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Twitter launches emergency “alerts” service in UK

UK police forces and government agencies have signed up to an "alerts" service set up by microblogging site Twitter.

Twitter Alerts works by warning users of imminent emergencies such as flash-floods and severe storms by sending out a text message and an alert on their Twitter timeline.

The service was first introduced in the US, Japan and South Korea last September in response to the Japanese tsunami of 2011. If the service proves successful, it could make the social media giant an indispensable part of daily life.

"When news breaks about a weather or safety emergency, government agencies and emergency responders jump into action on the ground and on Twitter, delivering critical and timely information and engaging with constituents," Twitter Partner Manager Bridget Coyne said in a blogpost at the time. "We saw this following Superstorm Sandy, the tsunami in Japan, and the manhunt in Boston.

"(Twitter Alerts) brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information during emergencies, natural disasters or when other communications services aren't accessible."

So far the Foreign Office, the Environment Agency, the London Fire Brigade and all of the UK's regional police forces have signed up to the service.

"We will only use Twitter Alerts to share urgent information about a significant risk to life or the environment as a result of flooding or an environmental incident," the Environment Agency said in a statement.

Emergency planning leader for the Metropolitan Police, Commander David Martin, welcomed the "life-saving" initiative. "Getting fast and accurate information to the public in a major incident or terrorist attack really could make a life-saving difference," he said.