Social media gaining traction with emergency dispatchers

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -- Social media is taking over many of our lives. A recent study by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police now says it is important that police departments not only use social media, but also have personnel trained to monitor and respond to emergency messages coming in through social media.

It's the new wave of communication -- social media. Facebook, Twitter, you name it, many of us use them. Now, emergency crews know how important this new tool can be in a major disaster.

"It's a priceless tool communicating with law enforcement and the public in an emergency," said Dana Schrad. She is with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Her agency spreading the word -- social media is the new way people are going to get an emergency "typed in" fast. "If you have internet access like many of us do in our cars, we can get a written message to dispatchers and now everyone can see it too," Schrad said.

But the challenge now is getting the police, fire and EMS crews on board. All of it to make sure someone is watching, monitoring and responding to any messages that come in thorough Facebook in the midst of a disaster.

"It is something you have to work into your protocol to do effectively, but we absolutely cannot ignore it," Schrad said.

The Virginia State Police Department is getting the message. Back in March of last year, the state police launched its Facebook page. Nearly 28,000 people now follow the agency.

The department is looking at ways to make sure someone is monitoring and responding to any Facebook "emergencies" when 911 goes down, or a major disaster strikes.

Schrad is hoping other state agencies take the lead, too.

"It's especially helpful in rural areas where cell phone service can go down even quicker in an emergency," she said.

State Police are urging you to still remember its Facebook page is not monitored all the time. That means you still need to call #77 from your cell phone or 911 in an emergency.

Other agencies throughout the state are also looking into this change.

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