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Local governments will soon be able to use Facebook to send emergency alerts

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Facebook will ‘greatly amplify’ these alerts

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook has long positioned itself as a place where communities can share information during a crisis. Today, the company said it will start giving local governments and first responders the ability to send alerts to their communities during an emergency. Facebook already offers tools like Safety Check, which lets you tell others that you’re safe during an emergency, and Community Help, which offers aid during disasters.

When a Facebook page operated by a government or first responder marks a post as a local alert, Facebook says it will “greatly amplify” the post to followers of that page in their News Feeds and send the alerts as notifications to them. If you don’t follow a page that sends a local alert, the only way you can see it is if you happen to check Today In, Facebook’s hub for local news, where alerts will also be posted. Facebook says eligible groups can apply now to get access to local alerts for their pages.

A key assumption about the usefulness of a local alert is that Facebook doesn’t go down when there’s an emergency, but the social network has already had notable outages in March, April, July, and August of this year. If Facebook wants to position itself as a communications tool that users can rely on during emergencies, it will need to do more to ensure that it doesn’t go down when people need it most.