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Twitter

Twitter Launches Emergency Alerts 75

wiredmikey writes "Twitter on Wednesday launched a system for emergency alerts which can help spread critical information when other lines of communication are down. Twitter Alerts are designed to help communicate in natural disasters or other emergencies when traditional channels may be overloaded or unavailable. 'We know from our users how important it is to be able to receive reliable information during these times,' Twitter product manager Gaby Pena said in a blog post. Users who sign up to receive an account's Twitter Alerts will receive a notification directly to their phone for tweets marked as alerts from certain senders. Some of those able to send alerts include the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, World Health Organization, and government and non-government agencies in Japan and South Korea."
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Twitter Launches Emergency Alerts

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @06:58PM (#44954289)

    Other than being accessible by different devices, doesn't Twitter still need data (either mobile or broadband)? How is this going to help much if other forms of communication are down?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is a critical emergency talking up Twitter right before the IPO alert.

      • must... maintain... social... RELEVANCE! add... value!!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        This is a critical emergency talking up Twitter right before the IPO alert.

        The parent comment ( quoted above ) is easily the most relevant
        comment in this entire discussion, yet none of you have modded
        this comment up.

        This is a perfect example of why the moderation system used on Slashdot
        results in an irrationally skewed distribution of comments based on reasons
        having nothing to do with merit.

        By the way, AM radio remains the best way to alert a very large number of people, via
        the time-tested emergency broadcast system. All this cell-based stuff has spotty reliability
        at best. If you

        • While I agree that consistent penetration and reach is best via AM radio overall, the listener count is not what it once was. SMS messages have the bonus of trickling in during very brief periods of cellular connectivity, even when electrical systems and land lines are down due to damage or overloading, and they go to what I would suggest is the single most ubiquitous means of communicating with the folks who are harder to reach - the ones not in crowds or sitting by a TV or radio. Of course, the EAS folks
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That’s exactly why this is really cool. It’s a single channel of communication that can cross devices and communication methods with ease. Twitter was an invaluable tool for organizing during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 because takes advantage of existing social and technical networks. This additional capability will be really useful.

      • by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @08:07PM (#44954807)

        Twitter was an invaluable tool for organizing during Hurricane Sandy in 2012

        As well, during the recent floods here in Colorado, there was only a single local news outlet providing any sort of coverage. That coverage was better than nothing, but not by much.

        Twitter, on the other hand, was providing valuable information from across the area about what was going on, roads washed out, etc. Also (and likely because the floods were happening in Boulder) there were a number of tweets coming from some folks at NOAA and other related government agencies that provided links to rapidly changing conditions.

        That event was the first time I ever considered Twitter to be more valuable than all other news outlets combined, simply because it also includes information from regular people (photos, accounts of what happened, etc). I was even able to find out some critical information about the roads near my family's nursery that was posted by, of all people, a guy that worked at a local brewery.

        Aside from all of that, Twitter was more valuable than local news simply because the people they send out to do location reports are complete idiots many times.

        Remember, it's not all about the affected people having access to information, it's also about those nearby who will be able to help if they have that information.

        • Ditto for the recent floods in Calgary, Twitter was an absolute godsend. I felt like I had never really USED Twitter before that day.

          Obviously you're only going to get so much from your personal feed, but just hop on a popular hashtag for a major event and suddenly you're reading 1000s of people describing conditions in real-time around the city. Just incredible. Checking the mainstream news was an afterthought... a formality. Twitter was moving 100x faster (it helped that the police and mayor were usin

          • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

            one thing we were thinking was how useful it would be if Twitter actually had formal support for emergency communications.

            I had the same thought, and it seems as simple as adding geotags to tweets (especially photos). The rest is arbitrary.

          • but just hop on a popular hashtag for a major event and suddenly you're reading 1000s of people describing onditions in real-time around the city.

            That's my (personal) problem with twitter. How do I know what hashtag to use? What if I'm twitting away and no one reads it cause I'm using the wrong tag? Or if the really usefull information is posted on facebook instead of twitter?

