Government Agencies to Release Emergency Alerts on Facebook

After a recent test with 350 agencies that included Miami Beach, Fla., the social media giant Facebook is making its emergency alerts tool available to any government page that wants to use it.

by Douglas Hanks, Miami Herald / August 28, 2019
Shutterstock/rafapress

(TNS) — Facebook is rolling out a new service for local governments with urgent news to share.

After a test with 350 agencies that included Miami Beach, Fla., the social-media giant is making its emergency-alerts tool available to any government Facebook page that wants to use it. The “local alerts” feature lets governments publish emergency announcements to entire populations or just people who happen to be blocks from an incident.

“We had a bomb threat not too long ago,” said Amanda Carballo, digital-media specialist for Miami Beach. “We were able to target people within the surrounding area.” The bogus July 23 bomb threat at the city’s police department at 1100 Washington Ave. prompted Miami Beach to send an alert to about 3,200 people within a three-mile radius.

Carballo said 411 people clicked on the post, which registered in the Notifications feed of Facebook accounts. “You miss posts all the time,” Carballo said. “This brings it to the forefront.”

Miami Beach was an early adopter of the local alerts that Facebook reserves for government agencies. They’re identified by a yellow exclamation-point icon. A list from Facebook shows local early testers include Miami-Dade government, along with Bay Harbor Islands, Pinecrest, Sunrise and Wilton Manors. A company executive said the plan is to offer it to all local governments by the end of 2019.

“It’s things like a power outage, or a missing person, a severe weather event, or a water-main break that requires you to boil water,” said Jimmy O’Keefe, a Facebook product-marketing executive helping launch the feature. “When they use local alerts, people are much more likely to see it.”

There are some limits — governments can only use 35 local alerts within a 30-day period. “Over the course of our testing,” O’Keefe said, “we haven’t seen a government come even close to that limit.”

In Miami Beach, Carballo said the city has used it for police incidents and traffic advisories related to the regular Critical Mass bike rally.

“We try to use it very sparingly,” she said.

©2019 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs