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by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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Progress toward text-to-911
July 11, 2013
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From the earliest days of texting and channels like Twitter, a major concern of emergency managers were that people would use these means as a replacement for 911. This first came to my attention about 3 years ago when a pre-teen girl fell into an empty well in Australia. The good news was she had a cellphone with her. The bad news is she forgot the phone was to make phone calls--in this case 000, the Australian equivalent of 911. The good news is her friends were monitoring her Facebook page when she posted her predicament. The best news is she was quickly rescued unharmed.

Emergency agencies using social media routinely put "do not use this for emergencies. Call 911." This is wise and good practice. However, that doesn't stop people from using social media channels or texting when help is desperately needed. That's why it is a very good thing that the FCC is working to facilitate cell carriers to make text to 911 a reality. Progress is very much mixed on this front at this report show. A slow rollout is in progress.

But what this means is every emergency response agency needs to incorporate some means of monitoring and responding. This is particularly true in major disasters like earthquakes, floods or severe weather where cell coverage may be knocked out and text messaging still works. Disaster after disaster has shown the internet to be the most resilient so those who can access it outside of the cell networks will continue to use it--and may use it to call for help.

Where do you stand on this? Not practical? Not worth the effort? Or do you see it as part of your responsibility to respond as your customers expect of you?



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