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Twitter Could Stop the Next Great Fire of London

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, December 21 2012

Screengrab of the London Fire Brigade's official Twitter page

London emergency responders are piloting the world’s first Twitter-based fire reporting program, the city’s Fire Brigade announced earlier this week. While officials cautioned this is not a replacement for dialing 999 — that’s British English for 911 — Rita Dexter, the Deputy Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, explained that implementing social media-based emergency calls is simply looking forward:

"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.”

The Fire Brigade is already reporting incidents to the public on its official Twitter feed. The London initiative follows the FCC’s announcement earlier this month that several major U.S. mobile providers will be implementing text-to-911 services next year. Both agencies’ press releases emphasized the centrality of traditional emergency phone lines, but seemed to concede that, in today’s world, people may be more likely to talk with their thumbs than talk to an operator.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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