Recent international headlines underscore the critical importance of new technology in the area of emergency communications. Twitter went prime time with the recent crisis in Iran. As demonstrations went public and the authorities put limits on computer networks, “tweets,” those 140-character messages typed into cell phones and handheld devices, became the eyes and ears of a world population focused on the events taking place in Tehran. This “wireless” generation did what the global news media could not—provide instantaneous communications in the face of a brutal government-sponsored crackdown.

In so doing, lessons were learned on multiple fronts: dictatorships were put on notice that no matter how hard they may try, a wireless Web is tough to contain. YouTube actually smuggled a video of a young woman being shot across the border and uploaded it to the Internet for the world to see. When President Obama said the whole world was watching, CNN knew its network had not broken the story first. As the events unfolded, integrators with perspective realized that the game for emergency communications had just changed in a very fundamental way.

Twitter went from a generational solution to worldwide fame virtually (literally) overnight. In fact, when Twitter was ready to take down systems for a scheduled upgrade during the crisis, it was the White House that “requested” they re-think their schedule. Sometimes it is the unforeseen event that changes the fate of companies, and in this case entire industries. Emergency communications are fundamental. So how do we make emergency communications better and more efficient? We get socially acceptable! Just do a Google search for “Pacific University Oregon Twitter Facebook.” The university is the first to merge those two applications in an emergency management solution. It will not be the last.

Mobile computing devices and social networking are technologies that will change the future. Consider The Gartner Group:

• In 2008, there were 304 million cell phones sold globally.

• 58 percent of Americans have cell phones with Web service.

• 66 percent of smart phones sold in the fourth quarter of 2008 have 3G wireless access.

• Global smart phone sales were up 29 percent in first quarter 2009 (What recession?).

How do these trends affect the security business? If emergency communications is a foundation technology within the domain of security, policing and public services, then mobile social communications is not one of those technology movements that you blow off as “just a fad.”

Security professionals have to understand one fundamental issue: Technology is accelerating and change is the nature of the new security environment. The criminal element is embracing technology rapidly because they understand at a fundamental level that law enforcement is by nature “conservative” and slow to change. What throws a monkey wrench into that criminal thinking is “social networking”—the ability for the public to get involved with real time communications technology to assist our law enforcement, emergency responders and public officials in the fight against the crime. In that scenario, the numbers are heavily in our favor—there are simply too many good people that will outnumber the bad ones. With efficient social networks responding with emergency communication alerts, much good can happen. Car accidents and drunk drivers can be reported immediately, more kidnapped and missing children can be found, more fires can be caught earlier, people can be evacuated and lives saved, and firefighters will not die rushing into burning towers because their emergency communications do not work. Security must embrace new technologies and leverage them. Innovative integrators will embrace social networking and get “socially acceptable” in the solutions they offer.

Dan Dunkel brings more than 22 years of sales, management and executive experience in the IT industry to a consulting practice, New Era Associates, focused on the emerging field of security convergence. He is also co-author of Physical & Logical Security Convergence.