When news breaks about a weather or safety emergency, government agencies and emergency responders jump into action on the ground and on Twitter, delivering critical and timely information and engaging with constituents. We saw this following Superstorm Sandy, the tsunami in Japan, and the manhunt in Boston.
Today, we’re launching Twitter Alerts, a new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information during emergencies, natural disasters or when other communications services aren’t accessible.
With Twitter Alerts, organizations can enhance the visibility of critical Tweets.
This post details information for organizations that are interested in participating in the program. To learn about subscribing to receive Twitter Alerts, read our announcement blog post.
How alerts work
Twitter Alerts appear on subscribers’ phones as push and/or SMS notifications when authoritative accounts mark Tweets as alerts. Alerts appear differently on your home timeline from regular Tweets; they are indicated with an orange bell.
Who can participate
The Twitter Alerts program is available to local, national and international institutions that provide critical information to the general public. The following have priority access to this feature:
If you believe that your organization qualifies for the Twitter Alerts program, please complete our enrollment form. Currently, more than 100 participating NGOs and government agencies in the U.S., Japan and Korea can send alerts. We will expand the service to include more organizations around the world.
When to use alerts
While participating organizations can determine what information merits a Twitter Alerts designation, the feature is intended for crisis, disaster and emergency communications, such as:
How Twitter has been used in times of crisis
The Twitter Alerts feature builds upon and gives enhanced visibility to some of the best practices during a crisis, which many government and emergency responders have already demonstrated.
“Social media has revolutionized communication during disasters,” says FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (@CraigatFEMA). “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.”
When the impending Superstorm Sandy became a reality in the Northeast U.S., Twitter users closely followed @FEMA’s account to get the latest safety information.
@FEMA used Twitter to disseminate critical information during Sandy:
#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
And encouraged the public to do the same:
#Isaac tip: Phone lines may be congested after a storm, so update your social networks or text family/friends to say you’re OK.— FEMA ( @fema) August 27, 2012
@DHSGov also encouraged the use of SMS and social media during Sandy:
Phone lines may be congested during/after #Sandy. Let loved ones know you’re OK by sending a text or updating social networks.— Homeland Security ( @DHSgov) October 29, 2012
Earthquake and tsunami in Japan
The U.S. Department of State (@StateDept) and U.S. diplomatic missions around the world — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — also use Twitter as an effective means to “distribute critical information to the public in the most immediate manner possible,” says Luke Forgerson, deputy director of the Office of Digital Engagement. He cites the State Department’s @TravelGov account, which informs U.S. citizens of situations, such as demonstrations or natural disasters. “Following the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, for example, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo used Twitter to keep people connected,” he says. @TravelGov will participate in Twitter Alerts to help deliver critical updates to citizens when necessary.
Boston Marathon bombing
And in April, as the world witnessed the Boston Marathon bombing, users turned to @BostonPolice and @DHSgov for safety details. Both services are participants in Twitter Alerts . “During the marathon emergency, the City of Boston used Twitter as a tool to provide reliable, official information, and also to help correct misinformation,” says Lindsay Crudele, community and social technology strategist for the City of Boston. Now, Crudele adds: “We’re looking to Twitter Alerts as a means to help increase visibility and accessibility of reliable, official information. This will help us support the safety of our residents.”