Archived Story

Social media proves valuable tool for 911 during winter storm

Published 4:52pm Tuesday, February 4, 2014

As a winter storm blanketed Chilton County with ice and snow Jan. 28, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter became crucial tools of communication for Chilton County E-911.

“Without social media we would not have been able to push out information as quickly as we were able to do last week,” Chilton County E-911 Director Dan Wright said on Tuesday.

Chilton County’s 911 service processed almost 2,000 calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 28, with 97 calls being because of motor vehicle accidents, possibly related to the winter storm.

Wright said the service experienced a call volume increase of more than 50 percent for the snow event.

“It is estimated that we reduced our general information phone calls by over 60 percent,” Wright said.

Vandalized phone equipment in Calera led to 911 dispatchers being unable to use their agency-issued cell phones to process calls, when all consoles were full until about 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 28.

With phone lines down, E-911 was able to push out information in a timely manner through social media channels.

“We also created a section on our website for local road conditions,” Wright said. “We made this new section on our website known through our social media channels and the results of our efforts proved to have a tremendous positive impact on our operations.

The local road conditions page proved to be such a valuable asset we have decided to keep it as an everyday part of our website.”

Wright said E-911 began an effort more than two years ago to increase its social media presence.

The goal of this effort was to provide timely and accurate information that was useful to the public.

“During several small weather and traffic events we have seen an increase in reach of our social media accounts,” Wright said. “During times of a disaster, citizens in Chilton County have not had a timely source of accurate information that they can use to make decisions about their family and their safety, but Chilton County E-911 is working to change that.”

Wright said during a 72-hour time period from 8 a.m. Jan. 28 to 8 a.m. Jan. 31, there were more than 500 new “likes” on Facebook with a total reach of more than 27,000 people.

There were more than 300 “followers” on the service’s Twitter page and 3,491 visitors to the local road conditions page in three days.

Wright said 595 of the page visits to the local road conditions page were in the 9 a.m. hour on Jan. 28 when the storm began.

“This shows that citizens are needing information and they need it timely during the initial phases of an event,” Wright said. “This social media effort is a tremendous benefit to our dispatchers because it allows them to focus on emergency calls and not use resources providing information that can be delivered through other sources.”

Currently, Wright said E-911 has more “likes” on Facebook than followers on Twitter but Twitter posts are shared more often which leads to more individuals seeing the information.

“Chilton County E-911 has committed to be a source for accurate and timely information that the citizens and visitors of Chilton County can use,” Wright said.

To visit any of the social media outlets used by E-911, visit www.chilton911.org or twitter.com/chiltonco911 or www.Facebook.com/chiltoncounty911.

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