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The Emergency Services And Twitter

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The relationship between the emergency services and the people has always been a strained one. On one hand, they are the ones we turn to in our hour of need, but there are also instances where we turn on them, in the rare instances where they let us down.

The 21st century has brought about technological advances and online opportunities for the emergency services, and they use them to great effect. Twitter is one of the biggest social networking sites in the world, and with its ability to provide second-by-second updates and news to the followers of each profile, it has become invaluable to local communities and entire countries.

The London Riots

During the London riots of August 2011, social media was the equivalent of a 24 hour news channel, providing updates relating to violence, burglaries and fires breaking out throughout the city, and the pockets of criminal activity that then spread to cities such as Nottingham, Birmingham and Leicester.

The emergency services were online and all other Twitter throughout, providing information, advice and above all, guidance for businesses and community members who had been victims of crime. These same businesses and civilians were also able to tweet important updates directly to the emergency services, which they could in turn retweet to their followers. It showed the criminals that the community spirit spread to the police and fire and rescue services.

A great way that the emergency services also utilise Twitter is by conversing with other Twitter users. During the riots, police and fire services were in constant contact with their followers and the local community at large, and the way in which they conversed with the community – thanking them, helping them and singing their praises – definitely helped make a difference. At a time when the public could have sided with the criminals, Twitter helped keep people on the side of the law. Using the hashtag #LondonRiots, Twitter users were able to keep track on what was happening second-by-second, including what the emergency services were doing to help.

Up to date News and Advice

The London riots were a rare and significant event, but the help and support that the emergency services have utilised by using Twitter so effectively has enabled them to build solid relationships with the communities and cities that they operate in, by providing news of any crimes, accidents and emergencies that have taken place, as well as updates on past cases such as convictions in court.

There are plenty of opportunities for emergency services to use Twitter to announce workshops, press conferences and visits for schools and businesses in the local communities, and for those same schools and businesses to contact the services to set up these kinds of useful and rewarding visits. It is very good to see the emergency services trying to enhance their reputation and build trust in the community. For all the bad press that Twitter gets at times, this is something that it has helped to create, and it deserves praise for that.

A Case Study

In October 2012, the emergency services in South Cumbria held a 24 hour ‘Twitter Takeover’, which was set up in Barrow so that police, fire, ambulance and NHS services could show the local community all the hard work that they do, and what a wide range of services they can provide for them.

Using the Twitter hashtag #Barrow999, details of callouts from the area were tweeted out to the community and all the interactions between the services and the community too. It was a great way to show the community just how much work they do – both emergencies and non-emergencies – on crime and fire protection. Many cities have started to utilise the same methods since, and many more are expected to do so in 2013.

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