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Twitter partners with FEMA, American Red Cross and others for emergency alerts feature

Twitter wants to bolster its position as a go-to source of information during emergencies and other crises with a new notifications feature.

Twitter Alerts is designed to let credible organizations enhance the visibility of certain tweets when other communications services are not available. It is intended for crises, disaster and emergency communications such as warnings of imminent dangers, preventive instructions, evacuation directions and crowd management.

"Twitter Alerts is a new way to get accurate and important information when you need it most," Twitter product manager Gaby Pena said Wednesday.

More than 100 nongovernmental organizations and government agencies in the U.S., Japan and Korea are participating in the program. In the U.S., those groups include the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Japan and Korea, other participating groups include Tenki.JP, as well as global nonprofit groups. The service will be expanded to include more public institutions and NGOs around the world, Twitter said.

Alerts is available to local, national and international institutions that provide critical information to the general public, Twitter said. Organizations interested in joining can fill out an enrollment form.

A notification will be sent to a Twitter user's phone via SMS whenever an organization they've signed up with designates a tweet as an alert. If the user has Twitter's app for iOS or Android-powered devices, a push notification will also be sent. Alerts will be marked with an orange bell, Twitter said.

Users can subscribe to the notifications from the organization's setup page, such as FEMA's. On the Web, users will also be able to see if an organization is participating in the program when they visit the group's profile page.

The service follows Twitter's introduction last year of Lifeline, a tool to help Japanese users find emergency accounts during crises. Since then, the site has been working on a related feature for people worldwide, Twitter's Pena said.

Twitter is already a popular source of information during emergencies, crises and other high-profile events, but misinformation can be easily spread through the service. After the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this year, many people turned to Twitter for updates, but inaccurate information and hoaxes were also posted to the site.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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