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Using social media during an emergency

Social media is changing the world and now it's affecting how people reach out during a crisis. But can you count on it?
A public safety quiz: can you tweet for emergency help? Can you text 911? And if you post on facebook that your house is on fire on, should you expect a rescue crew?

Social media is changing the world and now it's affecting how people reach out during a crisis. But can you count on it?

When dispatchers at a 9-1-1 center got a call from someone across the country alerting them to a local fire, they were puzzled.

911 Dispatcher: "My caller is actually in Indiana."
Fire Station: "Okay."
911 Dispatcher: "And was playing online and someone posted that he was disabled and his stove was on fire and he couldn't get out."

Firefighters didn't treat it as a prank. Instead, they suited up, jumped in their truck and raced to this house -- finding smoke pouring out of the windows.

Fire victim Bob Chambers says, "I was getting to the point where 'someone better come.'"

Chambers, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, and has limited movement, was inside and home alone.

When a fire started, he couldn't reach the phone so he used his specialized keyboard to send a message to the people he was playing a game with on facebook.

Chambers says, "A couple people that knew me shouted back 'Are you kidding?' I went no!"

More and more cases of people posting cyber cries for help are popping up across the world. A recent Red Cross survey found 44 percent of people would use social media to alert rescue crews -- if they couldn't call 9-1-1.

That's what Atlanta City Council Member Kwanza Hall did after he discovered an unconscious woman on the street.

His phone battery was about to die, so he tweeted "please call the paramedics" and gave his followers the location.

An ambulance showed up and rushed the woman to the hospital.

Hall says, "I'm just thankful she's alive."

But experts warn while both Bob and Kwanza were lucky, relying on social media in an emergency is risky.

George Rice with The Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies says, "The public's expectation of what response they will get via use of social media is far beyond the capacity of public safety agencies to deliver on."

Most agencies don't monitor social media sites, for people who need help. The reason is cost. Most cities and towns just can't afford it.

Bill Delaney with Montgomery County Fire Rescue says, "Our resources are stretched to the limit."

Public safety experts say despite the high tech world we live in, dialing 9-1-1 is still the best way to contact emergency dispatchers.

That wasn't an option in Bob's case, and his cyber pleas for help worked.

Patricia Ducham, Bob's wife, says, "I am so grateful that there was somebody out there that took it seriously."

We talked with Little Rock police to see if it monitors Facebook or Twitter accounts for cyber emergencies and according to Sgt. Cassandra Davis, they don't . Again, it’s too costly.

But what they have responded to is secondhand information where someone posts an emergency on a social media site and then someone else sees it -- and calls 9-1-1.

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