January 7, 2009, by Matt Williams, Assistant Editor for Government Technology

A growing number of government agencies and officials are using Twitter, a free “microblogging” site, to keep citizens informed about everything from press releases to car accidents and structural fires.

Read the full story here.


Sep 4, 2008 – New Orleans / Agence France-Presse

In what is heralded as the seeds of an Internet-age emergency broadcast system, MySpace has teamed with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to spread news on hurricanes through users of the online social network.

As Hurricane Gustav blasted the US Gulf Coast early this week, DHS officials telephoned MySpace executives to “fast-track” a project to build a disaster alert system that capitalizes on the hot Internet social networking trend.

A software application that automatically feeds hurricane information from federal disaster agencies to MySpace users was launched Tuesday.

“What you are seeing us doing with DHS and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is the beginning of bigger things to come in the future,” MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam told AFP on Thursday.

“Tragedy often inspires people to do great things and this has happened here.”

MySpace users can download a small application, or “widget,” that links profile pages to federal information including finding dislocated Gustav victims; help in storm-slammed areas, and online tracking of coming storms.

The application meshes naturally with social networking pages on which people share pictures, videos, stories and news quickly online with loved ones, according to MySpace.

“MySpace is allowing me to keep my friends and family updated on our situation,” a Jefferson Parish woman going by the name ‘Becca’ wrote in a message posted Tuesday to a profile page of MySpace president Tom Anderson.

“Thank you so much, from my heart.”

Anderson founded MySpace, which is now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Several weeks ago the DHS reached out to MySpace to “understand how the power of social media could be used in crisis situations,” according to Nigam.

MySpace said it was among Internet firms that met with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during his visit to Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, on August 5.

Eighteen months ago MySpace launched “Amber Alerts,” for its users, and since then more than 450 million of the instant cries by police for help finding missing or kidnapped children have reportedly been viewed online.

“It’s powerful and it’s using the power of the Web 2.0 media world to its fullest,” said Nigam, a former US federal prosecutor.

“It’s sharing and connecting in a time of crisis when it matters the most; the thought of creating an emergency alert system for the digital world.”

Nigam sees the hurricane alerts as another step toward online social networking firms uniting in a platform for communicating and connecting during unfolding tragedies off all kinds.

Technology has made possible interactive, informative versions of emergency alert systems that have traditionally consisted of sharp tones and terse announcements interrupting radio or television broadcasts.

Disaster warnings or messages can be routed to mobile telephones as well as computers linked to the Internet.

“It isn’t about MySpace,” Nigam said. “It is about together saying we can all help our worldwide citizens. This can easily be mirrored in every country where you have social media.”


This press release has graphs showing the effects of disasters in 2008, with the most people killed in storms.


Disasters such as Cyclone Nargis and the Sichuan earthquake helped drive disaster deaths to three times the normal yearly rate and doubled disaster costs for the year, according to a U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction report released January 22 (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/retrieveattachments?openagent&shortid=LSGZ-7NJKJV&file=Full_Report.pdf). The report, which used Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) data from 2000-2008, found nearly 234,000 died as the result of 321 disasters last year.

The annual average number of deaths for the previous seven years is 66,812. Missing and dead Nargis victims number 138,366 and another 87,476 were lost to the Sichuan quake, according to the report.

“The dramatic increase in human and economic losses from disasters in 2008 is alarming,” UNISDR Director Salvano Briceño stated. “Sadly, these losses could have been substantially reduced if buildings in China, particularly schools and hospitals, had been built to be more earthquake-resilient. An effective early warning system with good community preparedness could have also saved many lives in Myanmar if it had been implemented before Cyclone Nargis.”

Oppositionally, both the number of disasters and the number of people affected by disasters were lower than average for the same time period. CRED data can be accessed in a number of ways on the EM-DAT Emergency Events Database Web site at http://www.emdat.be/Database/terms.html.

story courtesy of the Disaster Research newsletter from the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder

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