London Fire Brigade to lead way on emergency tweets

The London Fire Brigade has announced that it is to explore setting up the world’s first 999 emergency Twitter feed.

The announcement comes following the recent publication of the Brigade’s draft Integrated Risk Management Plan. Also known as the draft London Safety Plan, the document sets out how the fire and rescue service in London will be delivered over the next few years. In it the Brigade has pledged to look at how best to use social media in the future, including how it would respond to people using it to report incidents.

The Brigade was quick to point out that people should never tweet to report emergencies and should instead always dial 999. It said it has already experienced people tweeting it to report fires and strongly advised against this as its Twitter feed is not monitored round the clock. Fire chiefs said people should continue to dial 999 to report emergencies.

The Brigade would be the first emergency service in the UK to look into how apps, social media and micro-blogging sites, like Twitter, could be used by the public to report emergencies. It said it aims to work with the Government and 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.

Earlier this year a report from Ofcom suggested that:-

  • For the first time text-based communications are surpassing traditional phone calls or meeting face to face as the most frequent ways of keeping in touch for UK adults.
  • Traditional forms of communication are declining in popularity, with the overall time people spend talking on the phone falling by five per cent in 2011.
  • One in five adults in the UK now uses a smart phone.

Statistics from Twitter itself show that over 2000 tweets are sent per second worldwide.

Rita Dexter, Deputy Commissioner of London Fire Brigade, said:

“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.

“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 dialling 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.”