Alexandra Pope, staff writer
June 29, 2011 — Alberta has become the latest province to use social media to alert residents to imminent or potential danger. Government officials say popular networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are just one more way to disseminate life-saving information in the event of a disaster.
The system is moving from an analog to a digital format, which will allow provincial and municipal officials to issue alerts across a greater number of platforms. Social media was a necessary part of that, said Wendy McGrath, a public information officer for Alberta Municipal Affairs.
“It's part of the digital age,” she explained.
“Disasters are unpredictable and Albertans need to be prepared to respond quickly. These are tools that allow us to get more alerts out.”
Alberta is not alone in their social media presence; Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia all have Twitter feeds either partly or solely dedicated to issuing emergency alerts and public warnings.
Social media users are responding favourably: within a day of its launch, the Alberta feed had garnered more than 1,000 followers.
“I get a lot of news on the go on Twitter,” user Derek Firth tweeted Wednesday. “Glad to see you're keeping up with the times.”
Edmonton user Cora Shaw agreed, noting Twitter users already turn to the service for information from their contacts during severe weather events.
“I remember the explosion of information when we had wind storms two years ago,” she wrote. “It's very helpful.”
Alberta is still training officials on the new emergency alert system, a process that will take until the fall. In the meantime, the old analog system will continue to disseminate alerts.
No matter how Albertans receive an alert, the important thing is to react quickly, McGrath said.
“People need to listen to the instructions and respond immediately and appropriately.”
The Weather Network also posts public alerts and warnings. You can even subscribe to have them sent directly to your phone.