildfires, coupled with a heat wave. “We did a real quick turnaround video—we put it together in about three hours and posted it to YouTube and our page,” says Shearer. The division also partnered with the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, which posted the video on their Spare the Air Web page. This site received up to one million hits per day during this period.

It’s useful to note that these videos were created with very basic equipment. In Sacramento, the Division uses a Sony digital camera with professional microphone adapters which cost about $2000. During the interviews a wireless microphone was used. Videos were edited using Adobe Premier Pro. Once a video is converted to a .wmv file (Windows Media Video), it can be uploaded on YouTube. After the initial equipment purchase, there are no ongoing costs associated with this equipment.

Shearer’s basic tips for quality recording are:

  • Have decent lighting: both overhead and side lights are usually necessary
  • Don’t rely on the built-in microphone on the camera
  • Get a tripod or set the camera on a table
  • If you must hold the camera do so carefully
  • Watch news footage to see how they switch between shots

For specific information about working with video or these campaigns in general, contact Kerry Shearer.


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