Twitter Alerts for Government

 Twitter launches an emergency communications system that can help spread critical information when other communication lines go down

 

Severe weather, wild fires and other emergencies occur quickly and often with little warning. And when disaster strikes, go-to channels like phones can become overloaded, rendering them useless. Social networking giant Twitter thinks it may have a solution.

Twitter Alerts, a new Twitter program available to public institutions and other organizations involved in disaster response, will help get urgent information out to the public while taking advantage of the viral nature of social media.

“We know from our users how important it is to be able to receive reliable information during these times,” Twitter product manager Gaby Pena said in a recent blog post. “Twitter Alerts is a new way to get accurate and important information when you need it most.”

The social network took special care to emphasize that the Twitter Alerts are a complimentary channel for distributing critical information and not a replacement for other emergency notification systems. And while it will always be just one tool in the communications toolbox, it is still important to note the increasing value of that tool. 


In response to near-paralysis of phone systems in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) now actively encourages citizens to turn to social media during disasters. Because the public is now regularly turning to social networks to communicate and find information in emergency situations, counties should provide disaster information on all major social media channels.

According to Twitter, when a user signs up to receive alerts from an organization they follow, urgent updates from that organization will be pushed to their phone as a text message. If the user has Twitter’s app on their phone, a push notification will also be sent. The alert will be featured prominently and marked with an orange bell when they open the app. 

When logged into their Twitter account, members of the Twitter Alerts program will see a unique Twitter Alerts icon on their Tweet composition interface. During an emergency, tapping or clicking on this icon automatically adds the “#alert” hashtag to the body of the Tweet and transforms it into a Twitter Alert. 

Organizations participating in the Twitter Alerts program are also exempt from Twitter’s spam rate limits and are able to tweet as many regular, non-alert tweets as often as a crisis situation might require. Normal accounts are limited to a total of 2,400 tweets, retweets, replies and direct messages in a day, an amount that is further broken down on a semi-hourly basis. 

According to Twitter, the feature is currently available for free to local, national and international organizations that provide critical information to the general public. Organizations that want to use the program can request enrollment on Twitter’s website at https://about.twitter.com/products/alerts/enroll.   

Once approved by Twitter, an organization can use the alerts feature to communicate warnings of imminent dangers; send preventive instructions, evacuation directions, urgent safety alerts, information on access to essential resources, information on critical transit and utility outages; and for crowd and misinformation management.


The following types of organizations currently have priority access to the Twitter Alerts feature:

Law enforcement and public safety agencies;

Emergency management agencies;

City and municipal governments, as well as their agencies and representatives;

County and regional agencies, providing services to cities and municipalities; and

Select state, federal, and national agencies and non-governmental organizations.


Organizations that apply and qualify will need to agree to increase the security of their organization’s Twitter account and abide by a series of guidelines before gaining access to the feature. 

Whether a county is just now ready to begin using social media or is looking to expand its online presence and ramp up existing social media efforts, TAC has assembled several resource pages at www.county.org/socialmedia to provide county officials with the information and resources they need. Officials with questions about applying social media to their specific needs can contact TAC communications staff at (800) 456-5974.

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