Twitter could help save lives in case of an emergency at the Edmonton International Airport.
The EIA used the social media site in a full-scale emergency response exercise Tuesday, and officials say Twitter is playing an increasing role in spreading urgent messages.
It’s especially handy at the EIA, which has the strongest social media following in Canada.
“It’s a definite shift we noticed in the last exercise and started to capitalize on in this one, where we would use Twitter more,” said EIA spokeswoman Heather Hamilton.
“When we’re returning phone calls, if you’re the sixth guy who called it’s going to be a while before you get that information.”
The airport’s #yeg hashtag, used for tweeting all things Edmonton, is consistently one of the most popular hashtags in the country.
Hamilton attributes EIA’s strong Twitter and Facebook presence to community connections with agencies like the Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of local charities.
In responding to an evacuation caused by bomb threat, EIA could immediately reach its 15,400 Twitter followers and re-tweet notices from the RCMP.
“Twitter really is a really popular way that people are trying to contact us now. We are somewhat unique in that respect, that we do have the strongest social media presence right now of any airport in Canada,” said Hamilton.
“People are really passionate about the airport.”
Of course, the EIA also uses traditional methods like P.A. announcements to spread the word to passengers, and a range of organizations work together to diffuse threats.
In Tuesday’s mock bomb threat, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) identified the bomb and notified RCMP’s Explosive Disposal Unit team, which worked with EMS responders, a police dog, and airport staff.
Fifty participants gathered after the exercise for a de-briefing to discuss what needs to be tweaked to prepare for a real-life emergency.
Passengers cannot be physically evacuated during an exercise, but the airport’s emergency services manager Burl Hamm says agencies learn from other airports where tragedies have occurred.
Hamm says he recently returned from a debriefing in Los Angeles to discuss a November 2013 shooting that killed a security officer at the Los Angeles International Airport.
“We like to learn from other people’s experience, and then we take those learnings back and apply them,” he said.
Daily airport operations were not impacted by Tuesday’s exercise.