I was recently asked by an acquaintance if there is a public compendium of the use of Twitter as a warning or alert system. I asked around within Twitter and several colleagues gave many useful pointers and tidbits. Since I could not find any public compendium, I thought I will create one from these responses. Please note that there is nothing official about this compendium, and it is most likely incomplete right now. Also, it is likely to get stale quickly though I will appreciate comments and help from anyone reading to keep this as inclusive as possible.
One important thing to note at the outset is that Twitter should not be solely relied upon as an emergency alert system. Twitter is still a new platform, and while it aims for high reliability, it is of course not (yet) 100% reliable. Hence, it should at best be used in addition to other warning systems.
Some illustrative Twitter accounts
Here are some examples of Twitter accounts used to provide alerts or warnings.
- @fema from the US Department of Homeland Security.
- @CDCemergency from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
- @emergency_in_sf tweets about any emergency situations in San Francisco.
- @thaiflood, @js100 and @floodcenter tweeted about the recent Thai floods in second half of 2011.
- @WemoNZ tweets from the Wellington Emergency Management office in New Zealand to alert on any emergencies.
- For examples of Government fire and police departments using Twitter, check out @LAFD and @Boston_Police.
- As an example of traffic alerts being sent out on Twitter, check @wsdot in Washington State and @dtptraffic in Delhi, India.
- A quick look at the account search results of the query ’emergency’ in Twitter reveal many more interesting accounts throughout the world.
Other applications of Twitter
- A teen in Chile connected his home earthquake detector to his computer to send tweets out a few seconds in advance from @AlarmaSismos.
- Twitter is being used to alert about any highway attacks near the Mexico-US border.
- Twitter was heavily used in the 2011 Tohuku earthquake in Japan. There are now over 500 national, regional and local accounts in Japan. There are also multiple emergency accounts set up by utilities, transportation, and educational institutions.
- Virginia Tech used Twitter through its account @vtnews to send out updates in the recent shooting on-campus shooting incident in December 2011.
- Twitter was used by a journalist to plea for help in the Turkey Earthquake and received enthusiastic support in response.
- The Globe talks about a Kenyan chief tweeting to fight crime in his village and foster hope!
Other studies of use of Twitter and social media in crises
- A report by Red Cross in August 2010. This was produced after a summit held by Red Cross, called “Emergency Social Data Summit”.
- Analysing tweets was suggested to have been a quicker way of detecting and tracking the deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti than traditional methods, according to a study reported here.
- Computer science researchers have systematically analyzed the problem of event detection using tweets as sensors. For instance, check out this publication titled “Earthquake shakes Twitter users: real-time event detection by social sensors.”
Work by Twitter itself in the area
Twitter, the company, has an “Ads for Good” program that gives away a quarter of a million dollars every year in pro-bono ads. 10K per month of these are given as both pre-emptive and post emergency critical tweets.
In 2010, Twitter partnered with one of Haiti’s leading wireless carriers, Voila, to allow users to get SMS upates from the @kwawouj twitter account.