Sunday, 17 November 2013

An emergency tweetcast network

This week we had an incident on one of the trunk roads in our area. Fortunately there were no fatalities, but the road was closed in both directions for a few hours.

The incident happened around 6.45am and TVP Roads Policing tweeted about it. Ideally partner organisations would have someone monitoring Twitter and have re-tweeted it, but often it simply isn't possible to have dedicated members of staff to do this, around the clock.

So this got me thinking, could I build something to the task?

I was reminded of films, where in a civil emergency, radio and television becomes one broadcast network. Could something be done along similar lines with Twitter? I started to build a proof of concept and surprisingly, in a short space of time it was finished. So how does it work?

Firstly, (this is the technical mumbo-jumbo) set the code up with your OAuth application authentication and then get it to run at scheduled times, ideally every couple of minutes. Even running the code this frequently, you shouldn't hit the Rate Limit in Twitter.

Secondly, create a new list in Twitter, ideally with the account that will do the re-tweeting, then populate the list with accounts from partner organisations you want to re-tweet, so you'll end up with something like this.

Thirdly, you'll need to agree hashtags across your network, so you might choose #wmrti for road traffic incidents across the West Midlands, #brkflood for flooding in Berkshire and so on.

When the code runs, it looks through the tweets of the accounts in your list and if it finds one using a hashtag it knows about it'll re-tweet it, getting vital information out to more people, quicker.

If you'd like me to set up a proof of concept for you I'll be happy to do so, just let me know. I think it has huge potential and perhaps could even lead to a nationwide network for emergency alerts.

This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.