Twitter users may find themselves being warned of an impending disaster via SMS as well as the site's mobile app. The social media firm, which filed an IPO earlier this month, has teamed up with several crisis management agencies around the world to provide two-way information during times of emergency—in short, making an unofficial emergency channel an official one.
"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," Twitter said in a blog post. "We saw this following Superstorm Sandy, the tsunami in Japan, and the manhunt in Boston."
The alerts will appear as either push notifications or SMS, if you've given the microblogging site your digits. Official information from any of the agencies will appear with an orange bell icon next to it.
Over 100 organizations at home and abroad have signed up as participants. These include the World Health Organization, 17 state emergency agencies, as well as FEMA, the American Red Cross, Homeland Security, and Tokyo's Disaster Prevention Service in Japan. The aim is to both reassure and inform people of what is happening during a crisis, as well as receive information from users. This was demonstrated perfectly by the ravaging of the East Coast by Superstorm Sandy last year, when a Category 3 storm became a hashtag.
There is, of course, the problem of disseminating false information—a rumor spread rapidly via Twitter that the NYSE had been submerged underwater during last year's Frankenstorm. Nevertheless, the impact of social media on similar disaster scenes is, in general, a positive one.
[Image: Flickr user CharNewcomb]