A riot broke out in Singapore's Little India a couple of hours ago (8 December 2013). Almost immediately after the start of the riot, the incident became breaking news and trended on social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The Twitter hash tag of #LittleIndiaRiot was also quickly established.
Residents and innocent by-standers living and visiting the area were obviously concerned for the safety and well being of themselves and their loved ones. As no information was forthcoming from main-stream media, many turned to social media to understand the unfolding situation and to decide what safety measures to take.
Given the immediacy of Twitter, Twitter naturally became the primary source for information. Unfortunately, the Singapore Police Force's Twitter account had no information about the riots, nor did it provide public safety information.
The failure of the Singapore Police Force to capitalize on social media, is in my opinion, a serious flaw. Thankfully, the riots were confined and did not spread. If it did, the Singapore Police Force's failure to provide timely and actionable information to innocent by-standers, would be unforgivable. Much worse if there were injuries or even deaths.
My point is this. Twitter is a powerful emergency communications tool which emergency services must use in a crisis. Besides giving the on-site incident commander an effective means to communicate immediately with large numbers of people, the ability to do it instantly and from something as simple as a smart phone is priceless.
CW Fong & Associates is a boutique communications consultancy that works with MNCs to develop their Business Continuity Management processes.