Social Media – A Matter of Life and Death

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Social Media in Emergency Situations

Social Media and Emergency Response [Inforgraphic]

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[schema type="review" name="Social Media in Emergencies" description="With the fast growth of technology, social media has played a part in emergency communications. This post shows how four disasters used social media." author="Rob Attfield" pubdate="2013-01-27" ]

On Thursday 24th January this year, I had the privilege of participating in an online webinar as part of my social media studies. This webinar, facilitated by Suzanne Frew of the Frew Group, showed me how important social media is becoming in managing emergencies and saving lives. The Haiti earthquake of 2010, the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, and also the Japan earthquake and tsunami, were all very devastating events that happened in the last three years. With the rapid growth of social media and technology, these major emergencies made the most of social media in the following ways:

2010 Haiti Earthquake (300,000+ fatalities, millions homeless and injured)

2010 Christchurch Quake (no direct fatalities)

  • After realizing the phones and T.V’s weren’t working properly, a Christchurch girl finally knew her family was ok and safe – thanks to Facebook. (Courtesy of “Social Media & the Christchurch Quake“).
  • GeoNet earthquake reports were sent out using both Twitter and Facebook after each major aftershock. Twitter was regularly swamped with messages reporting what people have felt within seconds. (Courtesy of “The 2010 Canterbury (Darfield) earthquake“).
  • Large numbers of New Zealanders turned to social media to share experiences and get information in the hours and days after the Canterbury quake. (Courtesy of “Quake-affected New Zealanders turn to social media“).

2011 Christchurch Quake (185 fatalities)

  • In this earthquake, Twitter showed its value as the fastest news platform – as information spread spontaneously through the Twittersphere along with images and video of the destruction. (Courtesy of “The Latest Christchurch Earthquake told on Social Media Platforms“).
  • Michelle Gourley from Kaiapoi, north of Christchurch, was unable to contact her 70-year-old father John and feared he had been injured or killed. She contacted her brother Sean in San Francisco who put a message on Twitter asking the world if anyone was close to his father’s house in Opawa. (Courtesy of “Social media sites abuzz after quake“).
  • People used their cell phones and Twitter to direct rescuers to where they were buried. Others all across New Zealand have used Facebook and Twitter to organize fund-raising efforts to get the much needed money to the city. (Courtesy of “On Social Media’s Use (And Misuse) After The Christchurch Earthquake“).

2011 Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdowns

  • People in Japan used Twitter to post news about how serious the situation was where they were, along with uploads of mobile videos they had recorded. Within an hour, more than 1,200 tweets a minute were coming from Tokyo. By the end of Friday, American time, a total of 246,075 Twitter posts using the term “earthquake” had been posted. (Courtesy of “Japan earthquake: how Twitter and Facebook helped“).
  • Through the use of social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Mixi, people all around the world were able to get instant updates on the statuses of friends and family, as well as send thoughts and prayers to those in need. (Courtesy of ” Twitter, Facebook Become Vital During Japan Earthquake“).
  • In a message sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to U.S. citizens in Japan, the Embassy encouraged Americans “to continue your efforts to be in contact with your loved one(s) using SMS texting and other social media (e.g., FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) that your loved one(s) may use”. (Courtesy of “Social Media Plays Vital Role in Reconnecting Japan Quake Victims With Loved Ones“).
  • Twitter posted a guide for users in Japan to help people get information and communicate as broadly as possible with friends and family in the earthquake’s aftermath, offering tips and resources in Japanese and English. (Courtesy of “After Quake and Tsunami, Japanese Citizens Flock to Social Networks for Information“).
  • Nine days after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake, two urgent pleas for help appeared on the Twitter stream of U.S. Ambassador John Roos.

If it hadn’t been for social media and the internet, more lives would have been lost or impaired. The emergence of social media as a communications tool has played a major part of how we share information – whether in emergency situations or not. I hope that anyone I know, or myself isn’t involved in future situations that require the use of social media in this settings. I also wish for minimal fatalities, injuries, and severe displacement for people in such devastating disasters like these. Social media has been proven to be a lifesaver – and indeed a matter of life and death.

If you have been involved in devastating emergencies like these, I’m keen for you to share your experiences – especially if you utilized social media in some way. Feel free to comment about your experiences on this post – and any other points of view involving social media and emergencies.

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