            In fact the police used it so heavily that their account was blocked temporarily. Funnily enough at the time, one thing we were thinking was how useful it would be if Twitter actually had formal support for emergency communications.

            Yes. It may be a good thing to help people organize. And probably much better than other means of communication. But you CAN NOT tout it as an emergency replacement communication channel, when it itself relies on a "traditional" media (internet either over cellphone or landline

            • Good question. This is where trends actually become useful. During the height of the flooding, we had four topics trending on the top 10.. #yycflood, #abflood, Calgary, and Alberta.

              I "manned" #yycflood and #abflood long into the night, passing along important information and answering any questions I saw anyone asking (eg "Is the tapwater safe to drink?" was a continually asked question, and monitored situation, all night). It was an absolute lifeline of information.

              Calgary Police were incredibly respons

              • requiring a functioning internet to work, but I will dispute you on one point there; it's not (necessarily) the first thing to go down. Tons of people from areas with power outages were still using their cells to communicate. But then again, I suppose it depends on the particulars of your cell provider's infrastructure.

                Yes. during the good-old-days of expensive, overregulated state-run phone network, Emergency communication was an essential part of the network design. Simple phones would be powered by the phone network itself, in case power went down. And even in case the power for the phone exchange went down (or the exchange went out for some other reason), there were rooms full of lead batteries to give emergency power to a secon, independant set of lines that could be used to connect to the local police and fire stati

        • And with all the benefits twitter provided, it would have been retarded to send that information as an 'emergancy alert' type of message, flooding people with information they didn't need.

          The reason social media is useful in events like theses is NOT ONLY because of the large amount of data that comes in quickly, its because people can find information that THEY NEED. Spaming everyone with a bunch of useless shit just gets them to turn off their feed of said useless shit.

    • by Mitreya ( 579078 )

      doesn't Twitter still need data (either mobile or broadband)? How is this going to help much if other forms of communication are down?

      If you send data in under-100-byte chunks, it can go over the downed connection. Don't you know anything about the internet? Just don't use the entire 140 byte allotment and it will work.
      (that's my best explanation, let's see if someone else has a better one)

      • SMS was originally a derivation of the Short Messaging System used by naval ships, planes, and submarines to send burst traffic in such a way that it didn't suffer too much from interference, had optimum range, but could not be used to triangulate your position if encrypted (think of when they "trace" your phone).

        So it can function over heavily impaired robust systems, in that a single packet does not have a lot of overhead (Twitter tweet).

        It can even be bundled in burst packets to run over systems and pad

      • I know you are being snarky, but this is actually sort of true. Cell phone systems are only designed to serve something like 20% of the users at any given time. However, in an emergency EVERYONE is using their phone, so anything that is data-intensive(voice, loading web pages) tends to fail or timeout.

        I was in Japan when the big earthquake struck(far enough north that it was incredibly strong but far enough inland that the tsunami didn't reach me) and while the towers switched to backup power and remain
        • In Melbourne, until recently, the Telstra network in the CBD was essentially falling over. During lunch hour you were lucky to be able to send a tweet or even refresh your incoming tweet stream. One thing that did work is push notifications, which is the intention of this system.

          I see it as a smart use of the medium. The key with emergency response is to have the same message spread on as many mediums as possible to ensure the message gets out there.

          Anyone being snarky about this has no idea what they are t

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Obfuscant ( 592200 )

        If you send data in under-100-byte chunks, it can go over the downed connection. Don't you know anything about the internet?

        Yes, and this is nonsense. Now, I've actually had a network device that failed in a way that its MTU was around 100 bytes, but that's a very ABnormal failure mode, and simply limiting your packets to < 100 bytes isn't going to get the data over a link that has failed.

        You're thinking of SMS, and none of the Twitter apps I've got on my phones uses SMS for transport. They can't, I've never told Twitter my mobile number.

        The question as originally asked stands. Twitter depends on network connectivity, and

    • I already get emergency alerts directly from my cell service provider and cable operator. The new cable DVR boxes put alert crawlers over recorded programs. If those systems are offline, then Twitter is useless. If they're online, Twitter is redundant.

