Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WEMO using Twitter for emergency alerts

So our cousins down the road at WEMO are using Twitter as an emergency text alert system (see the media release below). I think it's a great idea, but I have a few queries before I set Porirua on the same path.

We currently have Readynet in place for businesses, schools, care facilities, community groups, etc. in Porirua. While primarily a planning tool allowing you to formulate an emergency plan for your site/group that can be shared with the 111 call centres and the Emergency Management Office, it has an email and text alert function too, but Readynet is not set up to cater for individuals, unless they are part of a wider group like Neighbourhood Support. (For more info on Readynet go to

I currently use Twitter as a way of pointing people in the direction of this blog - it automatically tweets with a link to the new post whenever I do something here. It would be pretty easy to switch off the auto-forward, and use Twitter solely for emergency updates. But... what counts as an emergency?

What threshhold would we set? What is it you'd like to be alerted to with a text message at potentially odd hours?

Things like Grays Rd closing due to flooding? Slips on Paekakarki Hill Rd or other roads in the area? Severe Weather warnings? Gas leaks? Major traffic accidents? Flooding like we had at the end of May? Or super big things, like tsunami warnings?

I can imagine that it would have been quite useful during the Whitireia Park fire as a way of letting subscibers from the area know where to evacuate to, and which streets could return home at what time, but if you didn't live in that area it might have been annoying to get a text at midnight about something that didn't affect you in the slightest.

What are your thoughts? Post them in the comments here or on the Facebook page as I'm quite keen to find out, and don't forget to sign up to WEMO's alerts if you live or work in Wellington, or just want to be nosey.

From the Wellington City Council media release - 27 July 2010

Sign up to emergency alerts on your mobile

The Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) has a new text alert system which can help warn people about a major emergency like an approaching tsunami.

The Twitter-based service is free, however signing up will cost four texts at the standard rate.

Wellington City Council’s Emergency Preparedness Manager, Fred Mecoy, says signing up to receive the alerts is easy to do and it could ultimately save lives.

“The ability to deliver timely warnings and alerts through mobile phones will help ensure Wellingtonians have the information they need to protect themselves and their families prior to disasters and emergencies.

“We will send three to four test messages a year to ensure the service is working and any other message will be a genuine alert."

Fred says if you already have a Twitter account, signing up for WEMO text alerts is easy.

“Just follow @wemonz and allow tweets from WEMO to be sent to your mobile. If you are not a Twitterer all you have to do is text the word ‘start’ to 8987, wait for a reply and then text ‘signup’, text a unique username, then text ‘follow WemoNZ’.”

Fred is also encouraging users to then forward the alert on to their networks.

“The use of social networking media such as Twitter means emergency notification will be able to ‘go viral’.

“However we also realise the fragility of the cellphone network and, in particular, the possibility that it may become overloaded, which is why the emergency text alert system will be just one tool of many that WEMO will use to raise the alarm.”

For more information on text alerts, phone 460 0650, email or visit

Sign up for text alerts – it’s easy!*

(If you already receive ‘Tweets’ to your mobile phone, go to step 5)

1. Text the word ‘start’ to 8987 (wait for a reply after each text sent)

2. Reply with the word ‘signup’

3. Think of a unique username. (You won’t need to remember it again, so you could use your name followed by some random characters, eg ‘Kelly495hgim’)

4. Reply with your chosen username (if you are already on Twitter, use your existing username, and it will ask you for your password)

5. Send/reply the words ‘follow wemonz’ to 8987.

*Please note it does not currently work on the 2 Degrees network.

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