Thursday, 23 March 2017

Wednesday 22 March


I arrived at London Waterloo yesterday afternoon intending to walk to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square before returning to the South Bank to meet a friend and go to a concert in the Royal Festival Hall. It is a very pleasant stroll across the Jubilee footbridge looking down the river towards Westminster and I used to do it every day when I worked in London.

As my train approached the platform I could see that the entrance of St. Thomas's Hospital A&E was crowded with ambulances and police cars and that traffic was stationary on surrounding roads. The air was resonating with the sounds of sirens and helicopters and when I reached the South Bank I discovered that the whole site was taped off and that it would not be possible to walk across the river. Behind me a police van was shouting at pedestrians and telling them to clear the area.

These are the things that I saw and heard and my question to you is what would you do next if you were in my situation? Would you find another route across the river and continue with your plans for the evening or return to Waterloo, a crowded train station. How would you get information about the safest place to be?

I turned to Twitter and read on @BBCBreaking that the incident was in Westminster so my alternative route was out of the question. @MetPoliceUk were giving advice on roads that were closed and it was apparent that the incident was very serious with a large cordon around Westminster Bridge. There was no evidence of coordinated attacks in other parts of London but I checked @southbankcentre and saw that the site had been closed on police advice. @LPOrchestra quickly confirmed that the concert was cancelled and so I could make the decision to return home.

In contrast, my friend chooses not to have a smart phone or use social media and apps and I realised how vulnerable she has made herself by rejecting changes to the way that information is shared. She was dependent on other people before she could make decisions about the safest course of action and because reception for analogue phones is poor when everyone else is using their phones it was difficult for her to keep in contact.

I learned two things yesterday:

1. You do not know when you will be in a fast moving security situation. It could be a train station, a concert hall, an airport, a shopping centre. Think about how you would access information to keep yourself safe. In my experience Twitter is the quickest way to get information from reliable sources so it is worth investing time to become familiar with how it works.

2. Always have a fully charged back up battery for your phone in your bag. If areas are cordoned off or transport stops you may be using your phone for several hours and your family will need reassurance that you are safe.

I hope that you are never in a situation where this advice is helpful but please be prepared so that you can make informed decisions and stay in touch with your family.

This post is dedicated to those affected by the incident at Westminster on Wednesday 22 March and to the emergency services for their work protecting the people of London.

20 comments:

  1. Alice, thank you. I'm so glad you weren't caught up in the attack. I have a very old phone that doesn't do social media and your post has really made me rethink that; I think I have clung onto it purely out of stubbornness. Now I'm thinking having access to up to date info makes me less of a burden to the emergency services in such a situation.

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    1. Thank you and I agree - less of a burden to the emergency services but more positively you have will have access to information that will enable you to help other people.

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  2. Sensible advice. Happy to hear you are safe x

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    1. Thank you! I was never at risk but of course I only know that with the benefit of hindsight.

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  3. I'm glad you were safe and kept abreast of what was going on via your phone. You never know when random hateful acts such as yesterday's will occur or, indeed, any form of disaster, so it is wise to be connected. This is when Twitter comes into its own.

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    1. Thank you! I think the important thing is to be open minded about new resources.

      (Agnes related comment) I also believe that parents should familiarise themselves with social media and messaging services so that they can keep in contact with their children.

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  4. Very thought provoking Alice. I probably would have turned tail and fled, not thinking to get out my phone until some time later and then discovered it had little charge left on the battery.
    Glad you were safe.

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    1. Hello Anne - please, please get an rechargeable battery to carry around in your handbag. I was stuck in a dark layby at night time with a flat tyre and the battery allowed me to recharge my phone and call help.

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  5. I'm so glad you're safe. I was late getting a smart phone, but now that I have one I wouldn't be without it--it's helped me so many times when I've been lost or unsure what to do (although never in as scary a situation as you were in yesterday). K xxx

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    1. Hello Kristina - I know exactly what you mean about using the phone when you are lost. I got completely lost at night in the streets around Covent Garden and it was only the little blue dot on the phone walking me out to the Strand that prevented me from sleeping on a doorstep in an alley in Soho.

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  6. Excellent advice Alice. I'm glad to read that you are ok. I was in Warrington town centre on my own when a shopping centre was evacuated not long after the bombing there. This was well before the age of phones as they are now. I've never felt as vulnerable and so unsure as to which direction to head for.

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    1. Hello Anna. Thank you for sharing your own experience - vulnerable is exactly how I felt too.

      I was interested to read that in the lock down that happened in Parliament MPs had access to emails on their phones but most people did not have any idea what was happening.

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  7. Top advice from MrsM - ability to take a screenshot from one's smartphone is handy if you need to take a picture of a map. A workphone also provides extra cover if it is on a different network.

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    1. Top tips from my phone guru, MrM.

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  8. Such good advice Alice. Sadly relevant for any of us , no matter where we are in the world. But most importantly I am so grateful you are safe.

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    1. Thank you Mary - I wasn't at risk but of course at time I didn't know that. There are so many occasions when we can benefit from the information available to us, not just security emergencies. I would love to be able to demystify smartphones for people like my sister who reject them and so for example must accept getting lost in an unfamiliar city as a norm.

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  9. so glad you are safe Alice, and thank you for the wise advice xxx

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    1. Thank you! On a lighter note it is critical to be familiar with social media and messaging services because you will need to keep in contact with your children when they fly the nest!

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  10. it must have been scary...

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  11. reading that, makes my blood run cold.

    We have both unwillingly acquired smartphones, but way beyond being competent enough to use them as effectively as you.
    I would resort to SMS or Whatsapp to someone more tech savvy - Help?
    It has become such a different world with a yawning digital divide. Not so much have and have not, as will or won't.

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Thank you! I love reading your comments and even though I don't always have time to reply I am really grateful to every one who joins in the conversation.