Natural disasters worldwide has been increasing at a steady rate, particularly since the 1970s, according to a report from the New England Journal of Medicine. Since 1990, natural disasters have affected about 217 million people every year.
Social media has played a major role in disseminating information about disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami and more recently, Typhoon Haiyan, by allowing people to ask for help and presenting volunteers and officials with the tools to provide this help. Consequently, more and more, emergency managers are turning to social media as a vital tool in disaster management. Ranked as the most popular source to access emergency situation, social media has been used as ways to disseminate crucial and also, more actively, as disaster management tools.
From among the several social platforms out there, these are top 5 social media tools for disaster response and recovery:
As they say, the right hashtag can mean the difference between life and death in case of an emergency. For almost all natural disasters experienced the world over of late, the microblogging site has been the most favoured and most used social media tool for updates, response, and relief.
In the age of the smartphone, most people carry a mobile device every day. Down Under, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that half of all Australians had access to the Internet on their mobile phone in June 2013.
Twitter, available via SMS and online, has proven its worth so well during emergencies that Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services is considering using specially designed software to monitor eyewitness accounts on the microblogging site to help map and respond to the bushfires.
Curtin University lecturer in the Department of Internet Studies Tama Leaver said that since more people using the Internet on their phone or carrying tablet devices like iPads with an Internet or phone connection, there is greater connectivity and information-sharing capabilities in case of emergencies.
“In emergency situations around Australia, Twitter has proved useful,” Leaver said.
Twitter has been used in heaps of ways after the Black Saturday Bushfire by alerting people of potential bushfires, providing a venue to share information on what is happening on the ground and in different areas surrounding a fire, sending crucial data on the location of people close to fires, and sharing local conditions, as well.
Lever added that some matters often made it to social media without being reported through the official methods. “I do think people are often hesitant to ring triple zero if they see a fire, which works against getting fires, people might tweet, instead.”
When Japan was hit by a terrible earthquake and tsunami, a group of volunteer professionals and citizen journalists used Twitter to create the quakebook.
It started out as a Twitter hashtag – #quakebook – and within four weeks became a free downloadable e-book made by heaps of contributors. In lieu of payment, a donation to the Japanese Red Cross Society is simply requested. A hard copy version in Japanese-English bilingual entitled “2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake” are now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the Book Depository (with free shipping worldwide).
The quakebook hashtag spread word about the idea of the book well before it went into production. Twitter itself sent out a tweet about #quakebook, adding to the momentum, and Yoko Ono joined in. And the rest, as they is, history.
Christchurch suffered a destructive and deadly earthquake that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. It was the second major earthquake to have hit the city in 5 months, after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Although the loss of life wasn’t as bad as the Haiti earthquake of January 2010, Christchurch was devastated and its people were emotionally scarred, enduring months of aftershocks and the cruel shock of another big quake that destroyed its city centre.
A self-organised workforce of about 10,000, the UC Student Volunteer Army helped the people of deal with the aftermath of the quake by shovelling silt, assisting with welfare, “visiting the hardest hit areas, and providing hand-to-hand information and support – using its Facebook Page as main rallying point.
For the most recent Typhoon Haiyan that struck Samar and Leyte in the Philippines, People posted calls for help and responses to these calls.
The social networking giant has also been flooded with relief efforts, calls to action, as well as shared news stories, photos, videos, and blogs related to Haiyan, with the coverage and commentaries of CNN reporter Anderson Cooper that went viral.
Google set up a ‘Find a Person’ site for Christchurch to help get information out about missing victims of the earthquake.
Although this is no longer, Google has recently set up a Person Finder for Typhoon Yolanda (a.k.a. Haiyan), allowing people to search for a missing person or post any information they have about someone from the Philippines.
In this way people are sharing information and getting the word out about who is safe. Users are able to post where the person lived in the Philippines, a description and a photo, and what their current status is. Users can also post where the person was last seen and any messages they wish to leave.
Some profiles just contain the line “Someone has received information that this person is alive.”
This tool was widely used by Filipinos around the world to search for friends and relatives who were missing or might have been affected by the typhoon.
The video site provides heaps of coverage, relief appeals, and other related videos on Typhoon Haiyan. Most viral are the Super Typhoon Yolanda / Haiyan Hits Tacloban Philippines Breaking News Footage 1 by Earth Uncut TV, with 4,464,051 views as of writing.
Another popular video is We are the World for the Philippines, that has had, as of writing, 3,685,483 views.
Upon a Google search, about 28,000,000 results were found by the search engine for blogs on WordPress on Typhoon Haiyan; 3,890,000 on the Japan tsunami; 1,280,000on the Melbourne bushfires; and 245,000 on the Christchurch earthquake.
That’s heaps of words people have to say, report, and share about the above-mentioned natural disasters; be they updates, personal experiences, opinions, or images.
WordPress itself has introduced a new plug-in, a donate link to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts. The plug-in inserts links to for donations on your WordPress page, post, or theme via widget and/or shortcode.
Social media is definitely here to stay, and I am personally glad that’s so. With natural disasters – climate change caused or otherwise – happening left and right, being social is more often than not the best way to stay connected with everyone around the world.
What about you? What’s your go to social media tool to get in touch with your loved ones during any crisis or emergencies?
About Christine Gooding
Christine is a New Zealand-based professional blogger since 2004. She is also a Digital Marketer for hairyLemon Digital Agency and Continental Catering and Event Hire. In her spare time, Christine maintains her own personal blog, Very Pinteresting