systems are still only secondary channels of communication for government agencies, Weatherford said. "No public safety organization has thrown away its radios or telephones. They haven't stopped their normal communication. [Twitter] is just an adjunct communication," he said.

Even so, Weatherford said Twitter's purpose in government is a valid concern: "There's always room for more education and awareness on the vulnerabilities and the security issues related to using these Web 2.0 technologies, especially in the public safety arena."

Dave Fletcher, chief technology officer of Utah, "tweets" every day from his own personal account, as well as from the official Utah.gov Twitter feed and four other Utah government Twitter accounts. Just last week, law enforcement officials told him how important it is for them to have access to Twitter, he said.

"I think people generally realize that Twitter, at this point in the game, is a free service, and that they're going to have to deal with some inconveniences with the free service; I think they also realize the realities of DDOS attacks because many governments have experienced those as well," Fletcher said.

Fletcher said the prospect of Twitter accounts being hacked doesn't keep him awake at night, because the risk is similar to numerous other platforms used by the state government.

"I think this whole technology is still in its infancy ... I think people are using it with the expectation that it's going to continue to improve and become increasingly stable, especially as it goes through these kinds of experiences," he said.

Fletcher said he plans to verify the state of Utah's accounts on a beta verification service that Twitter offers, which he hopes will improve the accounts' authority and security. Fletcher and Weatherford said strong password protection also is an obvious must-have.

Worst-Case Scenario

Still, Byrne says he is worried about Twitter's vulnerability. He says a person with ill intent doesn't even need to hack into an official government account. He or she simply can set up his or her own account, and tweet erroneously that there's a fire at Main Street or a gunman nearby.

"One of the worst possible scenarios is if there is information that is given by an unreliable source that says an area of safety is at [one] location and it turns out to be malicious, and it's the active shooters or terrorists that want you to go to that location," Byrne said. "That's one of the worst-case nightmares I can think of. It wouldn't take hacking into our systems; it could just be an average citizen."

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor