With the advent of Social Media technologies, scope and potential of disaster response & recovery activities has tremendously widened. Be it an earthquake, storm or a flash flood, people around the world have started using Facebook, Twitter or You tube to complement other traditional modes of communication like Radio, TV or cell phones.
Although people had been using social media in individual disaster cases since advent of Facebook yet, watershed moment can in the shape of earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when pictures of devastation and utter misery were posted on social media that created a wave of awareness and sympathy in people. International Red Cross was able to collect $5m in donations in days. Though in time of Hurricane Katrina, Facebook was available yet people did not turn on to it as use of Facebook for disaster handling was not popular in those days . During times of Hurricane Sandy, thousands of people used it to get help. At one time, users sent more than 20 million Sandy-related Twitter posts, or “tweets,” despite the loss of cell phone service during the peak of the storm. Following the Boston Marathon bombings, one quarter of Americans reportedly looked to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for information, according to The Pew Research Center.
Following are the ways in which social media can help people when faced with a disaster or natural calamity:-
A. People can get instant and minute-by-minute latest update reports via Social media sites like Twitter. In this way, Social media has become the greatest provider of alerts and advance information to public. In 2013, Twitter started Alert service #alert to give accurate and immediate information to citizens about natural disasters.
B. People can get assistance from relief agencies during time of calamity. For example, Federal Emergency Management Agency regularly exhorts people to use social media sites to contact them when traditional modes of communication like 911 are tied up or exhausted. It must be noted that the response might be delayed yet the information is transmitted instantly. Several times, Social media has helped Government civic agencies save precious lives in this way.
C. In times of disaster, when there is no electricity or communication network, people can use Internet through their cell phones which can be easily charged through DC Power.
D. During times of disaster, when physical infrastructures like road network or communication towers are destroyed, or physically checking on survivors or affectees is a huge challenge, social media serves as the best tool to get connected and coordinate relief activities.
Drawing up an effective social media strategy and tweaking it to fit an emergency, however, is a crucial part of preparedness planning and disaster management.
E. Aid agencies find social media tools best way to launch their outreach programs to help people in times of distress. For example, several NGOs launched an excellent response during Nepal Earthquake in 2015 by launching web page " Nepal Earthquake Relief Volunteer Coordination".
Here are some of the popular tools being used to help people in time of disaster.
It is a free online phone service that allows people to communicate via webcam. It may be preferred over landlines or cell phones when traditional means of communication are tied up during an emergency.
The line was developed in Japan following devastating earthquake in Tohuku in 2011. The tool allows user to send text messages or call over internet.
Facebook Safety Check
Safety Check was launched in October, 2014 and is great way of helping community during natural disasters and gives an easy and simple way to say you’re safe and check on all your friends and family in one place. During the recent Earthquake in Pakistan & Afghanistan, thousands of people used it to tell their loved-ones that they are alright.
Google Person Finder
The tool was developed in the aftermath of Earthquake in January 2010 that devastated Haiti. The tool allows separated families to reunite when they go missing in a disaster. The users can input names of missing persons in a central database which can be looked up through the internet.
Following factors have contributed positively to this development:-
- Social media allows for instant communications
- It can be used to reach a broader audience having a global expanse
- It can allow for direct communication between the relief agency and those affected by the calamity.
- Older and backward generations are still not familiar with social media technologies and prefer to use traditional means like telephone
- Due to lack of infrasrtucture, several demographics are unable to use internet or mobile phone
- Spread of false information or rumors can be fatal sometimes when refutation of the same takes time to get communicated to people
- Poor and illiterate sections of population in communities are unable to use Social media
- During an earthquake, social media cannot be accessed if there is no electricity or alternative source of power.