Technology

Twitter could be used to take 999-style emergencies, fire brigade says

999 call handlers
Image caption The London Fire Brigade has used social media to tackle fires in the past

The London Fire Brigade has said it is considering allowing people to tweet emergencies instead of dialling 999.

It currently advises against using social media to make the service aware of fires as it is not monitored 24 hours a day.

But it has acknowledged that the increasing proliferation of smart phones means they must "improve how we communicate with the public".

It said it would share its experiences with other emergency services.

"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," said Rita Dexter, deputy commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB).

"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."

'Working blind'

Many emergency services around the country are making use of social media to track and monitor fires.

One particular incident, a large blaze in west London in January, had firefighters scouring social media to get as much information about the incident as possible.

Due to the police helicopter not being available, the LFB turned to its Twitter followers who were in the area to take pictures and describe the scene.

Information was relayed back to experts at headquarters who were able to make an assessment as to the severity of the situation.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAt its height, about 75 firefighters tackled the blaze

Without help from social media, the LFB said, it would have taken longer to control the fire.

30 million calls

Other activities by fire brigades includes tweeting awareness campaigns around traditionally busy periods - such as a bonfire night.

Now, accounts like @LondonFire have attracted over 30,000 followers.

"When it was first set up in 1935, people said that dialling 999 to report emergencies would never work," said Ms Dexter.

"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."

More on this story