Tweet-siren-BLOGDuring major crises, it’s really important to get information fast – and now you can sign up to get Twitter emergency alerts from the British Red Cross.

You probably remember the recent Capitol Hill shooting in Washington, when a woman in a runaway car sparked off a high-speed chase and gun-fire.

What you probably don’t know is that, as the incident unfurled, Senate security staff sent an emergency tweet to hundreds of people working in the area, warning them to find shelter.

With 17 bullets fired, one fatality, two officers injured and speeding cars racing and crashing in the streets, that tweet may well have saved lives.

A tweet in time…

Given Twitter’s effectiveness at reaching wide audiences quickly, it’s hardly surprising that it’s now being used in emergencies. (Certainly, when the alert service was first developed following the Japanese tsunami in 2011, it was a huge help.)

Here in the UK, many agencies – including the Foreign Office, Environment Agency, all 47 regional police forces and the British Red Cross – have just signed up to use the system.

Here’s how it works. Following a major incident, you’ll receive a tweet at the top of your timeline, tagged with a little orange bell. (If you’ve provided your mobile number, you’ll also receive the alert as a text message.) Basically, as things happen, you’ll find out.

First to know

It’s important to point out that these alerts will only be used when there’s a significant risk to life or the environment – for example, during widespread flooding or a terrorist attack. (So don’t worry about getting tweets every second day about a stove fire in Wigan or a cat being stuck up a tree in Devon.)

The fact is, in times of crisis, many of us depend on emergency responders to share critical information as quickly as possible.

Advance warnings

As Simon Lewis, our head of emergency planning, explains: “Over the past year we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of people tweeting about UK crises, from floods to power cuts.

“We already provide emergency information via Twitter, such as preparedness tips in advance of severe weather or advice on who to contact during a storm, and the alert system will enable us to reach a many more people very quickly.”

By signing up for our Twitter alerts, you’ll be among the first in the know when it really counts.