MySpace links users to US hurricane emergency alerts

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.”