Thursday, March 26, 2009

Micro-blogging emergency warning system

The US National Park Service uses Twitter to release public information during incidents at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (NRA). While the park authorities stress this is not an emergency warning system, it is used to announce park emergencies. Such a micro-blogging service could be a useful model for an Australian Emergency Warning System.

Typical message:
LMNRA ALERT - Recap...Reported as tour bus accident to NPS at 3:25 PST. 4 fatals reported at least 20 injured...exact num unknown.
The park also has a Lake Mead News distribution list on Google Groups. Curiously, while the new Twitter service was mentioned in the group, the group is not mentioned in Twitter. That is the alert messages are brief text only messages. There are no URLs to more details.

Twitter includes a facility for including URLs (web addresses) in messages. To minimise the space a large address might take, Twitter replaces the addresses with tinyurls. The Twitter messages are short enough to be sent by SMS. This approach could be used for emergency messages. The short text message would be in a format suitable for SMS, SMS-CB, pagers and other devices. A short URL in the message would link to more details on the web.

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