Twitter has launched an emergency alert system, Twitter Alerts, to help emergency services spread critical information when other lines of communications are down.
In an official blog post Twitter’s product manager Gaby Pena said the messaging service has been working on the system since it launched Lifeline in Japan last year.
“Twitter alerts is a new way to get accurate and important information you need it most,” Pena said.
The service aims to connect emergency services and “credible organisations” with users during emergencies and natural disasters.
“We know from our users how important it is to be able to receive reliable information during these times.”
Users who sign up to receive an account’s Twitter Alerts will receive a SMS and smartphone Twitter users will also receive a push notification whenever the account marks a Tweet as an alert.
Twitter Alerts will be marked in the Twitter timeline with an orange bell (see picture below).
A number of organisations in the US, Japan and Korea have been authorised to send Twitter Alerts, including the American Red Cross and the US Department of Homeland Security.
Global non-profit organisations such as the World Health Organisation, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Crowdmap are also signed up. For the full list of authorised groups click here.
See Twitter’s official blog post announcing Twitter Alerts for information on how to subscribe to Twitter Alerts and how to become authorised to send alerts here.
Twitter’s first emergency messaging service, Lifeline, was launched in Japan in September last year.
Lifeline allows Twitter users to find localised information about emergency events by searching their postal code on Twitter.
Twitter Product Manager Jinen Kamdar said in a blog post: “If there’s an earthquake in the Aobadai district of Yokohama, for instance, people can use Lifeline to find a variety of timely accounts — those tweeting about the earthquake and sharing updates from the district (Aobadai), city (Yokohama), and prefecture (Kanagawa) governments; they can also find accounts from local media and utility companies providing information about gas, water or electricity.”
Twitter has been instrumental in spreading information about emergency events, however it has also lead to false reporting.
For example, during the Boston Marathon Bombing a missing Brown University student was incorrectly identified as a suspect by Twitter users and media outlets. The missing student was later found dead.