Twitter have said recently it will help users receive special alerts from government agencies and aid agencies during emergencies. Users who sign up for this service will receive smartphone notifications via the Twitter app as well as SMS text messages, assuming they agree to handover their cell phone numbers, from any of several dozen agencies who have signed on to the program.

Emergency Notifications

The World Health Organization, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and Tokyo’s Disaster Prevention service are among those participating.
This alerts program is starting a year after Twitter showed its potential as a lifeline during Hurricane Sandy, when stranded residents on the eastern U.S. seaboard reported the storm’s progress and sought help using the mobile network.  A similar lifeline service played a part in the rescue efforts in Japan following the devastating tsunami in 2011, Twitter said. The program is initially available in the United States, Japan and Korea and will then be expanded to other countries.  FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, said the service was at the cutting edge of disaster management in the age of smartphones. “Today we have a two-way street, residents are informed about hazards in real time and emergency managers receive immediate feedback on the consequences of a disaster,” Fugate said.

This program reflects the evolution of Twitter from its earliest days, when it gained a reputation as a hangout for geeks to share the minute details of their most recent meal or who they just watched at whatever festival took their fancy.  But the crowd-sourced information of today’s Twitter has also proved to be problematic.  As shown by the time the New York City Fire Department used Twitter to communicate with residents during Hurricane Sandy and there were pranksters who spread misinformation on the service, including a rumour that the New York Stock Exchange was submerged underwater. Twitter, for its part, has maintained a strictly hands-off attitude toward monitoring its content and denied responsibility for ensuring its accuracy.  Earlier this month, Twitter filed with regulators for an initial public offering. It was reported by Reuters last week that Twitter was in talks looking to add additional banks to its underwriting syndicate.

[Image via: mashable]