Sep. 25, 2013 at 2:25 PM ET
Now you can have one more distraction on your phone, but this one could be life-saving for you and your family: Twitter is starting an alerts program from organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Association, American Red Cross, Department of Homeland Security and other emergency agencies, as well as from a variety of fire and police departments, depending on where you live.
It's a "new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information from credible organizations during emergencies, natural disasters or moments when other communications services aren’t accessible," writes Gaby Peña, Twitter product manager, on Twitter's blog.
The full list of agencies that will send you an alert, if you request it (the feature is optional), is listed here.
Peña explains that once you sign up for an account's Twitter Alerts, you'll get the alert via a text message notification whenever that account, say from the Red Cross, marks the tweet as an alert.
If you have Twitter for iPhone or Android, you'll also receive a push notification, which means alerts will be shown on your Twitter home timeline, and be indicated with an orange bell. (To reap that benefit, you'll need to be using Twitter for iPhone version 5.10 or higher, and Twitter for Android 4.1.6 or higher.)
Users can subscribe to notifications by going to an account's setup page. Twitter gives the example of FEMA.
"We know from our users how important it is to be able to receive reliable information during these times," Peña writes. "With that in mind, last year we announced Lifeline (a feature that helps Japanese users find emergency accounts during crises), and since then, we’ve been working on a related feature for people around the world."
Right now, various organizations in the U.S., Japan and Korea can send Alerts, and Twitter plans to "expand the service to include more public institutions and NGOs (non-governmental agencies) around the world."