On a beautiful evening, November 13, 2015, amidst typical Friday night socializing, several terrorist attacks rocked Paris. As usual, social media, and in particular, Twitter, quickly became a dominant source for getting information out to stranded victims and families in the area.

Two immediate problems happened. The biggest problem was people could not find the information they needed on how to reach safe locations. City transit was shut down and police were telling people to get off the street. The hash tag #PorteOuverte (meaning ‘open door’ in French) was being used to tell people where they could find shelter. Because social media users were posting the hash tag #PorteOuverte to talk about the situation and share photos, the information on where to find shelter was lost to those most in need.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that it took more than an hour for Twitter users to come to consensus on which hash tag would be appropriate to use to get to immediate shelter – until locals landed on #PorteOuverte.

HELP was created for pre-planning emergency hashtag use on social media, to support the public on which hashtags to use during a crisis. The protocol is proposed for adoption by cities and media worldwide. If your city wishes to adopt this protocol, send us your official hashtags from your Mayor’s office. We will post them here under the Examples Tab.

The Twitter handle and hashtag for this initiative is @HashtagsHELP, #HashtagsHELP. The following protocol has been developed by researching the way prominent Twitter users tend to use hashtags in emergency situation.

Hashtags Emergency Lifeline Protocol (HELP)

Emergency hashtags are for the following:

  • Media outlets, designated government or elected officials of that city or region and you are informing people of the hashtag
  • You are in need of help locally
  • You are offering help locally

The mayor’s office of each city holds the final say on choosing the emergency hashtags for that city. The following protocol is offered to assist in determining them. In our examples page, the word “Official” is written next to any for which the Mayor’s office has confirmed that is the official choice for that city.

How to Choose Your City’s Emergency Hashtags

The following protocol is recommended to assist you in choosing your City’s Emergency Hashtags. Suggestions are welcome, but ultimate the Mayor’s office of each city will decide. HELP recommends you create 5 distinct hashtags for your city based on the protocol below.

Each hashtag would have a version to be translated into your cities language – For example for the safe haven hashtag, in English speaking cities the Hashtag is #airport code for your city followed by the word “OpenDoor”. The use of the airport code is to address the situation of multiple disasters in different cities as happened with terrorist attacks in both Paris and Nigeria in the same period.

If you do not live in a city which is big enough to have a known airport code, use your town name. If your city has two international airports, such as London, New York or Paris, the media and local officials will decide and be the first to tweet it out. Ultimately the Mayor’s office has the final authority. In the absence of directions from the mayor we recommend local media determine which should be used. We suggest you use the call sign most commonly used for your city.

Categories 1 and 2 are typically the first need in any emergency

Category 1 – Safe Haven Hashtag in Your Language: #[Your City’s Airport Code] + OpenDoor

Examples of where and why this would be appropriate to use

There is a terrorist attack on your city and the police are calling people to get indoors and / or public transportation is halted.
There is an immediate warning for storm or natural disaster and people need to take immediate shelter or get to high ground.

Examples for your City

E.g. #LAXOpenDoor would be a safe haven hashtag to use in Los Angeles in a state of crisis.

#LYSPorteOuverte would be the safe haven hashtag for Lyon, France

#PorteOuverte will remain Paris as it was originated there, or for Paris #CDGPorteOuverte could be used should locals wish to avoid confusion (referring Airport Charles De Gaulle) – note these are examples and not yet confirmed by the Mayor of Paris

Should your Mayor’s office advise otherwise, your standard will be listed in the Examples by City section.

Category 2 – Call for Responders Hashtag – #[Your City’s Airport Code] + Responder

Examples of where and why this would be appropriate to use

There is a large disaster such as a ship wreck, plane crash, flash flood, earthquake, etc. and government emergency responders may not be able to address the needs or may not yet be present at the situation. An example would be rescuing people from the water in the event of a Ferry Capsizing. This is a call to people with the training and equipment to support emergency responders at the scene or support the affected until emergency responders arrive.

First responders on the scene of any disaster would assess if public support is needed. It could be used in the following cases:

There is an immediate threat to life and government responders may be too far away
The number of victims needing aid far exceeds the ability of local government responders to assist
A typical tweet would include the location, the immediate need and the hashtag e.g. PLEASE HELP – #YVRResponder Boats needed to rescue Ferry Capsize victims [GPS location] pls RT

The above would be a call for responders off the coast of Vancouver, Canada in the event of a Ferry Capsize.

Examples for your city

E.g. #LAXResponder would be Los Angeles, Please suggest the alternatives for your language.

How to choose the Call for Responders hashtag

We recommend #[Your City’s Airport Code]Responder

Categories 3 will typically arise in social media conversation in the early hours following a disaster

Category 3 – Looking for missing loved ones during an emergency and in the hours following

Use this hashtag when requesting information on a loved one who is missing or when unsure if a family member is safe. Physically attaching a photo is advisable in some circumstances.

Examples include

  • After a disaster to locate missing family members
  • Missing children in a community

Examples for your City

#LAXHelpFind,   Missing person in Los Angeles.

e.g. My brother @TwitterHandle was at [location of disaster] please #YYCHelpFind if you know he’s OK

e.g. My 16 year old daughter is missing in Vancouver area. [Name] was last seen at [location] Please #YVRHelpFind

*please send us your suggestions for what these should be in other languages

Asking people to avoid using the emergency hashtag

We ask the public to avoid using emergency hashtags when praising responders or discussing the situation. We also encourage Media to regularly inform the public of the same. We suggest using an alternative hashtag. This way, those who require immediate assistance will not need to sort through cluttered non-emergency messages.

How You Can Help and Get Involved

Our most urgent need is for people to help us retweet and share news stories about this protocol on social media. If you would like to be a maven to help us spread the word, please help to :

Mayor’s Office and City Officials

  • Mayor’s Offices – please send us your city’s official hashtags and put out a press release


  • Media – please help us educate the public on this issue


  • Contact your city mayor – ensure that your mayoral office has heard about and adopted the HELP standard for YOUR city
  • Approach the media – encourage your local media to cover this essential initiative
  • Become a translator – we require translations of the website’s written content in every language to make accessible to everyone.

Share this website with family, friends, colleagues, and over your social media channels. Our Twitter handle is @HashtagsHELP.

Please share your ideas on how to help get the message out.