Last year the UK government produced a report into the best way of both mitigating and responding to disasters. A major part of it was on the use of social media to both find out about what was happening on the ground, and to disseminate information to those in need.
The role of social media in a disaster has come into the spotlight again over the past week, after it played a crucial role in the aftermath of the bombings in Boston. In the immediate aftermath, Facebook and Twitter played a critical role in helping people find out vital information, whilst the social web was central in the hunt for the bombers in the days following the attack.
Such interventions via social media are now almost commonplace, as people turn to the social web to help their fellow citizens in their time of need, connecting up individuals and communities with each other and with critical resources.
Whilst much of these interventions have been citizen led, there is also an increasing number of examples of organisations utilising social media during and after disasters. Below are a few examples of the kind of uses it is being put to.
- Notifying people what is happening in real-time
- In August 2011 for instance, several New York residents found out about an earthquake before it had reached them. Tweets began emerging from the DC area before anyone in New York City had felt the tremors. Twitter reported that around 40,000 earthquake related tweets were sent within a minute of it happening.
- Similarly, during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, users of Ushaldi created a number of maps to aid first responders to the disaster zone.
- Publishing reminders, tips and information – As Hurricane Sandy approached the US last year, Mount Sinai Hospital used their Facebook page to share important information, updating it regularly as new details emerged.
- Identifying trouble spots and reacting quickly – The American Red Cross are heavy social media users. They’ve teamed up with Dell to create a social listening facility, allowing them to optimise their relief efforts.
- Enabling collaboration between agencies and individuals – The aftermath of the London riots saw many people take to social media to organise clean-up efforts. The local councils tapped into this, helping provide equipment for the efforts.
These are just a few examples of how social media is being used when disasters strike. As the power of the platforms becomes better understood it seems likely that these uses will only increase.
What are some uses for social media related to natural disasters that you find powerful and interesting? Let us know in the comments.