The London Fire Brigade is exploring the possibility of setting up the world’s first 999 emergency Twitter feed, allowing citizens to report incidents using the microblogging platform.
The Brigade began using Twitter and Facebook in 2010 and has since established the second largest community of social media followers of any UK local or regional public sector organisation.
Its Twitter feed, @LondonFire, is currently used to provide real-time information about incidents that are taking place across the capital. Facebook is used to provide fire safety information, as well as engage with the public in an informal way.
The Brigade now hopes to build on its social media success, and has pledged to look at how it might respond to people using social channels to report incidents.
“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,” said Rita Dexter, Deputy Commissioner of London Fire Brigade.
“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 London Fire Brigade said it has already experienced people tweeting it to report fires but strongly advises 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 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, Ofcom's Communications Report 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.
The announcement follows the recent publication of the Brigade’s draft Integrated Risk Management Plan, which sets out how the fire and rescue service in London will be delivered over the next few years.