In Case of Emergency: Twitter Alerts

By October 29, 2013Blog


Written by Haley Messner

Capital Hill became one of the first government agencies to implement Twitter’s alert system feature when gunshots were fired at the U.S. Capital last week. Just a week after the introduction of the new feature, the Senate Sergeant at Arms sent out the notification during the brief lockdown. Twitter alerts appear to those who have signed up for the service as a push or SMS notification and are differentiated from other tweets by the orange bell that appears next to them on a users timeline. Those signed up for the feature received tweets sent out from @SentateSSA which included:


 USCP investigating reports of gunshots on Capitol Hill. If in a ‪#Senate office, shelter in place. If not go to nearest office. ‪#alert

 #USCapitol shelter-in-place remains. Close & lock doors. Move to innermost part of  office & stay away from external doors, windows. ‪#alert

While its recent usage on Capital Hill certainly brought attention to the new feature, this was not the first time Twitter Alerts have been used during the short amount of time since the feature’s introduction. A few days prior, New York City sent out an emergency notification after a child abduction. The recent government shutdown has also been cause for alert tweets- the U.S. Department of Interior sent a tweet notifying users that national parks and wildlife refugees were to be closed during the shutdown.

Currently more than 100 government agencies are participating in Twitter Alerts. While the use of the alert system on Capital Hill is certainly the most public usage the feature has seen to date it is not the first time alerts were sent out. Local, national and international emergency management agencies all have access to the alerts, The American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Homeland Security are just a few of the organizations already using the service as well as a handful of States. Japan and Korea are also able to send Twitter alerts and the service will eventually be offered to other countries.

It is not out of the question to think that today people are more likely to check their phone or mobile applications before turning to a traditional news outlet for information. Social media is arguably one of the quickest and simplest ways to reach people. In the case of an emergency, it comes to no surprise that the government has turned to platforms such as Twitter to spread the word. Having been in usage just a short amount of time, this new feature has already seen high profile and efficient implementation from large government agencies. Foreshadowing to us that the government’s use of social media will only continue to grow from this point forward.



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