How to use Twitter’s new emergency comms tool

During times of crisis, disaster or emergency, your choice of communication channel is key, and organisations can now benefit from a brand new Twitter function that was announced today.

Organisations across the UK and Ireland have been signing up to use the new Twitter Alerts tool, which is available to local, national and international institutions that provide critical information to the general public. These include public safety and law enforcement agencies and Government bodies.

The tool makes the most of public, real-time and wide-distribution capabilities of Twitter to enable fast and easy dissemination of vital, time-sensitive information. Any Twitter user can set up and start receiving alerts, and I’ve created a short guide to show you how Twitter Alerts.

Who’s involved?
The list of companies using the alerts includes 47 Police forces such as: London Metropolitan PoliceGreater Manchester PoliceDyfed Powys PoliceNorfolk Police and Essex Police. Plus London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service.

Governmental agencies who have signed up include: Environment AgencyNatural Resources WalesForeign OfficeForeign Office – Travel advice Mayor of London plus Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP). The British Red Cross charity and An Garda Síochána in Ireland are also taking part.

I’ve created a Twitter list of all the UK and Ireland companies. You can access it here.

Other countries who have already signed up include the US and Japan, plus various global non-profit organisations like Free The Children and World Health Organisation.

What information can be sent using Twitter Alerts?
Twitter Alerts are intended for crisis, disaster, and emergency communications in the categories below. Examples of when you may want to send a Twitter Alert include:

  • Natural disaster and severe weather: A disaster in which the proximate cause is a natural hazard
  • Biological incident: Naturally occurring or man-made biological diseases (communicable and non-communicable) that can cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants
  • Chemical or hazardous materials emergencies: An emergency involving the intentional or unintentional release of a chemical or hazardous material (e.g. oil) that poses a threat to public health, welfare, or the environment.
  • Nuclear or radiological incident: Release of radioactive material that poses an actual or perceived hazard to public health, safety, national security, or the environment.
  • Explosion: Explosion or blast that can produce numerous casualties with complex, technically challenging injuries.
  • Food and agricultural incident: Notification of threats to public health, animal health, food production, aquaculture, livestock production, wildlife, soils, rangelands, and agricultural water supplies.
  • Cyber incident: Cyber-related incident of potential or actual large-scale and negative significance.
  • Terrorism incident: A threatened or actual terrorist incident.
  • Crime: Incidents of criminal activity that place the public in life-threatening harm and require immediate police, fire, or emergency medical services.
  • Major transportation incident: Severe disruptions of transportation arteries, infrastructure, or services.

How can my organisation sign up?
Your company needs to fall under one of the categories listed above (local, national or international institution providing critical information to the general public). Before gaining access to Twitter Alerts, organisations will be required to increase the security of their Twitter account. If you think you’re eligible, you need to complete this form.

When should you send a Twitter Alert?
Examples of appropriate Twitter Alert content include warnings for imminent dangers, preventive instructions, evacuation directions, urgent safety alerts, information on access to essential resources, information on critical transit and utility outages, and crowd and misinformation management.

On its website, Twitter states: “Remember, Twitter is a complementary channel to distribute critical information. It should not replace other emergency notification systems. The new feature is available in public beta, free of charge, and is limited to select organisations that are enrolled in the Twitter Alerts programme.”

I echo the statement from Twitter – there is certainly a clear benefit of signing up for tool to help communicate urgent messages, but it’s important to note they don’t replace official emergency notification systems or services, but rather are designed to run alongside them.

What are the benefits for communicators?

alertsTwitter Alerts can be published from a desktop computer or on the go from a mobile device and are immediately delivered as notifications or text messages to all your subscribers.

They have a distinct look to stand out in Twitter timelines and public Tweet links and are seamlessly integrated into the Twitter experience, so your audience won’t need to download a separate app or get used to a new service.

Twitter Alerts can be retweeted, favourited and replied to, just like any other Tweet, expanding their reach beyond your immediate follower base.

If you use a Twitter Alerts account, you will be exempted from Twitter’s spam rate limits. While you should only send your highest priority Tweets as Alerts, you will be able to tweet organically as often as the crisis situation requires.

As a Twitter Alerts account, you can also access the site’s Bing-powered automatic translation feature. This means users will be able to see translations for your Tweets by clicking on a “View Translation” option.

There is no cost attached to using Twitter Alerts, either for you as a publisher or your audience as consumers.

I’ve created a short guide to using Twitter Alerts and also recommend reading this useful one page guide from Twitter

If you’ve signed up to use this new tool in your organisation for your emergency communication and would like to share your thinking behind how you will use it, do please check out my guest article guidelines and get in touch.

Further reading on emergency comms via my blog
Crisis communication checklist
Train companies communicate a picture of disruption
Blurred lines: communicating from the inside out using social media

Thank you as ever for stopping by,


Post author: Rachel Miller
First published on All Things IC blog November 2013.


  1. […] this week also rolled out their Alerts feature to the UK. Rachel from @AllThingsIC has a brilliant round-up of what you need to […]

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