- Any Facebook page associated with a city or county government, local emergency management or fire department or local law enforcement department in the U.S. will soon have access to send local alerts, the company announced in a blog post.
- The local alerts tool, which Facebook has tested since early 2018, enables authorities to communicate urgent information during emergencies like natural disasters, gas leaks or shootings. People who follow the respective pages of local authorities, or who subscribe to receive regular local updates in their area, will receive a notification of the alert.
- The feature also allows authorities to specify what type of emergency alert is being sent, and to target recipients by affected county, city, town or neighborhood. The feature will be available to all applicable Facebook pages by the end of the year.
Facebook shared success stories of the local alerts feature, such as when it helped to find a missing elderly man in Mt. Juliet, TN, or when it gave real-time updates to residents in Tangipahoa Parish, LA during Hurricane Barry earlier this year. By expanding this feature to all local government agencies across the U.S., Facebook is solidifying itself as a crucial digital tool for community engagement.
Facebook use among younger generations is slowing, however, which brings into question the demographics of who exactly will receive urgent alerts at the time of an emergency. A study from Pew Research Center found 44% of younger users (ages 18-29) have deleted the Facebook app from their phone as social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat grow in popularity. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, however the company has not announced a similar alert feature for that platform.
Aside from alerts and notifications, local governments can leverage Facebook for hyperlocal engagement and data collection. Earlier this year, Facebook joined the new Urban Computing Foundation to build open source tools that can help analyze mobility patterns, safety, traffic congestion, energy consumption and other urban trends. Other social media sites like NextDoor, Twitter and Niche.com are also on the rise as platforms for urban data analysis.
Digital alerts and engagement does not need to be driven by social media, however. Some governments have teamed up with organizations to develop notification apps, such as ShakeAlertLA, which is intended to warn Los Angeles-area residents of earthquakes.