You know those ads you see when you're online that mysteriously seem to know that you just happened to be looking for the item being advertised? Those ads don't pop up by mistake. Your online patterns are watched for clues to try to figure out where you are and which ads you might find interesting.
Now, imagine you're not seeing advertisements pop up, but rather alerts for an emergency situation in your particular area. It's not as farfetched as it might seem. In fact, it's already working for Amber Alerts and has been piloted for other types of emergencies such as weather events.
The muscle for the project comes from a nonprofit organization called the Federation for Internet Alerts. It was formed by Internet network companies, technology providers, advertising exchanges and other folks to try to figure out a way to use their skills to make the public safer. One of the FIA ring leaders is Jason Bier of Conversant Media, a company that helps advertisers target people online. He told us that "anywhere you see an online display, you could see an alert rather than an advertisement."
Although the rollout has been limited, the video on the Federation's website already tells the story of a man in Pennsylvania crediting one of these alerts for warning his family of a tornado that ended up coming within two miles of their home.
The infrastructure for the system, which is being developed gratis by FIA members, is now being strengthened. It is already directly connected to the Amber Alert system and the National Weather Service. Presumably, it will reach a point where local public safety organizations can activate it themselves. (IPAWS, maybe? Alerting vendors?)
You must be wondering the cost. We can't tell that there's any real cost to public safety agencies or the public. The FIA members are developing the technology at their own expense, and the advertisers are giving up the space.
Honestly, this is one of the most interesting and promising advancements in alerting I've seen in quite a while. It's going to be exciting to see this develop. (And you heard it here first!)