Tweeting Disaster: Fires, Quakes, and Rapid Communications

SocalTech.Com reported on Friday (22 May) that Bill Snitzer has created a new Twitter robot pushing real-time earthquake information to subscribers. @earthquakesLA is a good utility, providing both text and graphic information using data supplied by the US Geological Survey (USGS), including expanded location information.

Twitter is rapidly gaining interest as not only a social networking tool, but also a utility used for emergency notifications. Recent fires in the Santa Barbara area (Jesusita fires, May 2009) moved so quickly that normal city emergency notifications could not meet the needs of residents and students in the affected areas. Students took the lead in quickly establishing a notification system through Twitter, giving Twitter users the information they needed to both evacuate and avoid getting caught in the path of a killer wildfire. While it is hard to quantify actual results of “TwitterNet” on personal safety in the Jesusito fires, it is safe to assume immediate information at a minimum served the purpose of alerting many people they were in harm’s way, and to get to a safe location or rallying point.

There are other notification systems available. The USGS has a direct SMS system alerting subscribers of earthquake information ( You can subscribe, and even set additional parameters such as specific geographic locations and magnitude thresholds. If you have a PDA phone or handset which handles web pages, the USGS SMS notification will also link you to a very detailed chart showing all known automated and reviewed data related to a quake.

The US National Weather Service weather warnings and alerts are also available via Twitter (@laxweather for Los Angeles) and SMS. This is a very good thing to have if you are planning to drive through the Grapevine or Cajon Pass while leaving the Los Angeles area, and need to know if you are going to get stuck, require chains, or find an alternate route on your way to Las Vegas or Northern California.

Reverse 911 calling is available in San Diego and Santa Barbara, allowing emergency services to make immediate notifications to all “land lines” and registered cell/VoIP phones when an evacuation or other disaster presents an imminent danger. As many are now shunning land lines in favor of wireless or mobile phones, it is important for us to ensure we are registered in locations we live or spend a considerable amount of time. You can register your phone by logging on to your local emergency services website, such as Ready San Diego ( ). Ready San Diego is also Twitter-ready.

Social networking and telecom utilities are entering their next phase of development. No longer the realm of students and the Millenials, social networks such as LinkedIN, Facebook, and Twitter are maturing into very useful utilities. A further indication Internet-enabled applications are here to stay. The challenge for us baby boomers and Gen X-ers is to better understand new social networking utilities, accept the change technology and social networks bring in a global society, and make them work for us.


John Savageau, Long Beach, California

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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