Sunday, March 1, 2015
SOCIAL MEDIA AND DISASTER MANAGEMENT: INDIA PERSPECTIVE
Next week there is presentation of mapping tools related to social media. While going through the tools certain feelings came to my mind related to disaster management in India, and how they are managed and social media tools can be effectively used for the same. Here it is:
India has really been unlucky as severe natural disasters strike at regular intervals in one part or another, taking huge toll on lives and loss of properties. It was in Uttarakhand. Devastating flood and landslide caused huge loss of properties and lives. Over 5,000 people lost their lives and properties worth over Rs 3,500 crore were damaged in the state.
Last year also a disaster of similar scale struck Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Over 200 people have died and the number is rising every day. Like Uttarakhand, recent floods in J&K clearly manifests the country as a whole is still not prepared to quickly respond, through its established institutional mechanism from the national to district levels, to such disasters.
Unfortunately, India is unable to meet the challenge of efficient disaster management, though it has a national body called National Authority ( ), which carries the mandate to strategise and implement disaster management policies and actions in an integrated manner right from the centre to district level. Only a few states like Gujarat, Odisha, with its own initiatives, institutions and preparedness managed to deal with any kind of disasters efficiently.
The Indian Army, for first time, used social media such as twitter, WhatsApp, a messaging service, and Facebook , in its search and rescue operations, and to collate and feed Person Finder provided by Google to the army’s public information office. According to Indian army’s “a dedicated team of two young officers" handled the social media “practically around the clock”. An estimated 12,000 people, according to the Indian army sources, were assisted on the basis of reports received over the social media.
Social media can be used to send updates from different locations but it provides a platform to collect all the information at one place and then allows people to feed upon them and act as required. There has been an emergence of data aggregators and numerous apps which can help the state agencies or otherwise .Disaster management Applications like increasingly being deployed during disasters to collect incidents and create impact maps. These maps are then used to prioritize dispatching of help. It has been used for gathering volunteers and helping them provide help in the areas they are nearest to. People in need leave messages for help or inform their loved one that they are fine. It also used to locate missing people who might have run away to protect themselves.
The penetration of smart phones and internet has been highest in the recent times in the developing countries. India and China which are densely populated have seen a leap in the adoption of technology. Though we need to accept that far flung areas and villages are yet to see the dawn of this change but adoption rate will be quicker. Way back in 2001 when Gujarat was hit by an Earthquake there had hardly been any sign of use of Social media. However come 2013 and social media played quiet a significant role in Uttarakhand floods.
The use of social media is through gadgets like mobile phones, ipads or laptops by using internet. There is a high dependence of internet on the regional power and communication infrastructures. Disasters are often accompanied by electric power loss and ability to communicate over the phone or via internet. Add to this the fact when the entire internet enabled population turns to social media for communication. The present infrastructure might not be fully capable to handle that much of information leading to data overload and communication failures.
Even the most regular users of social media might be unaware of certain intricacies which could help in better relief dispatch. For example all the smart phones today have GPS which provides the exact location of the person. Either due to privacy concerns or lack of awareness very few people share the same. Also we need to consider the population which would be internet enabled but is not aware of its use. This mostly pertains to the older generation which is not active on social media. This might need a lot of pre work to be done across the world to educate people to have minimum awareness of gadgets and social media so that they become handy when needs arises.
The benefits of using social media for disaster response are immense. For the help providers it includes the ability to continuously update the public with important information, getting information from citizens, organizing volunteer efforts, and staying connected with the population at large. For the help seekers social media provide a quick way to connect with friends and family, update their status and stay informed about the progress of the crisis and get help. However accompanied by positives there are huge challenges that social media faces. The most important one is the huge flow of information and the accompanying incapability to aggregate the same at a fast pace to just filter the most relevant information. This leads to any and every piece of information many of which might not be true to flow to the public at large. Also the laws built around social media have not kept pace with its adoption of the platform across countries leading to concerns among the being about the privacy and liability of sharing information. This could be of huge ramifications especially in manmade disasters where negative elements may try to spark communal hatred. Social media in its very nascent stage has shown that it is the future of next generation in every way. The governments, nonprofit organizations, agencies and other institutions alike have to work fast to build a structure around its use so that its potential could be harnessed to its hilt.