      • Not everyone has cable, and not every cell service provider sends emergency alerts. I have a number of apps I installed on my phone to do just that, after realizing that I would have no other way of getting any such alerts. Mostly I just want the severe weather alerts so I can be reminded to check my laptop before driving all the way in to work only to discover nobody is there because they've given permission to work from home due to the impending blizzard (or, in one case, hurricane) that I knew nothing ab

        • Not everyone has cable, and not every cell service provider sends emergency alerts.

          Cell service providers will very shortly considering its a legal requirement now being rolled out.

    • You're going to want an emergency alert to let you know that Facebook is down, aren't you?

    • doesn't Twitter still need data (either mobile or broadband)?

      No, they're moving to a new brain embedded model with free T-shirts reading "I'm a twit. #follow me if you wish to remain safe".

      FEMA were the first to volunteer all their staff.

    • Considering all modern mobile phones do emergancy alerts already anyway, this is pretty dumb.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Not as dumb as people who don't read the article and don't bother to try to understand why this is important becasue there too busy showing slashdot how smart they think they are. amirite?

        When ever you read something, especially a summary, and have a thought like that please remember these 2 things:
        1) The people doing it have a reason.
        2) Read up and find out why they are doing it and how it applies to other factors. In this case cell phones.

        You will find out that many things presented as obvious and dumb on

  • by Anonymous Coward

    reliable information

    twitter

  • by puddingebola ( 2036796 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @07:05PM (#44954349) Journal
    Earthquake very strong, crushed under chunk of house, check my location on foursquare, #dying
  • build the EMS onto Twitter. Twitter goes MySpace.
  • by Cornwallis ( 1188489 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @07:10PM (#44954389)

    Just in time for the new season of American Idol.

  • If a Kardashian so much as farts, word goes out like it were an Amber Alert.

    But more seriously, Twitter has been used in Egypt's turmoil and other real-world events. This just formalizes what's already being done by its users.

    • If a Kardashian so much as farts, word goes out like it were an Amber Alert.

      As well it should. Have you ever been close to a Kardy when it farts? Oh, the humanity! Pray for a tsunami to wash the smell away.

  • by Rigel47 ( 2991727 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @07:21PM (#44954495)
    I remember on 9/11 all the major news sites were effectively DDoS. I hope they and twitter now have a convenient switch to flip that will, in the case of the news sites, jettison all the garbage ad content and the complex page rendering code in favor of something more textual that would result in 100x page view scaling. For twitter I would imagine dedicating 10% of their infrastructure to purely asynchronous emergency broadcasts would do the trick in such a circumstance.
    • by Phroggy ( 441 ) <slashdot3.phroggy@com> on Thursday September 26, 2013 @02:16AM (#44956873) Homepage

      I remember on 9/11 all the major news sites were effectively DDoS. I hope they and twitter now have a convenient switch to flip that will, in the case of the news sites, jettison all the garbage ad content and the complex page rendering code in favor of something more textual that would result in 100x page view scaling. For twitter I would imagine dedicating 10% of their infrastructure to purely asynchronous emergency broadcasts would do the trick in such a circumstance.

      On 9/11, people were actually communicating with loved ones via Slashdot's comment system, because thanks to the heroic efforts of their admin team, Slashdot was one of the few major sites that managed to keep things running for most of the day (it wasn't entirely smooth, but it mostly worked). Serving a static-HTML version of the home page was one of the tricks they used.

      A couple weeks later they posted an article describing what went on behind the scenes that day, but unfortunately I haven't been able to find a link to the article - does anyone else remember this?

    • Are you kidding?! Natural disasters and (inter)national tragedies are the PERFECT time for adverts - think of all the people who'll be frantically searching for relatives, or will be crippled and needing a new medical plan, or need temporary accommodation, or need to find a pharmacy and a gun shop in close proximity in a hurry... it's our duty, nay, our DESTINY to ensure our consumers are made aware of all the fine products our sponsors can provide for them for a very reasonable fee in times of crisis. If a

  • by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @07:46PM (#44954671)

    Alerts are fine so long as filters can be applied to minimize the number of people that receive them. For example, GPS coordinates could be effective at limiting the number of recipients. Add to that accelerometer data to determine if the person is moving or possibly asleep - also helpful.

