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Twitter Alerts - First Test at US Capitol Shooting


One of Twitter’s newest features, Twitter Alerts, which was only released on the 24th September, faced one of its first tests last week in the face of the US shooting and car chase outside the Capitol in Washington. The new system enables public institutions and NGOs to send out alerts in times of emergency, natural disasters or when other communication services aren’t accessible. Users can sign up to receive emergency notifications from specific accounts and they will then receive a text or push notification when that account sends a tweet it labels as an alert.


Image - www.washingtonpost.com



Twitter has already gained more than 70 participants for the new system, including The American Red Cross, FEMA, and global non-profits like the World Health Organization – and it is likely that this number will continue to rise after the positive responses which greeted the use of Twitter Alerts last week when gunshots were fired at the Capitol.



The Twitter alerts system was described as “invaluable” in the situation at the Capitol last week as many of the official Twitter accounts, including the account for the Capitol Visitors Center are not currently being updated, due to the US government shutdown.  When shots were fired on Thursday 3rd October at the Capitol building in Washington, people would therefore only have been able to turn to eye witness accounts, journalists or Congress members who were tweeting about the proceedings. However, with the new Twitter alerts system those who had signed up were able to receive push notifications, messages and Tweets from the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms Office, which advised those who were nearby on what they should do. Their first Twitter Alert stated:  “USCP investigating reports of gunshots on Capitol Hill. If in a #Senate office, shelter in place. If not go to nearest office. #alert”. These alerts also feature an orange bell on the users’  Twitter homepages to identify them as different from the normal messages.



This shows the value of this feature for Twitter, as the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms Office was able to instantly update those who were local to the disaster, keeping them alert and informed of what was going on with reliable information.  The Twitter Alerts system has shown this as one particular use of its new feature demonstrating its value for warning about potential immediate dangers in an area, issuing preventive instructions and safety advice. It can also be used for natural disasters, evacuation directions, crowd management and it is likely to find many more instances where it can be used in the future.

Twitter has already started to reflect the public’s growing wish to be able to have instant access to the latest news reports with many journalists turning to Twitter as their first port of call to relay new information in the face of breaking news or emergency situations. The use of this new feature in an emergency situation has shown how it can be useful not only as a tool to inform people of urgent safety information but also as a method of relaying news to those who it doesn’t immediately affect, keeping them up to date with the latest news at the scene of the event. This does in some way threaten the role of journalists who will now often not be the first people who are in the know following a major event, as all people can now be updated instantaneously.


However, for now you won’t automatically get these alerts – in order to receive them you have to sign up. Only once you sign up will you be enrolled in the program and you should then get a message or an update the next time that the agency issues an alert. Therefore, they may be a valuable tool for providing information, but their full potential can only be reached when enough people sign up to receive the alerts.
What do you think?

Do you think the new Twitter feature is a new and effective emergency alert system? What other uses might it get put to in the future?


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Twitter Alerts - First Test at US Capitol Shooting Reviewed by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 08, 2013 Rating: 5
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