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Using Twitter to summon emergency help

Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron visits Windsor Fire Station, October 27, 2009 in Windsor, England.

On the face  of it, it sounds crazy: Your house or apartment is on fire, and rather than phoning the emergency services, you tweet them.

But that is what the London Fire Brigade is mulling over. The Brigade is investigating whether it should allow people to use social media to report a fire and summon help.

Glenn Sebright, spokesman for the fire service, says they must at least consider this new approach -- because so many Londoners own smart phones and use social media.

“In effect, it would irresponsible of us not to look at how we might need to respond to incidents that are reported by members of the public using Twitter or using other forms of social media,” says Sebright.

Many questions will have to be answered: Will the public fully trust Twitter to convey such a vital message as “My house is on fire!” Don’t people need the reassurance of a voice at the other end of the line?

Supporters of the new approach point to the past: When Britain’s emergency phone services -- the equivalent of 911 -- were set up in 1935 many skeptics said the system would never work.

And yet today these services handle 30 million emergency calls a year.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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