Twitter as Emergency Broadcasting Network?


When the Tsunami struck  SE Asia, killing huge numbers of people, I was struck by how poorly information flowed in that region.   Scientists viewing pacific ocean irregularities seemed to be alarmed, but I understand it generally takes up to “hours” for word to spread from those scientists to those affected by the bad news.

This delay seems totally unnecessary in all but the remotest locations on earth – certainly not including the beaches of Thailand or even most islands of Indonesia where at least a handful of people have internet access.

My proposal is that Twitter create an “Emergency Broadcast Network” to spread news of pending trouble both regionally and around the globe.    The system could be as simple as a simple informal network, but I think stronger would be a formal Twitter verification of thousands of credible people who are allowed to broadcast a tweet to everybody in an affected area.     This in turn will be retweeted rapidly, effectively creating a huge swell of targeted “emergency tweets”.

Obviously everybody affected is not on Twitter, but enough people will see this that those folks can then contact authorities and media to spread the word.    This is likely to work *faster* than the outmoded legacy systems such as radio and fax that plague even many “modern” police and media agencies.

Perhaps to enhance the credibility of the network Twitter could very formally assign several thousand volunteers – who collectively can easily be on call 24/7,   the ability to review  “Emergency Tweets” for authenticity, though this could create delays so I think the first experiments would be to assume those authorized would use the power responsibly.

Why not?

Update – addressing some of the concerns expressed:

Reach (number of people you can instantly inform).   This is generally very high in most areas where Twitter use is exploding, though I’m not up on global stats.   Still, all you really need are a few volunteers per region to monitor the emergency tweets and spread the word to police, etc.

Cost: Zero.  Not an issue.  Volunteer base is millions, so the benefits include abundant free help vs high costs of staffing at communications centers.

No Computers / No Wifi  in some areas:   Twitter is a mobile application and works with phones as well as computers.    Mobile access is exploding and fairly ubiquitous.    Obviously this won’t work in areas with no connectivity whatsoever, but this factor diminishes daily.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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6 Responses to Twitter as Emergency Broadcasting Network?

  1. Sean S says:

    Joe,

    Twitter is a great platform for the open sharing of real time information. The 2 biggest issues a country/government would face with the emergency broadcast platform would be to have “verified” accounts so people don’t get false information and to have filters/hashtags in place before a major event happens so people know what to search for in the event of a natural disaster. Know anyone that would develop this emergency dashboard for you to distribute? I have a few ideas..

  2. Tehl Ol says:

    and how would a 3rd world country fund this?
    some are struggling to obtain food, and you’re assuming they have a computer with internet?

    sheesh…

    • JoeDuck says:

      Well, since the cost is zero I think even the poorest country could afford this approach – in fact that’s the point here Tehl, it’s a very simple and free approach to solving a critical info problem. No computers needed – just phones, which are becoming ubiquitous even in poor areas.

  3. horatiox says:

    TWITTER, CODE RED (EMERGENCY): POP SENSATION CHER TO WED “ROCKO” SPEZNAEGETTERI IN VEGAS, MOST LIKELY, SOURCES SAY. TWEET STOP.

    Your idea sounds fairly good, Duck but given that Twits, er Tweeters tend to just chitchat, I’d say emergencies would probably be laughed off, or ignored, or mostly useless as serious information, unless timed with regular news–which is to say mostly superfluous: WORLD WAR III has started, say experts. By then not much to do. Though in terms of helping snitches you might have a point–

  4. FoolsGold says:

    Just look at the current Twitter feed: errors, mistyped names, accounts that are misleading and even outright fraudulent use of names.

    What is your favorite casino’s Twitter name?
    Is that the casino’s account or the personal twitter name of the casino’s head of social communications? Do you get the two confused? What if that confusion takes place in an emergency and the wrong information goes out? Or something you meant to be limited to senior staff went out to the public?

    Look how voice communication with 911 often fails to be precise or overloads 911 centers with repeat calls. The first call for the Monte Carlo fire was misunderstood and precious time was wasted. Later so many calls came in with the same useless information.

    Look at how a “plane off the end of the runway” gets reported: lots of reports but it sure took a long time for someone to say it was a CARGO plane. Or sometimes a report is plane down and 911 thinks its a small plane and it takes a real long time to figure out it was a large airliner.

    Now multiply all these things by the zillions as everyone tweets and re-tweets misinformation with everyone misunderstanding whether its Unabomb or Unabomber or Whatever.

    Sure its nice to have someone tweeting from on-site, but what if he is tweeting misinformation or his tweets are lost in a sea of useless comments.

    Many of the casualties on Sept 11th were in the elevators. The people there had cell phones and were talking to 911 but 911 never said the building is under terrorist attack and if burning fuel is dripping into your stuck elevator you better do what you can for yourself and do it pretty darn quick because no one is going to even attempt a rescue much less complete a rescue before the entire building collapses on top of you.

    Will Twitter be better than nothing? I guess so. Will it have a separate channel of some sort? I doubt it.

  5. horatiox says:

    Would various fundamentalist groups even allow Twitter? It’s probably verboten for many biblethumpers, and say, mormons, part of Utah code or something. The Internet’s pretty much all…. Lamanite-land, according to LDS doctrine, except for a few protected, pro-Nephite areas–the Mitt Romney campaign, perhaps, Glenn Beck and his fans, Harry Reid, or Osmond-family related, and their friends in the scientologists (Mitt approves of L-ron, apparently).

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