RSS Emergency Notifications and Alerts

by Ray Matthews on January 15, 2004 at 02:59 PM

We heard from Jason Blum at the Senate that there are Senators such as our own Bob Bennett (R-Utah) who are interested in streaming local news and alerts to their sites. In addition to weather alerts from the National Weather Service another option is from OpenWeather, a private effort to create raw xml and RSS 1.0 weather feeds for the capitol airports of all 50 states and the province of Ontario. Another very exciting service is RSSWeather. Enter a USA city, Canadian city, or international country, and it generates a RSS 2.0 feed and, in some cases, OPML feed that you can subscribe to. Because data comes from HAMWeather, there are feeds for remote locations and small air fields in addition to forecasts reports from the large airports.

What about other kinds of alerts? Wouldn't it be nice to pursue Bill French's vision to create "an emergency notification system that leverages the power of a simple RSS feed." RSS feeds can be deliverd to the simplest of handheld devices. What mountain snowmobiler wouldn't like to receive up-to-date avalanche conditions? What sailor wouldn't want the latest gale warnings?

Dave Fletcher has noted that the federal Media Security and Reliability Council is advising that government coordinate the development of a Media Common Alert Protocol designed to deliver emergency messages via digital networks.

Am I missing something, or is this not already built into the capabilities of RSS?

Some are apparently already doing this very thing. The Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has responded with a series of feeds for Earthquake Hazards syndicating alerts for quakes greater than magnitude 2.5. and those greater than 5 throughout the world.

The State of California has an Emergency Digital Information Service (EDIS) to deliver official information about emergencies and disasters to the public and the news media in the state. Their bulletins are published to the web. EDIS doesn't syndicate this themselves so Jason Fesler at has created a RSS EDIS Bulletins feed. Anyone can subscribe to this feed or parse it to their site as Jason has done at his GIGO site. If you don't know which parsing technology to use, I keep a public gigantic list of parsing tools, mostly free or open source, complete with examples of their use and links to their documentation.

Maybe some independent or government agency can take this on as a project to identify already existing government alert sites like EDIS that are not self-syndicating, scrape them into RSS feeds like Jason has done, and then package them into OPMLs to make them available to our Senators and media. Any takers?

Links to Homeland Security Email Mailing Lists (non-RSS):


Hi Ray,

Thank you for writing this article. I'd also like to do more things with RSS in state government and will continue to keep in touch.


Posted by: Jon Lim at January 23, 2004 07:40 PM

Very good points. I am working on a law-enforcement web-based app, and have been quite disappointed that there aren't any quality RSS feeds I could use on the home page. I couldn't believe the Department of Homeland Security didn't have an RSS feed for the current threat level! I emailed them about that, but haven't heard back. And what about Amber Alerts? That could easily be made into an RSS feed.

Despite the lack of content out there, I'm optimistic. There seems to be a lot of momentum to get RSS into government. Even the most un-tech savvy officials can see the benefits.

Posted by: Trent at January 29, 2004 07:36 AM