Friday 2 August 2013

Do we need a Twitter 999/911/112

Last week I became embroiled in an incident that played out on Twittter.
The details are not relevant here but suffice to say someone needed help and many wanted to give it.
It struck me then, and it strikes me now that there are a number of ways of taking a crisis from social media and getting Realtime support to resolve it

An obvious approach is 999 or 101 and contact the police fire ambulance Mountain rescue etc
The next could be just to go round and sort it yourself.
Another approach might be to exchange as much information as possible and hope someone online picks up the problem.

Others may chose not to seek help and perhaps just to watch and do nothing or just make abusive comments.

So the question I put to European colleagues last week was how should we manage this. I have already stated that a "twitter" squad is probably not required. After all Social Media is that, social not corporate. It may be privately owned but it acts as social space available to all subject to rules that are either company enforced or socially enforced. This is overlaid with legality as is every situation

So what could we do to make it easier to identify who needs help, why and get it to them.

Firstly there are barriers of confidentiality, balanced against urgency, there is a need to ensure that those who can help have the information they need to do the job. There is also the confidence that people have in the agencies or individuals concerned. I am not so naive to believe that every citizen holds all authorities in the highest esteem.

Would a simple way be to create a @999/@911 account that responders could follow, perhaps with a national identifier, eg @999UK and perhaps controlled access maybe

Over the next few weeks I will consult with colleagues on this issue and if you have read this and have a view please let me know by email, tweet or otherwise.

Thank you


  1. Mark Rushton WMP12 May 2012 at 10:28

    I think it is a good idea but we'd need to ensure we had a stable platform for reporting i.e. too eliminate missed tweets, internet connection dropping out etc. Im sure that could be sorted though. We're doing leadership project in WMP at moment and one of suggestions I've heard is that police should make our engagement easier for communities and I can see there is a clear demand for us to enable people to report crime via social media

  2. I say yes:
    1. If you have unexpected breathing difficulties and live alone, how do you call the ambulance if you are choking?
    2. If you suspect there is a burglar downstairs, how do you contact the police without making a sound?

  3. Speaking from my perspective as a provider of social media engagement mobile technology for the police theres lot that could be done to make verified social media accounts act better as emergency response mechanisms but that doesn't in itself provide the optimum because there is much still to be done in general adoption of social media in policing beyond communications departments.

    I think there is beginning to be recognition of the increasing inevitably of two way communication using social media between police and public, but most police force level verified twitter accounts in the UK disclaim operating in this way - and with good reasons -1) culture shift of the responders would need a blend of control room and communications 2) obvious problems of open communications channels being used for potentially revealing information. 3) not operated 24x7 like 999.

    The optimum to my mind based on our experiences requires both a workforce transformation and culture shift to enable responsiveness to social media to be pervasive throughout the organisation 24x7.

    This is about transformation and culture shift at the management level in communications departments and in neighbourhood commands.

    In neighbourhoods it requires deployment of social media at the sharp end. Making local officers the responsive endpoint for social media establishes them in the community online that they reach. It is a challenge to culture because it requires officers to be using social media as a routine part of their work, to provide engaging two way communication about what they are doing. It is only by establishing authoritative local dialogue in social media that you can begin to use social media for emergency purposes. You can't build a community during an emergency.

    In communications departments it requires a workflow which allows officers and tasking co-ordinators to interact with social media without threatening controls that communications need to have. This is uncomfortable to many police communications departments because responses over social media happen too quickly for pre-authorisation and control in the old idiom, and this can lead to a restricted social media use with resulting ineffectiveness.

    For senior officers, the challenges of governance and accountability need to be addressed, but before that, they need to be convinced of the value of social engagement tools as a fundamental tool for policing rather than as a marketing programme. This is perhaps explained by the newness of social media, combined with a century long traditional reluctance of the police to implement new technology, and the demographic of some parts of senior management.

    So to answer a main point of your article - no you don't need a special twitter squad - an overhead some UK police forces have decided on. To have one negates the genuine local authenticity obtained when everyone in the police engages with the public, just as it has become a fundamental way in which the public engages with each other, their representatives, and other community organisations.

    In Surrey this is working in conjunction with our rollout of Smartphones for over 500 neighbourhood officers using our software to update the public on what they do on our behalf, and because this is interesting, local and relevant, the public respond more effectively and much more rapidly. Even with this success we believe we are only scratching the surface of the potential and we are working on ways to use it to access this social community in times of need through alerts and a web of trust. This approach is using the social media for what it is without trying to swim against the current. Its not a 999 system. We have one of those. But we can have something much more dynamic.

    We provide governance and assistance with transformation and have now trained over 450 officers and staff at all levels in multiple forces. It would be good to show you exactly where we've got to - we have come a long way since we last met.

  4. I think an @999uk twitter account is a good idea. It provides the public with another channel to emergency services - the more ways people can communicate, the better.

  5. I have been considering the same issues over the past couple of weeks, prompted by an incident (actually through Facebook) in which someone needed urgent support when suicidal. All the issues you mention were relevant, not least the person's refusal to get support from the emergency services due to previous bad experiences. I, as an 'experienced amateur' felt very much left 'holding the baby' and although everything worked out it could have so easily gone wrong (& still could) with potential consequences for me as well as the person involved. I think these issues need urgent consideration and will certainly be taking it up with services locally, including the emergency services, A&E & mental health services.

  6. I find that one of the problems we have in law enforcement is always trying to figure out how to make things work for our needs. This is the problem with a @999 or @101 @911 system and the response above points it out perfectly....anonymous.
    The web is designed for anonymity. There is no way to verify to account details, identity, location...any of the details we need.
    In a time of crisis, you could imagine how active a @999 account could get, for example an explosion in a neighbourhood, and in the middle of that, a cry for help comes from someone that is no where near the explosion and say it is a trouble breathing situation. What happens if that tweet is missed?
    At least with the phone system you will know if your call is answered. No such luck with a tweet.
    Even if the person can't speak with the emergency operator, location can be tracked and help sent with out ever establishing contact.
    I believe dedicating a non-emergency connection through twitter would be a great idea, but emergency?
    I know there are experiments going on with text to 911 where the identity and emergent nature situations are being looked at.
    But I think it would be a horrible mistake to try and institute an emergency twitter option before all the ideas can be worked out.


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