Emergency Tweets

Twitter has just launched a new service in the UK – “Twitter Alerts”. This is a new facility (already tested in the US) aimed at emergency services to enable them to get critical information out as quickly as possible to the general public.

All the UK’s 47 police services, the London Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service, Mayor of London, the Foreign Office and the Environment Agency have all signed up (you can see a full list of participating services here). From 18 November 2013, these organisations will be able to highlight critical information to their Twitter followers by marking Tweets as alerts, which highlight a Tweet with an orange bell for added visibility.

Twitter users who sign up for an account’s Twitter Alerts will receive a notification directly to their phone via SMS. Users of Twitter for iPhone or Twitter for Android will also receive a push notification direct to their mobile. It’s a very straightforward process to subscribe – it took me 10 seconds to sign up to the Met Police Twitter Alert page here. Twitter even filled in my mobile phone number automatically for me.

Twitter Alerts in action

It is up to each emergency service to decide in what circumstances it should use a Twitter Alert. But, obviously, services will want to restrict their use carefully to crisis, disaster and emergency communications where spreading accurate safety information is critical.

Here are a few examples of real-life Twitter Alerts from the US:


Tornado Watch in effect for all of NJ. Be prepared to act quickly if warnings are issued by NWS. http://t.co/bLiQJE5qyb #alert

— NJ OEM (@ReadyNJ) October 7, 2013


USCP investigating reports of gunshots on Capitol Hill. If in a #Senate office, shelter in place. If not go to nearest office. #alert

— SenateSergeantAtArms (@SenateSAA) October 3, 2013


It’s easy to think of recent circumstances in the UK where Twitter Alerts would have been invaluable. Ones that spring to my mind include:

  • When the murderer Raoul Moat was on the run in Northumbria
  • When the two people who murdered drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich were still at large
  • During the course of the recent storms on 28 October 2013

Twitter Alerts would also be an invaluable resource around major fires and bomb alerts. The fact that so many people are almost always online via their mobile phones means not only that critical information can be disseminated at great speed but also that those of us receiving the alerts can share and pass them on and target them at loved ones we know might be in harm’s way.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter Alerts operate in practice in the UK.