Twitter launches emergency alerts feature

Summary:A new Twitter feature will allow emergency services to deliver real-time warnings to smartphones during bushfires and other emergencies.

Fourteen Australian organisations, including state police and fire services, have signed up for the service, called Twitter Alerts.

During disasters and emergencies, the organisations will be able to mark chosen tweets as alerts, giving them an orange bell to draw attention within a user's Twitter feed.

Users can also sign up to receive the tweets as SMS messages. iPhone and Android users will also receive the tweets as push notifications.

The service launched in September in the US, and has since been used by the US Senate sergeant at arms to warn personnel to "shelter in place" after reports of gunshots around Capitol Hill.

It's also been used by environmental and police agencies in the UK to send out warnings about flooding risks.

"Getting timely information out in an emergency or natural disaster is critical," said Danny Keens, Twitter's director of media partnerships in Australia.

"We hope this will be a useful, additional channel for emergency service organisations to broadcast need-to-know information that will rise above regular tweet activity."

Twitter's value as an emergency communication medium was underlined during the recent bushfires in NSW, when the Rural Fire Service (RFS) website crashed due to massive demand.

The RFS directed the public to its Twitter feed for up-to-date information and warnings, later claiming that its messages were retweeted more than 18,000 times.

"Twitter alerts gives us another way of delivering important safety information directly to people when they need it most," said Rob Rodgers, the service's deputy commissioner.

To sign up to the alerts, visit twitter.com/(username)/alerts. For example, to sign up to the NSW Rural Fire Service alerts page, visit twitter.com/NSWRFS/alerts.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Government : AU

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