As the world continues to watch and react to the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, communities far and wide are assessing their own systems of disaster alert and preparedness. While we may not be able to predict when natural disasters occur, we can and should use modern technology to improve our ability to bring help where it’s needed most. To this end, you can make a donation to the Red Cross here.

We’ve seen how Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and Twitter can help people exchange information in times of crises – even in areas not as technologically advanced as we are here in San Francisco. We’ve seen systems like Reverse 911 protect countless lives by sending targeted phone calls informing people of impending dangers. And, we’ve seen millions of dollars in relief aide delivered in places like Haiti and Chile through online donations or simple text messages that donate $10 instantly.

While these are all extremely important uses of available technology, the primary focus during a disaster is keeping people at the epicenter safe – often the most difficult task during an earthquake, tsunami, hurricane or other disaster.

That’s why open government and the tools of User Generated Public Safety are so incredibly important.

Alert San Francisco Notifications

Here in San Francisco, along with the disaster preparedness program, the City has also developed a text message alert system called AlertSF. This service delivers “24/7 emergency information to your wireless device.” It takes just a moment to register but the benefits could be immeasurable. If the site asks for verification to open, allow it because it’s a safe website and has life-saving potential.

In the age of 24-hour news networks and the unlimited resources of the Internet, Web 2.0 tools and social media, it’s often hard to imagine being unaware of a disaster occurring in your area. But that’s not a chance the City of San Francisco is taking with its citizens. Services like AlertSF are prime examples of government doing its job and as citizens we should do our job and sign up.

The horrific events in Haiti, Japan and other areas around the world remind us that there is no such thing as being “too prepared.” And the seemingly limitless technological tools available to us should all be employed wherever and whenever possible. The fact is that information – especially during the chaos of a natural disaster – can truly save lives. Let’s use all the tools we can to stay in touch, learn, give and help. Because next time, it could be us.