Using social media to raise alerts to the public

Twitter is only 12 years old. Facebook is 14 – a young teenager, you could say.

And yet the onset and upsurge of these social media tools has changed the world we live in today. Integral in the way we communicate – on all levels – these channels don’t just affect our personal interactions, but our every interaction – including those with the emergency services.


Indeed, social media networks have enabled our services to share information instantly, in ways never previously possible. The police, fire, ambulance services – amongst others - can use these sites to disseminate safety advice and raise situational awareness across the population, which can ultimately help save lives and protect society.

Twitter in particular has the potential to provide the public with an uninterrupted, real-time information stream when it comes to emergency responses. The use of hashtags and its photo-sharing capabilities allows anyone to tweet important information from the scene of the incident, as well as official emergency services’ personnel to contribute to the conversation.

And the UK Government is calling on the public sector to account for social media in building crisis management plans, according to Cabinet Office head of civil contingency comms Carol McCall – which tells us that it’s regarded as a significant priority for our emergency services.

How can the emergency services use social media?

It’s clear why you should integrate social media as part of your organisation’s emergency communication plans, so let’s look at some of the important considerations you should make before you start to deploy these tools.

Set out your strategy

Before choosing social media as an official means of communication, it is important to understand what you will use it for and why. You must define and understand who will be your audience and how they may interact with you. Your strategy should include answers to these questions – and any others that are important to your organisation:

  • What do you see as the benefits of social media in your emergency response?
  • Explain how social media communications could have previously supported you?
  • How do you expect the public to react and interact with you on social media?

Decide what you want to say

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Using social media to engage with the public relies on fresh and relevant content. You need to be ready to deliver concise and accurate information to large populaces. There are a number of core areas where social media can support your service, which include:

  • Motorway updates in the event of collisions and closures
  • Extreme weather warnings that could increase risk to the public
  • Major incident updates including emergency shelter locations and contact numbers

Be available and interact

Did you know, the average lifespan of a tweet is just 15 minutes? A Facebook post typically lasts only 6 hours.

The point here is that a piece of communication on social media networks has a short window of opportunity – you need to be ‘always available’. Like any other emergency response channel – whether this be on calling 999, 112 or 911, or through physical access to hospitals, police stations and fire crews – the public expect instant support and it’s no different in the digital environment.

What does this mean for you? Quite simply, before you embark on a full social media-based emergency response plan, it’s critical to map the resources behind it with clear roles and responsibilities day to day, and in crisis situations.

Evolve with the technology and society

The power of social networking is such that the number of worldwide users is expected to reach some 3.02 billion monthly active social media users by 2021, around a third of Earth’s entire population.

While Facebook is currently the largest social networking site in the world with over 2 billion active users per month, there are literally hundreds of sites in existence and growing.

It’s critical to stay on top of the emerging trends in social networking. When you’re in the spaces where the public are talking and interacting, your message is at its most powerful.

Find out more

Our intelligent control room solutions can support your social media strategy. To find out more, get in touch with the team by email or you can call us on 01482 808300.