MDOT to use Twitter during hurricane season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 16, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Too busy fleeing from a hurricane to decide which evacuation route to take in Mississippi? You may want to check your cell phone or laptop for a tweet.

Mississippi Department of Transportation officials will use the micro-blogging platform Twitter to relay information to evacuees during the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1. Twitter allows users to post 140 characters that can be viewed by anyone with Internet access.

The tweets — Twitter posts — can be sent or received on either a computer or cell phone. The department’s tweets will provide short, concise updates on the best evacuation routes, MDOT spokeswoman Carrie Adams said Wednesday.

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‘‘With a diverse group of staff members with different skills and knowledge of various technologies, Twitter was mentioned as one of the most efficient ways to connect with people, and it’s free,’’ she said.

MDOT has created six separate Twitter feeds to provide route-specific traffic information to evacuees traveling on interstates 10, 20, 55 and 59, and U.S. highways 49 and 98. All are major hurricane evacuation routes.

Adams said transportation officials had been discussing ways to provide instant updates during hurricanes, including traffic delays, fuel availability, contraflow information and road openings.

Adams urged people to set their user account to follow the route that matches their evacuation plan.

‘‘MDOT Outreach Division staff members will feed information to Twitter and when the updates are posted, it will go directly to Twitter and evacuees who have signed up to receive route-specific updates will receive information instantaneously,’’ she said.

Founded in 2006, Twitter Inc. is growing rapidly with more than 6 million users.

Those signing up for the MDOT feeds must first join Twitter. Once they are signed up to follow a route-specific feed, they must click device updates to the ‘‘on’’ position on the Twitter screen to receive tweets through their cell phone.

‘‘Utilizing this system will give MDOT the ability to not only get information directly into the hands of Mississippians evacuating, but also to evacuees from Alabama and Louisiana,’’ Larry ‘‘Butch’’ Brown, MDOT’s executive director, said in a news release.

Adams said MDOT will hold a news conference, probably in May, to kick off hurricane preparedness, which will include Twitter.

The department will continue to update the public in other ways, including in news conferences, press releases and traveler hot lines.

MDOT Twitter feeds:—i55—i59—us49—us98—i10—i20

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