Social Software

How local broadcasters can use Twitter to create a global alert system

If you’ve being following my posts of late, you may notice that this one is not really on topic. It’s just something I thought of while stuck in traffic, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, thinking about a recent event in Ontario.

Morse Telegraph Key
Morse Telegraph Key
Subscriber User Story

As a resident, or traveller, I would like to discover and subscribe to local alerts, so I can be informed of emergency news, traffic and weather alerts.

Publisher User Story

As a news agency, I would like to contribute to a standard global alert system, so I can better reach my potential audience.


Any local resident, or, traveller and news agency.


SMS text message alerts – sent via Twitter, about emergency situations – like Amber Alerts, severe weather conditions – like tornadoes, or, traffic – like accident reports.


Alerts would be published in real-time, however, recipients would subscribe to only relevant feeds.


Any area with internet, or, wireless access.


So people may be better prepared for simple matters like traffic conditions to being aware of Amber Alerts, or, emergency situations.

How-to publish

Local news agencies, are already aggregating this information and therefore would be the natural choice to act as the publisher and should conform to use a standard #hashtag. For example:

#yul Traffic: A40 East. Ramp to A15 South is blocked
#yul Weather: Severe thunder and lightning storms this morning with risk of high winds on bridges
#yul Amber: Child abduction. Girl age 9, blond hair, pink jacket, Honda Civic QC plates

By using the IATA airport codes as #hashtags, local residents, as well as, travellers, can quickly discover publishers – if they so desire.

How-to subscribe

Depending on the area, discovering the source of the feed may not be so important. However, in cities like Montreal, where we have several news agencies, operating in multiple languages, then knowing the source helps reduce the signal-to-noise ratio. So in the above examples, imagine getting text messages for each alert, from each news agency, in each language. To resolve this situation, subscribers can simply decide to Follow the publisher of their choice.

Additional benefits

While many news agencies use the call letters in their Twitter accounts, such as CJADNews, I would suggest creating accounts that would inform subscribers where they can be found. So in the case of CJAD – which is a local English Montreal AM radio station, they should create an account like “YUL_800AM“. That way my search results for #yul would include:

YUL_800AM #yul Weather: Severe thunder and lightning storms this morning with risk of high winds on bridges

would also advertise the publisher can be found at 800 on the AM band of my radio.


Now, I’m not advocating text messaging when you’re driving. So if you’ll be travelling, please plan your Follows ahead of time. You should also check with your wireless carrier for their text message pricing policy.

The beauty of Twitter and publication / subscription

You can further reduce your signal-to-noise ratio by unfollowing / unsubscribing when you’re out of the area. If you’d like to further explore the wonders of twitter you can start with some of my earlier posts and links.


Please let me know if you’re aware of something similar out there. Certainly, the concept of text messaging alerts is not new, however, I haven’t seen any simple way to discover and subscribe to those feeds – universally.

Also, please feel free to contact me if you’d like any help trying to set this up.

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