Twitter has been an important source of safety information in recent natural disasters and other emergency situations, including during Hurricane Sandy and the manhunt for the Boston bombers. To make it easier for users to find accurate and essential information on the network, the company introduced Twitter Alerts today for local, national, and international institutions that provide critical information to the general public. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate supports the effort, and told Twitter:
Social media has revolutionized communication during disasters. Today we have a two-way street — residents are informed about hazards in real time and emergency managers receive immediate feedback on the consequences of a disaster. Twitter Alerts provide an opportunity to get information directly from trusted sources.”
For an idea of how Twitter Alerts will look during times of emergency, examine the way organizations disseminated information during past emergencies. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, FEMA tweeted information on how to find shelters:
#Sandy East coast, search for open shelters by texting: SHELTER + a zip code to 43362 (4FEMA). Ex: Shelter 01234 (std rates apply)
— FEMA (@fema) October 29, 2012
With Twitter Alerts, users will be sure that tweets like the one above come from accurate sources.
How Twitter Alerts Work
Twitter Alerts are intended primarily for crisis, disaster, and emergency communications such as warnings for imminent dangers, preventive instructions, evacuation directions, urgent safety alerts, information on access to essential resources, information on critical transit and utility outages, and crowd and misinformation management. Participating organizations can, however, determine for themselves what information merits a Twitter Alerts designation.
When an authorized user sets out a Twitter alert, the alert can reach Twitter users three ways:
- On the Twitter timeline, denoted by an orange bell icon (shown above)
- Via SMS
- Through push notifications, for those using Twitter for iPhone version 5.10 or higher or Twitter for Android 4.1.6 or higher
Through this variety of alert types, it should be easy for Twitter users to find alerts relevant to them.
How to Subscribe to Twitter Alerts
Now when you visit a Twitter accounts, you’ll be able to quickly see if the account is authorized to send Twitter Alerts. If an account can indeed send Twitter alerts, you’ll see the orange Alerts bell in the left-hand column of the page (as seen in the screenshot of FEMA’s Twitter to the right). From there, click the “Be prepared” link to subscribe to Twitter Alerts posted by that organization.
Clicking the link will take you to the organization’s Alerts subscription page. Click the blue “Activate Alerts” box and you will receive an alert the next time the organization has something crucial to tell you.
Who Can Create Twitter Alerts
Any organization that provides crucial information in times of need are able to petition for access to Twitter Alerts, though priority access is given to law enforcement and public safety agencies, emergency management agencies, city and municipal governments, county and regional agencies that provide services to cities and municipalities, and select state, federal, and national agencies and NGOs.
Currently over 100 NGOs and government agencies in the U.S., Japan, and Korea can send Twitter Alerts, and Twitter plans to expand the service to include more organizations around the world. In the U.S., the Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FEMA, and more already already have access to Twitter Alerts. Visit Twitter for a full list of participating organizations.
Though Twitter Alerts will undoubtedly be useful, possibly even life-saving, during severe emergencies, we hope no emergency arises in the future that will make using the feature essential. You can learn more about how to use Twitter Alerts here.
What do you think of the new Twitter Alerts feature? Do you think it will be helpful in major emergencies?