On May 15, Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall discovered a new use for the popular social networking site Twitter: saving a life. While driving through the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. historic district, he saw a woman lying on the ground and another woman trying unsuccessfully to call 911. Hall, also unable to get an answer from 911, sent text messages to his staff and to his followers on the social networking Web site Twitter. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance arrived to help the woman. American City & County spoke with Hall about Twitter’s potential to augment 911.
Q: How can this technology be applied to 911 services?
Hall: People are doing things that are very interesting all over the country. The [Los Angeles] Fire Department uses Twitter for outgoing information. Another place, I think in Pennsylvania, is using Twitter to give full  updates to their [residents]. So, I think there is a precedent for embracing the technology, but, as we upgrade here in [Atlanta,] we’ve got to figure out how we incorporate that next generation 911 into what we’re doing. I think there’s a great opportunity for us to do it.
Q: What are some of your concerns about using social networking for 911 services?
Hall: Some colleagues are really concerned about the liability and potential for a group to flood the 911 system with phone calls [after receiving an emergency Tweet], and I think that is a valid argument. However, I would say the same amount of flooding happens when 100 people drive by an accident. One of the good things about the technology that’s interesting is you can sort the [messages] by type. Messages coming in with [certain] keywords automatically get put into one cue, and you don’t have to worry about them. [Unrelated] calls or text messages go somewhere else.
Listen to a podcast with Kwanza Hall for more ideas on improving 911 services.