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Tweets in troubled times: Twitter to deploy new crisis alerts

After its micro-blogging service proved vital in disasters like Hurricane Sandy, Twitter offers a special crisis alert system for mobile users.

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A cleanup crew works to figure out how to remove power lines and trees off a summer cottage on Lake Webster, New Hampshire after Hurricane Sandy.

Jim Cole/AP

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Twitter, which is preparing for its initial public offering, said on Wednesday it will help users receive special alerts from government agencies and aid agencies during emergencies.

Users who sign up will receive smartphone notifications via the Twitter app as well as SMS text messages - assuming they agree to handover their cell phone numbers - from any of several dozen agencies who have signed on to the program.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management AgencyTokyo's Disaster Prevention service and the World Health Organization are among those participating.

The alerts program starts a year after Twitter showcased its potential as a lifeline during Hurricane Sandy, when stranded residents on the eastern U.S. seaboard reported the storm's progress and sought help on the mobile network.

A similar lifeline service played a part in the rescue efforts in Japan following the devastating 2011 tsunami, Twitter said. The program is initially available in the United States, Japan and Korea and will be expanded to other countries.

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