The events in Paris a week ago were truly shocking and left the world stunned. It often feels a world away when such incidents occur and we can safely put ourselves in a different place. But for me Europe was going to be much closer this week. What happened in France took place just a few days before I was travelling across Europe.
My trip to Vienna was to take part in a European study looking at social media and emergencies. The project is called EmerGent for anyone who wants to find out a bit more about it. In a nutshell it is trying to find the best ways to use social media data if you are in emergency services across Europe but also to discover how citizens can make better use of social media at critical times.
It is obviously a huge subject area and one that a lot of people will have a view about. For some social media has made managing emergencies even more complicated and difficult. For others social media is a way for people to get involved and help deal with the incident and the recovery phase.
The meeting involved a whole host of emergency services staff both operational and from support roles from across Europe. Representatives from Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Latvia, Spain and Italy oh and of course the UK. It was an honour to be part of the group and to share knowledge and experiences.
Of course there are many differences. One of the biggest was that across Europe people use 112 to call for emergency assistance but in the UK we haven’t yet publicised it and have focused still on 999. It is something that makes sense to have a clear number for anyone travelling across Europe to know they can use to summon assistance no matter where they are. Something we in the UK need to do more to promote. The biggest difference is that we all work within slightly different legal frameworks.
But despite all the differences there are far more similarities in what we are all seeking to do. The key for all was to ensure that we could provide the best possible service, but also make good use of the data that is now readily available through people using social media. We all wanted to encourage citizens to work with us and to do this all the time so that we could make best use of it at times of crisis. We all were trying to grapple with the problems of managing the data with the limited resources available.
Above all there was a universal recognition of the importance of getting the use of social media right both now and in the future.
I left the beautiful city of Vienna with a new enthusiasm to drive forward the use of social media data and to move towards creating predictive analytics. But also I want to ensure there is a clear conversation with citizens so they understand what is needed from them to help during an emergency. It is a huge piece of work but one that brings some exciting opportunities.
I am looking forward to being able to contribute further to the EmerGent project and am grateful for the opportunity they gave me to be involved.