A year ago, Twitter was used as a lifeline by people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy along the eastern seaboard in the US. A number of those Twitter users sought help from the authorities and monitored updates about the storm through the mobile network. Now, Twitter is making it a formal service. It could be an additional feature that may bolster its chances of success for its upcoming IPO.
The micro blogging site has introduced an alerts system that would help its users receive updates from aid and government agencies during disasters and emergencies. Through the program, users would receive smartphone notifications through the Twitter app. They would also receive text messages from corresponding agencies that have already signed up for the system.
Among those agencies that have signed up for the service are the Disaster Prevention service of Tokyo, the World Health Organization, and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. This special alerts system from Twitter would be initially rolled out in the US, Japan, and South Korea. It would logically be launched in several other countries in the coming months.
Twitter has already proven that it could be an effective lifeline during calamities. Aside from its use during Hurricane Sandy, it also played an important role during the rescue operations in Japan after the 2011 tsunami.
The Website aims to be of help in disaster management in this age of smartphones. The alerts system would be of service in two ways. First, it would help keep residents well informed about possible hazards during emergency and disasters. Second, it would channel feedback from users to government agencies after the onset of disasters.
This program would further reflect Twitter’s evolution through the years. In the past, it first gained reputation as a virtual hangout for geeks. Then, it became a communication channel for ordinary citizens. It has also become a marketing tool.
But Twitter clarifies that it would remain hands-off when monitoring content and ensuring accuracy of posts from users. This could be a source of problem as some irresponsible and unscrupulous users might still post pranks in times of disaster.
To illustrate, some pranksters used Twitter last year to spread inaccurate information like when they reported that the New York Stock Exchange got submerged in flood water. During the recent Boston Marathon bombing incident, a missing Brown University student was mistakenly identified as among the suspects.