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Guest Post By Claudia Espinosa

If we think about the story of 911 services, we realized the very first revolution was the transition from cord-type switchboard–and a push-to-talk desk microphone to what is now the modern telephone. After the late 1980´s, we think about pen written notes evolving to keyboard computerize ones and the use of location identification technologies. In the present, it seems that the three-digit telephone number could be transitioning again, now to take advantage from the use of Social Media, but not only as a tool for connectivity, but as a new instrument in the search and location of people in need.

One of the 1,35 billion users of Facebook, Ryan Pritchard (41) proved in January 2014 that social networks are becoming much more than a digital space for socializing but, in his case, a lifesaving electronic tool. Yes, surprising. But when Ryan and his two sons Devon (18) and Jake (11), decided to go on a hike to Putah Creek State Wildlife Area, about 30 miles east of his Sacramento home, he slipped on a loose rock and fell 150 feet down a cliff and landed in a tree.

Since Devon had already gone ahead to their car to return gear, little brother Jake went down the cliff, got his father’s cell phone and called 911, reaching the California Highway Patrol dispatcher. But the call was disconnected before he could give an accurate location and efforts to call again failed.

To know the details of this story, Humanity Road interviewed the 911 dispatcher trainee Breanna Martinez, the hero of the story, and she shared with us: “Because 911 dispatchers didn’t get a second call, we sent responders to a possible location. Meanwhile we searched him through the official’s tools like the DMV registry and others with no success. I decided to search myself since they were busy, so I plugged the name into Google there I was able to get a picture and know he was from Sacramento”. Using his name and image, Breanna found a match on Facebook. “While I was on my break, I logged into Facebook and was able to find him. His latest post was ‘Hiking the Blue Ridge Trail today.’ Because the rescue units where already close to that area, the hiker was rescued in short time”.

Breanna had only been in training for three weeks so Ryan Pritchard was the first person that she found through social media, but probably not the last “I will definitely use Facebook and Social Media in the future, after the official’s tools are unsuccessful” says the ingenious trainee.

When we talked about the future uses of social media by the emergency services, she commented: “I think 911 services would benefit from having dispatchers familiarized with the use of social media as a way to research for 911 callers. The inclusion of social media as an official tool in the future is definitely an option to be considered”.

For the past five years Humanity Road has been a pioneer in the use of modern social media such as Facebook and Twitter, to find the call for help. Today, we are happy to learn that one more life was saved using these resources, and that the 911 program is taking advantage of this technology.

About the Author

Claudia (2) Claudia Espinosa graduated from Universidad de Chile´s Law School.  She recently moved to the United States to expand her international experience in disaster relief and humanitarian aid.  She is interested in human rights, humanitarian law and emergency management. Claudia is part of the Humanity Road 2015 Spring intern crew and is serving as a Public Information Officer for Social Media Emergency Management.