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Social Media to the rescue

Posted by: Howie2.0


When your car gets jacked or a house caves in – who you gonna call? GHOS....ah wait it’s not 1984! You’d think that 27 years later we’d have better ways to communicate emergencies – but wait – we do!

Social media has been used to save lives, but not because emergency services are always actively involved, they just happen to be alerted by other social networking followers. What if there were dedicated accounts like ambulance, fire, and police departments, suicide and abuse hotlines, flood services etc -which could be notified as and when someone needs help and can dispatch emergency services.

One of the important characteristics of social media is immediacy – so why is there such a lack of utilisation? Yes I understand that we have internet connection issues and the like, but I am saying it is an option.

Social Media, like Facebook and Twitter, has the power to send information across time and space, with more reach than one phone call.


Here are some stories where social media has been used to rescue and save

1. Social media saves lives in Haiti - A Coast Guard Auxiliarist saw a distress-post through a self-created social media monitoring tool seconds after it was posted by a person trapped under a collapsed building in Haiti. Information was sent through Twitter, Facebook, text messages and more about people’s locations and rescue teams were sent in.

2. Twitter was used by a suicidal woman to express herself before attempting her life.  A community of Twitter followers realised she was serious and began mobilising others to help. From fellow members to Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes and finally the police and Netcare 911 got involved in the rescue effort. They saved that woman because of the immediate spider-arms of Twitter’s reach. Click here for the full story

3. A Canadian author and technology consultant, Sean Power, had his laptop stolen but was able to track it remotely using free open source software called Prey. Power then sought help from his Twitter followers to source information as he received details from Prey. He was notified when the thief used his laptop to load Skype. It took a photo with the webcam and sent reports about the laptops location. This story was then tracked in sequence by Freelance writer, Brandon Ballenger, using Storify. Click here to read the full sequence of events

4. In the UK, Fire services send a reminder to all their Twitter and Facebook followers to check their fire alarms every week. They used the #testittuesday hashtag and soon the campaign was picked up and retweeted to thousands. Click here for more on the story.


SA Twitter accounts to note:

*Police - @SAPoliceService

*Emergency Medical services - @ER24EMS (084 124) and @Netcare911SA (082 911)

*Airlifting emergency services - @HelivacEMS

*International Disaster and Urban Search and Rescue Team - @ResQSA

*Doctors without Borders - @MSF_southafrica

A reality on Twitter

If I type in “help” into twitter search – only technology and service support accounts pop up.

* If I type in “emergency services” - only health and emergency management companies come up – no dedicated SOS accounts.

* If I type in “child abuse” with variations on “south Africa” – only USA support groups pop up


This type of service is something that could be developed in South Africa – people need all the help and access to it they can get.

I would not rely on sending emergency logs to the social media platforms only, but they are certainly an option. I will definitely make a list on Twitter of emergency services in South Africa, just in case. I do hope that some emergency services will take advantage of this loop hole in the social media sphere.

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by CecilleC, December 15, 2011
Facebook really has provided a lot of services to people since before. It does not only connect long lost friends and relatives but it also can save lives. The latest feature being given by the site to the public is preventing suicidal tendency of a depressed person through facebook itself. People usually spend an average of over one hour a day in using this social networking site. Through facebook, experience and thoughts of a certain individual are being posted. Now, Facebook is offering friends and family of people in crisis a way to get their friends' help, directly on the site. Read more:

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