During the Boston Bombings, the Boston Police Department used Twitter to keep city residents informed about the lockdown and the status of the manhunt. It's that type of Twitter activity that the company is hoping to spur more of with its new Twitter Alerts program.
The social network, which is anticipated to go public before the end of the year, launched a program today that will allow local and national institutions to send out important alerts to Twitter users who follow them. An approved organization will be given a special account and will be able to craft a tweet and then tag it critical. The tweet will then be delivered to their subscribers via a push notification or text message.
"In addition to getting distributed directly to your subscribers' phones, Twitter Alerts are designed to draw attention, standing out from other Tweets on your followers' Timelines and across twitter.com and the Twitter mobile apps," Twitter explained on its new Alerts site.
A number of organizations are already working with the company, including the American Red Cross, a number of state management agencies, the New York City Fire Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Twitter details on its site what types of instances would warrant an alert like this. The list includes a natural disaster, biological incident, explosion or terrorism incident.
But you won't automatically get these alerts, instead you have to sign up for them. For instance now you can sign up for FEMA's at https://twitter.com/fema/alerts and the Red Cross' at https://twitter.com/redcross/alerts. The full list of the organizations and links to their sign up pages is listed here. Once you sign up you will be enrolled in the program and should get an alert the next time that agency issues one.
These alerts won't replace the current cellular push alerts, called Wireless Emergency Alerts or WEAs issued by FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission, that you might get on your phone from time to time.