Social Media and Mobile Devices Again Leading the Way in Crisis Events

Posted on April 21, 2011. Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , |

When the massive natural disaster occurred in Japanon 11 March the value of mobile devices and social media were once again brought to the forefront for capturing and disseminating the latest news quickly. Users were not only able to get the latest news through social networks but also send and receive updates, prompt help for those in need and share an unprecedented amount of eyewitness video footage.

Social networks sites were not only helpful for retrieving news, but also served as a form of community bulletin board to find loved ones after the earthquake. As telephone lines were jammed or no longer in service, those affected were able to use sites such as Skype, Twitter, Facebook and Mixi to inform others of their whereabouts and status. Within an hour of the earthquake, 1,200 tweets per minute were coming from Tokyo alone. By day’s end over 246,000 messages were published under the topic “Earthquake in Japan”. And in one day, 4.5 million people changed their status to include “earthquake”, “Japan”, or “tsunami”.   

Social networks also supported the efforts of Kameda Medical Center in Chiba. The medical center agreed to treat victims of the earthquake, but soon found itself running out of food and medical supplies, and no truck or ambulance would come close from fear of radiation at the nearby Fukushima reactors. Hospital director Nobuo Hiwatashi issued an appeal through the Mainichi Japan newspaper with little response. Finally, the hospital posted two urgent pleas for help on the Twitter stream of US Ambassador John Roos, instantly contacting Roos through his mobile. An hour or so later, evacuation of the patients were organized byJapan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces.

Local governments and agencies started using social media as a tool, including the local government in Mitaka city in western Tokyo, which put information on Twitter to inform local citizens about electricity blackouts in real-time. The US Government also posted advisories and updates to its citizens residing in Japan through Twitter and Facebook.

Blogger “konnichiwa-japan” explained in a nutshell why Twitter became so popular: “as the days progressed, I found the Tweet feed from people actually on the ground in affected areas to be the best source of news. Links from Twitter showed me NHK News’ English Upstream live feed, real-time reporting of radiation levels, Upstream of Geiger counters, and a variety of other useful sites that I never would have gotten from traditional TV or newspaper media.”

The natural disaster in Japan demonstrated how social networks have significantly impacted the ways in which we communicate and connect with each other. It was a life saver to many that had no ways of reaching other channels for help. As an instrument for change, individuals were able to not only trigger action and connect with friends but have their stories shared with millions across the globe.

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One Response to “Social Media and Mobile Devices Again Leading the Way in Crisis Events”

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Social media played an important (if less dramatic) role beyond the immediate vicinity of the earthquake and tsunami.

I publish a community news site for coastal San Mateo County — the ocean side of the San Francisco Peninsula.

While vacationing at Disneyland, I was awakened at 2am by call from our daughter, who’s a college student in Seattle. She was panicked: she heard that the tsunami would hit the California coast around 8am — and it was going to be huge. We turned on CNN and confirmed that the tsunami in Japan was devastating. But what would we see in Half Moon Bay? A tsunami there in the 40s caused significant damage to the harbor.

I’m already getting tsunami alerts from NOAA, so I was able to check the latest prediction on their site. The surge would be a manageable 18 inches. I posted a story on Coastsider (from my iPhone) at 3am saying that there would be a wave, but that no one should panic. This story went out to the thousands of community members on our alert mailing list and to the hundreds who read our Twitter and Facebook feeds. By 8am, the community was better prepared for what was (or wasn’t) to come. It was also a record traffic day for our site.

In addition to the bottom-up communication of thousands of eyewitnesses, social media enable targeted communication to small but crucial populations.

But it’s essential that the networks be in place and identified before a crisis happens.


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