Facebook launches new Local Alerts program; LSU professor still a bit skeptical

First responders can now alert people to emergencies via Facebook

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - First responders could have a new way to keep people safe in times of emergencies, through something most probably already use every single day.

Facebook announced it’s launching a new Local Alerts program. It’ll provide emergency alerts on people’s phones, such as a flash flood warning, mandatory evacuation, missing persons reports, or even active shooters.

More than three weeks ago in Baton Rouge, a scare at the Walmart on Burbank Drive had the city on edge for hours. Thankfully, that was a false alarm.

However, in the event of a real emergency, 350 local governments across the nation can now send out local alerts through Facebook.

“Spreading the message rapidly, that was everything. Local Alerts gives your message the immediacy that we need,” said a new video Facebook released.

It’s a free tool designed to help communicate urgent or lifesaving information when it directly affects people in their area, mostly for local governments and police to use.

"Having that information as soon as possible and as readily as available makes sense," said David Stamps. He teaches strategic communication courses at LSU, and says while having more information is powerful, he's still a bit skeptical of the alerts.

“When you say local law enforcement, local first responders, local agencies, who is that? How are they vetted? And then, watch what type of information they put out there, because when it starts to tip-toe into problematic behavior, Facebook needs the first to respond to take it down,” said Stamps.

Facebook uses an example from Tangipahoa Parish officials, who used the new alerts system during Hurricane Barry.

And no one can forget the false missile alert for Hawaii in January of 2018. Stamps realizes misinformation like that could cause chaos.

“There has to be some checks and balances, we have to follow up, we have to make sure that we keep people safe. I want Facebook to follow up on all of that, and they’re capable of that,” said Stamps.

Most people already get notifications like Amber Alerts on their phones, which make a loud siren noise when it happens nearby.

Facebook hopes to have this new Local Alerts feature available in all cities across the country by the end of the year. Click here for more about the program.

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