News

Twitter introduces emergency alert system

Twitter introduces emergency alert system

Photo: Reuters

By Gerry Shih

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter, which is preparing for its initial public offering, said on Wednesday it will help users receive special alerts from government agencies and aid agencies during emergencies.

Users who sign up 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.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Tokyo’s Disaster Prevention service and the World Health Organization are among those participating.

The alerts program starts a year after Twitter showcased 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 on the mobile network.

A similar lifeline service played a part in the rescue efforts in Japan following the devastating 2011 tsunami, Twitter said. The program is initially available in the United States, Japan and Korea and will be expanded to other countries.

Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator, 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 in a statement.

The 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 encountered at the South by Southwest Festival.

But the crowd-sourced information of today’s Twitter has also proved problematic.

Even as the New York City Fire Department used Twitter to communicate with residents during Hurricane Sandy, there were pranksters who spread misinformation on the service, including a rumor that the New York Stock Exchange was submerged underwater.

And in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, the name of a missing Brown University student went viral on Twitter after many users, including journalists, mistakenly identified him as a suspect.

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. Reuters reported last week that Twitter was in talks looking to add additional banks to its underwriting syndicate.

Recent Headlines

in National

Amanda Knox murder conviction overturned

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2014, file photo, Amanda Knox prepares to leave the set following a television interview in New York. Knox is engaged to Colin Sutherland, a musician who recently moved to Seattle from New York, a person close to the Knox family confirmed for The Associated Press. Knox’s murder conviction in the 2007 stabbing of her roommate has been reinstated by an Italian court, but the former college exchange student maintains her innocence and vows she won’t willingly go back to Italy. Both Knox and Sutherland are 27. No wedding date had been set.

Italy's highest court has overturned the murder conviction against Amanda Knox, bringing to a definitive end the high-profile case.

in National

Time for Iran to make tough decisions in nuclear talks

In this March 26, 2015, photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, leaves a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials at a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. U.S. and Iranian diplomats gather at a Baroque palace in Europe, a historic nuclear agreement within reach. Over Iraq’s deserts, their militaries fight a common foe. Leaders in Washington and Tehran, capitals once a million miles from each other in ideological terms, wrestle for the first time in decades with the notion of a rapprochement.

Six world powers and Iran move closer to a deal, but there are still major disagreements.

in Sports

This week’s top sports shots

AP564917773040_12

A look at some of the biggest plays and best photos in sports this week.

in Sports

This weekend’s sports schedule

playball

A look at some of this weekend's biggest sporting events.

in National

Making headlines this week

AP193442892434_0

A look at some of the week's biggest headlines and the stories you may have missed.