The human and financial cost of natural disasters is incalculable, as the true devastation of events like hurricanes and earthquakes can continue for many years after the initial destruction, just look at Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for proof of the longevity of such damage. . However, it is often during the preparation and immediate aftermath of such events that people need help the most. This begs the question that with such prominence of social media, allowing people to connect with each other on a large scale instantly, is there not a strong case for implementing social media as part of the prevention and containment strategy? disasters? Since people can access immediate news via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook at any time of the day, whether from their computer or smartphone, there is clearly a huge opportunity to warn many hundreds, if not thousands, of people from any impending disaster.
While people may only check news sites once or twice a day and therefore miss those stories for several hours, the frequency with which we check our social connections is so regular that we’re sure we don’t miss out. we will miss any important news. This means that people can be instantly warned of any potential threat and given the opportunity to prepare or flee any affected area. Any story can be posted via key opinion leaders who can then retweet or forward messages to followers who can then repost the stories. Specific profiles can even be set up for such events and people can follow these profiles to get up-to-date news on any natural occurrence.
The problem, however, lies in the fact that some events occur so quickly and without warning that there is little or no chance of warning people of any potential danger before it occurs. Therefore, this is the second way that social media can be integrated into disaster management schemes. The platforms allow people to communicate with each other to let loved ones know they are safe or to find out where family members are. This has been aptly demonstrated by the recent disasters in Japan and New Zealand, where Google launched its Person Finder tool to great effect. The tool allows users to post their whereabouts online for family to find them, or to search for loved ones who are currently missing.
Social networks also allow rescue services to determine where to best deploy their resources. Logging services like Facebook Places and Foursquare allow would-be rescuers to determine where the most people in need of help are located, and as such any rescue efforts can be directed to these locations to optimize resources. It’s also a great way for people who are trapped or out of reach to let rescue services know where they are.
Social media can also be used as part of a longer-term strategy to help alleviate the effects of such disasters for victims. Initially, it can be used to help find places for people to find shelter, while also seeking donations to help people who have lost everything. Networks such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to post links to websites where people can donate money or items such as clothing or shelter, as well as offer help or assistance to affected people. People can also share helpful information like emergency phone numbers, places to stay, safe zones, etc. to give victims the best possible chance of getting through any event with the least amount of damage possible.
Disaster recovery teams are becoming so embracing of social media that members are now actively encouraged to use it to spread good words and engage with potential donors. For example, the Red Cross provides NGOs with small video cameras so they can film their work, and then encourages them to post videos and information on YouTube and the Internet to raise awareness of the problem. This has therefore overlooked the need for traditional news outlets which often fail to cover events in sufficient detail for people to realize the seriousness of the situation and therefore the need of donations. This is why the need for events like Live Aid and Red Nose Day arose, however, social media is helping to buck this trend. The success of this was demonstrated by the fact that $5 million was raised within the first 48 hours after the recent disaster in Haiti.
With this in mind, surely now is the time to push for such services to be used much better to help those affected by such disasters. Therefore, we should look for a social media agency in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Vancouver and around the world to know how best to use social media to deal with these types of events.
Over time, I’m sure there will be many more opportunities for social media to help in disaster areas, but for now we must try to use it to the best of our ability.