Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Use of Social Media for Emergency Management

The Van earthquake that struck eastern Turkey near the city of Van- a province of Turkey- was a destructive magnitude 7.1 Mw earthquake on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 1:41 pm. (1) According to Disasters and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey-a.k.a. AFAD- the earthquake killed 604 and injured are 4,152. The number of buildings sustained damage was at least 11,232. Also 6017 uninhabitable homes left; this could mean that at least around 60,000 people were left homeless.(2)

However even in this kind of situation there were two happy-ending stories related to social media. Immediately after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake TV talk show Okan Bayulgen used Twitter to send along emergency information. One of his followers sent him an address of people still trapped. He passed the message to the AKUT relief workers who immediately went to the address. Two hours later they were able to dig through the rubble of a collapsed structure and rescue two people.(3)

The other story is about President of Turkey. A disaster victim contacted President Gül via Twitter after the earthquake saying that he was trapped under the rubble. When Gül received the message from the disaster victim, he ordered officials to check if that account was genuine and to locate the address of the account holder. About half an hour later the officials confirmed the account belonged to someone who was in the area where the earthquake happened. Arriving at the cardinal coordinates where the disaster victim was detected, the search and rescue teams extracted the man from under a collapsed building. (4)

These are very important evidences about social media which rescued some lives even though not foreseen to be used by government as a policy The governments -like Turkey- are now realizing social media as a new tool for emergency management and seeking ways to integrate social media to the current emergency management systems. The latest disaster in USA denoted that USA improved its emergency management sytem by integrating a few- but promising- social media and mobile tools. For the future, social media can have a vital role in this field and I hope more people will be rescued from disasters in this way.

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