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.
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.