    Alerts must be minimized or else people will start ignoring them. It is similar to how people would just click "Allow" whenever Vista prompted them with a security warning - most people would not even read the message after seeing so many prompts. So use some intelligent filters along with sensor data to minimize the number of alerts or risk all alerts being ignored.

    • For example, GPS coordinates could be effective at limiting the number of recipients. Add to that accelerometer data to determine if the person is moving or possibly asleep - also helpful.

      And you think people would be well served by allowing Twitter access to their GPS location and accelerometer data?

      Much as I'm sure they'd love to have that, there's no way in hell they should be given it.

      So use some intelligent filters along with sensor data to minimize the number of alerts or risk all alerts being ignored

      • Filtering should be performed by the client so there is no uploading of personal data. The server must send clients the filters for various different alert types. The user would then have the option of editing the filters should they not like the default values.

        And people wonder why I have no interest in Twitter.

        I'm with you on that one.

  • When I started getting AMBER Alerts on my iPhone, I could turn those off.

    Maybe I don't care if there's a tsunami that will kill people 300 miles away at the vulnerable coast, or I'm ok with the project 100,000 people death toll from a factor 7 quake in Seattle ...

    It's like police reports. If you read them too much you live in Fear, and overemphasize your actual risk factor, when you should be far more worried about accidents in the home and the fact you ran out of bandaids and your fire extinguisher is empt

  • And the reason I have a Twitter account devoted to emergencies. http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/seismic_waves.png [xkcd.com]
  • by Fned ( 43219 )

    Some of those able to send alerts include the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, World Health Organization, and government and non-government agencies in Japan and South Korea.

    Others able to send alerts include anyone able to momentarily spoof Twitter into thinking they're one of the listed agencies...

  • The service is available for very few governments: US, Japan, Korea. I wonder if they talked with others local or national governments before launching the service. There is something rude to tell citizen of a given nation that US officials can send them an alert, but not their own government for which they voted..
    • Well, if you don't want alerts from Korea, don't follow the Korean alert address. Pretty simple. I don't think you have to worry about getting an alert while in New Orleans from Korea that says "All your bases are belong us."
  • How better to determine which of the Twits are in the disaster zone and therefore going to be needing health care adverts, insurance company adverts, builder adverts, new car adverts, funeral service adverts, and (if in the United States) lawyer adverts etc...
    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      and (if in the United States) lawyer adverts etc...

      Why would you need to wait for a natural disaster for that?

      Leverage the phone's accelerometer, to detect if the owner has fallen, or experienced a suddenl jolt/rapid stop within their vehicle, and updated the advertisement targeting data accordingly....

  • I'm confused. Name the last major disaster that forced people to follow large-scale national instructions where any significant number of those persons had access to twitter? Last I checked, cell towers are the first te become useless, and home internet is the second to fall apart.

    So let me get this straight. We used to use air raid sirens, that everyone within 50km could hear, and it cost virtually nothing to have one siren per township. Then we went to air horns and mega phones where public announceme

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      In theory a regional/national telco would equip its cell towers with backup power - battery, generators or fuel cell systems?
      The problem would be legal challenges to keep cost down and not have federal laws stating backup power is any sort of telco requirement.
      Later portable cell towers can be driven in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell_on_wheels [wikipedia.org]
      Helicopters to fly in replacement batteries?
      Smartphones and web 2.0 .coms can probably smell cash from federal broadband infrastructure projects for remo
      • Just bind cellular providers to the same rules as land lines. This should apply to VoIP providers as well. Anyone that is selling a telephone number service should be bound by the same reliability requirements as land lines. Most of those problems suddenly become a lot less of an issue.

        They don't go away entirely, but theres a reason your land line fucking WORKS.

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