Don’t use social media for emergencies: Halton police

by | Oct 19, 2012 | News

By Victoria Brown

According to a survey by Ipsos for the Canadian Red Cross, 75 per cent of Canadians think sending emergency tweets or messages will be responded to by emergency services within one hour.

Halton police posted an advisory Thursday asking the public not to report emergencies through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“Just recently, the night before we put out the news release, we had someone send us a Tweet indicating that they had seen a suspicious package on the median of a road,” said Janice Coffin, director of corporate communications and marketing for Halton police. “Had that been a bomb or some other safety hazard we wouldn’t have gotten that message until ten hours later.”

Police urge the public to direct all emergency calls to a 911 line or to call their local station.

“If you’re able to tweet you’re probably able to call 911,” said Coffin.

Coffin said the police have received electronic emergency messages and tweets in the past.

According to an Ipsos survey for the Canadian Red Cross released Oct.9, 35 per cent of Canadians think emergency services will respond to their calls for help if contacted through social media.

Additionally, 63 per cent think emergency services should be responding to calls via the Internet.

One of the problems with using social media is the police don’ t monitor the public’s Facebook and Twitter accounts 24/7.

Halton Police only monitor their own accounts from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. and only on weekdays, said Coffin.

“Anyone who uses Twitter or Facebook would know that they don’t even necessarily see their friends statuses or updates right away,” said Coffin.

Const. Scott Mills, social media officer with Toronto police, said he thinks police need to look toward creating a social media 911 reporting mechanism.

“It needs to be properly thought out and properly integrated,” said Mills.

In order to do this, the system would have to be able to track the origin of the call, said Mills.

During a normal emergency call, the operator needs to know the name, address and information of the caller, and Coffin said that’s something police can’t get through Twitter.


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