The US public sector is beginning to discover that Twitter and other microblogging services are useful tools in supporting crisis management and in distributing small chunks of information rapidly to diverse stakeholders in a targetted way.
As reported in the Govtech article, Twitter is a Continuity of Operations Tool, State Agency Discovers, the Washington State Department of Transport (WSDOT) is now using Twitter to aid the organisation to manage the impacts of major weather events.
"In an emergency, people will come to our Web site, [www.wsdot.wa.gov] en masse to the point that it overwhelms our servers -- we've had that happen during snowstorms and other major weather events," Brown said [WSDOT spokesman Lloyd Brown]. Because the Web site is a popular source of traffic updates, sometimes it can't handle a sudden spike in page hits, he said.
"One of the things that we're considering if we get into an emergency situation like that, we can update Twitter and our blog with our handheld BlackBerry or iPhone or whatever we have. It's a continuity of operations opportunity for us," Brown said.
The potential for this use of Twitter arose from a recent series of major traffic incidents which left the department's website reeling under the traffic. The webmaster began tweeting updates on the situation and the number of people listening in grew rapidly.
Given that WSDOT, like a number of other public agencies in the US, is already an active user of diverse online channels (with its site containing Youtube video, a blog, rss feeds and an internet radio station), adding Twitter to the lineup isn't a big step outside their comfort zone.
To view how WSDOT is using Twitter, visit their channel at http://twitter.com/wsdot.