A public safety question for you, can you tweet for emergency help? Can you text 911?
If you post on Facebook that your house is on fire, should you expect a rescue crew to get there in time?
Social media is changing the world and now it's changing how people reach out during a crisis. However, tweeting that you're in trouble doesn't guarantee police will get the message.
Bob Chambers, who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, and has limited movement. He was home alone when a fire started. He couldn't use the phone so he used his specialized keyboard to tap out a message to people he was playing a game with through Facebook. He said, "I was getting to the point where someone had better come."
He says a couple people asked if he was kidding, and when he said no they called police.
Cases like these are popping up across the world. A recent Red Cross survey found 44 percent of people would use social media to alert rescue crews if they couldn't call 911.
Experts warn that relying on social media in an emergency is risky. George Rice with the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies says, "The public's expectation of what response they will get via use of social media is far beyond the capacity of public safety agencies to deliver on."
Most agencies do not monitor social media sites for people who need help. If dispatchers are alerted to a post, they also have to figure out if it's a prank. Firefighter Bill Delaney says, "It's always difficult to discern what may be real and what might not be real."
Though the FCC is pushing for dispatch centers nationwide to update their technology to accept texts, right now it only works in a couple places across the country. Many cities and towns cannot afford it.
Public safety experts say despite the high tech world we live in, dialing 911 is still the best way to contact emergency dispatchers.
Many agencies have social media website pages. However, there are questions on if they would be held responsible for not responding to pleas for help posted on those websites. That's something that may be addressed in the next few years.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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