UC in the Emergency Management World of E911

UC in the Emergency Management World of E911

By Samantha Kane September 15, 2010 3 Comments
S. Kane 125 jpg
UC in the Emergency Management World of E911 by Samantha Kane

What do Bebo, Cyworld Facebook, and Xanga all have in common? All are currently on a list of major active social networking websites1. Cyworld, a popular social networking site in Korea, has 27,000,000 registered users while Bebo, an acronym for Blog Early, Blog Often, has 117,000,000 registered users ranking it 1,0602 according to Global Alexa, a web information company owned by Amazon. Based on statistics from Facebook there are more than 500,000,000 active users with over 50% of the active users logging on the Facebook on any given day3.

There is no question; Social Media (SM) has changed the way we communicate and the users that Social Networking (SN) sites are attracting is growing. This is significant when there is an emergency and a 911 call should be made. An American Red Cross survey released in August of this year, shows many web users would turn to social media to seek help.

“The online survey asked 1,058 adults about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. It found that if they needed help and couldn’t reach 9-1-1, one in five would try to contact responders through a digital means such as e-mail, websites or social media. If web users knew of someone else who needed help, 44 percent would ask other people in their social network to contact authorities, 35 percent would post a request for help directly on a response agency’s Facebook page and 28 percent would send a direct Twitter message to responders.”

"The first and best choice for anyone in an emergency situation is to call 911," said Gail McGovern, American Red Cross president and CEO, in a statement. "But when phone lines are down or the 911 system is overwhelmed, we know that people will be persistent in their quest for help and use social media for that purpose."4

For example:

  1. Two British mountaineers who found themselves trapped on Mont Blanc in August 2010. The solution they used was to send a text from the top of Europe’s highest mountain to a friend who was over 800 miles away, who was able to contact officials to make the rescue.5
  2. In Morris County, NJ, the county Office of Emergency management will be using Facebook and Twitter to issue notifications and warnings to residents for each of the county’s 39 towns.6
  3. In a mini triathlon, Leigh Fazzina crashed and although was unable to walk she sent a tweet to her “followers.” “I've had a serious injury and NEED Help!" she typed. "Can someone please call Winding Trails in Farmington, CT tell them I'm stuck bike crash in woods.”7

When disasters strike SM is very often the first point of contact. When the earthquake ravaged Haiti, #Haiti very quickly became the top trending topic on Twitter. Some Haitians who were caught underneath the rubble even used SM, as a way of communication.

All of this means that communications platforms and 911 providers will need to be able to integrate SM and SN. For example, in a recent new product announcement Avaya Flare will support Twitter, Facebook and Skype with the ability to add additional Social Networking capabilities.

This a good start, but to be successful the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) network will need some significant upgrades. Some PSAP’s have upgraded in order to be able to accommodate E911 or Enhanced 911 and some work has already started on NG911 or Next Generation 911 in some jurisdictions. It takes time, money and the political will to make the changes necessary, but if 911, E991 and NG911 are to embrace Social Media and Social Networking, changes are needed.


  1. List of social networking websites Wikipedia
  2. About Bebo.com 
  3. Facebook statistics
  4. Web Users Increasingly Rely on Social Media to Seek Help in a Disaster
  5. Two British mountaineers trapped on Mont Blanc call for help... by texting a friend 800 miles away
  6. Emergency Alert System in Morris County
  7. 'NEED Help!': Biker's Twitter followers call for ambulance   

3 Responses to "UC in the Emergency Management World of E911" - Add Yours

Mark Fletcher, ENP 9/16/2010 6:00:54 AM

Excellent article Samantha. As always you have researched the matter quite well.
I think what bothers me the most is that people *think* that today's E911 infrastructure is much further advanced than it really is. Maybe you can blame that on Hollywood, or put it in the 'who cares' category, but the fact of the matter is that millions of people rely on E911 every year, and just take it for granted that it will work.
We have become so jaded as a society where we tweet, email, SMS and conference call through our days, that we never stop to think about the 911 system being 40 years old, with minimal investment to keep it current.
The most unfortunate side of this is that the the technology exists to fix the issue, but rarely is it deployed. If the general public understood that the call taker interrupting your evening meal has 10 times the functionality available to them than the call taker that is saving your child's life, I can only imagine the outcry. Unfortunately this is true.
In addition to that, try dialing 911 from your business PBX. Chances are your call will be misrouted, or even worse, answered by "Bob" at the front desk. If you do get through to the correct PSAP, good luck in trying to explain where you are, especially if you can't speak or have a gun pointing at you as a California chain store found out when they were robbed and their 911 call went out the corporate HQ trunks in another city.
Avaya E911 Product Manager
David_Yedwab 9/16/2010 6:01:34 AM

Great update on what's not being done in emergency communications ... What I mean by that is most 911 PSAPs are lucky to get landline calls and correctly locate the caller ... SN direct into PSAPs is likely vewaby far off, despite your examples. Is there any way Stimulus funds for broadband can assist here>
David Ye
Jay Brandstadter 9/16/2010 11:33:33 AM

Great stuff. As I was reading it, I was wondering how social media technology was being utilized in emergency comm and emergency management by local, state and Federal agencies. By chance, Government Computer News arrived today and had this article in it: http://gcn.com/articles/2010/09/06/social-media-emergency-management.aspx

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