Tweeting 999

The London Fire Brigade is considering setting up what it claims would be the world's first 999 emergency twitter feed. The brigade announced this Dec. 18, its news release quickly noticed by a few geek-friendly websites -- http://www.ubergizmo.com/, http://www.yourgadgetguide.net/ -- and also www.emsworld.com.

The brigade, which is the largest UK fire service agency, also pointed out no one should tweet to report emergencies and said people should instead always dial 999 because its Twitter feed is not monitored 24/7.

The service may not have much choice. The brigade'’s draft Integrated Risk Management Plan, a/k/a the draft London Safety Plan, explains how fire and rescue service in Britain's capital will be provided during the next few years, and it includes a promise by the brigade to consider how best to use social media in the future, including how it will respond when people use them to report incidents.

One in five adults in the UK now uses a smart phone, and text-based communications exceed traditional phone calls as the most frequent communications choice for them, according to a recent report from Ofcom, the British communications regulator, cited in the announcement. (The brigade's Twitter feed, http://twitter.com/londonfire, had 33,251 followers Dec. 28. London's population reached 8.1 million people in 2011.)

The brigade said it plans to consult with "other blue light services, such as the Met Police and London Ambulance Service, to establish whether the idea could become a reality and the extent to which social media might be used to report emergencies."

"With over a billion people now using Facebook and half a billion using Twitter, it's quite clear that social media is here to stay," said Rita Dexter, deputy commissioner of the brigade. "The London Fire Brigade is the biggest fire service in the country, and we think it's important to look into ways to improve how we communicate with the public and how they can get in touch with us. When it was first set up in 1935, people said that dialing 999 to report emergencies would never work. Today, BT handles over 30 million emergency calls each year. It's time to look at new ways for people to report emergencies quickly and efficiently, and social media could provide the answer in the future."

Posted by Jerry Laws on Dec 31, 2012


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