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What alerts systems are available for your smartphone?

In case the next storm arrives sooner than we expect, just how many services are out there that will send alerts and updates straight to our smartphone?

IT’S BEEN A somewhat turbulent start to the year. After going through stormy weather, power outages, road blockages and other hinderances in the space of two months, it’s left both authorities and the general public a little worse for wear.

While we’re all hoping we’re past the worst of the stormy weather, it’s always good to know what’s coming up next. So if you’re a smartphone user and want to take things into your own hands, where do you start?

On Twitter

If you’re looking for up-to-date information relating to the emergency services, Twitter should be your first port of call. Practically all the emergency services and relevant authorities have accounts, but while following them is usually enough, you can take things a step further and get alerts and updates.

Currently, the only organisation using Twitter alerts in Ireland are An Garda Síochána (@GardaTraffic) who can select certain tweets (road accident, missing person, etc.) and send them to your phone via push notification.

Users who haven’t already activated the setting for @GardaTraffic can find it here, but for the other accounts, the next best thing is activating notifications.

By turning this feature on for individual accounts, you get a push notification whenever they tweet. All you need to do is go to their profile (doesn’t matter if it’s on desktop or mobile), and click on the settings icon located beside the follow/following button. Here, you will find the notifications option.

image(Image: GardaTraffic/Twitter)

The only caveat is once you turn it on, you will be alerted to all tweets from that account, which isn’t efficient if you have it switched on for multiple accounts and they’re tweeting often.

Check first to see how often the account tweets every day so you know you won’t be overwhelmed with updates if you do turn it on. Ultimately, it’s best saved it for moments where there’s another storm or situation where alerts are important.

On your smartphone

Outside of Twitter, the level of apps and services that use push notifications or other alert capabilities is underdeveloped to say the least. The majority of official services have their own apps, but for the most part, they’re really just the website redesigned for a smaller screen. Few, if any, of them offer an alert service warning about incoming storms or problems

Currently, the closest app to a personalised alert service is MapAlerter (iOS and Android). Through your local and county council, you can receive alerts relating to a number of categories such as floods, severe weather and road closures.

While it’s very useful, its only drawback is the limited number of city and county councils that support it – currently only Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Roscommon, Waterford and Wexford use it – so unless you convince your local council to support the service, you will have to opt for SMS alerts instead.

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Since we went through one of the worst storms in recent memory, knowing when the next storm or downpour is arriving in advance is always useful.

The official app for Met Eireann (iOS and Android), while perfectly functional, doesn’t have any alert function on it. The same goes for general weather updates through the iPhone’s notification centre and Google Now, which limits their use.

One such app that would help this is Dark Sky, an iPhone app which warns you if it’s going to rain or snow through push notifications.

image(Image: Dark Sky/App Store)

Android users can download Arcus: Hyper Local Weather, which is roughly similar to Dark Sky. Other alternative apps include Weather Notifications (iOS), Notification Weather (Android), and Rain Alarm Windows Phone) which offer similar functionality.

Outside of weather, if you regularly travel, the NRA’s own app (iOS and Android) will keep you updated, although you will have to check the app proper to find out any updates, while the Gardaí’s CRI app (iOS, Android and Windows Phone) will alert users to any children who went missing recently, although in some cases, Twitter alerts are faster in getting the word out there.

Read: Having problems with your Vodafone network coverage? Blame the storm >

Read: Google’s latest project is a smartphone that maps everything around it >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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