Local emergency managers are trying to harness the power of social media to get word out quickly when severe weather or other dangerous events arise.

“Mass notification’s a big deal,” Mike Curry, Jackson County’s director of emergency preparedness and homeland security, said at a recent meeting of local emergency managers.

One tool local officials have adopted is offered by a company called Nixle. The free version of its product gets out text messages for things such as severe thunderstorm or tornado watches or warnings.

“Nixle is a very, very good system. I’m impressed with it,” Curry said. Most of the local alerts are about weather, and Curry said he posts to it judiciously. Officials could use it for everything from boil orders to evacuations if a train or truck crashed and spilled dangerous chemicals.

Signing up – www.nixle.com/ – is free. An Independence resident, for instance, can sign up for email and text-message alerts from both the Independence and Jackson County emergency preparedness offices, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas City No Violence Alliance and others.

In Blue Springs and Grain Valley, the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District uses a similar program, called CodeRED. Sign up at www.bluespringsgov.com.

Officials also said weather radios – actually NOAA all-hazards radios – are tremendously helpful as well.

“Sales of those things slow down until there’s a real bad thunderstorm,” Curry said.

The radios can be programmed to sound the alert if a watch or warning is posted for a resident’s specific area. The National Weather Service no longer posts those alerts strictly county by county but instead can draw a polygon around the area believed to be in danger. For example, a heavy storm might roll across Greenwood and Lee’s Summit while Independence and Blue Springs are untouched. The affected would get a warning, while people under no threat would not get what amounts to a false alarm.