Among the 2,973 victims who died in the World Trade Center there were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers from New York City and the Port Authority, and 8 private emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Another 184 people were killed in the attack on the Pentagon and 24 people were missing. There were no survivors from any of the flights and the overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of over 70 countries.
September 11, how would it had been with social media?
For 102 minutes on September 11, 2001, the world watched in horror as terrorists flew hijacked passenger planes into New York City's Word Trade Centre twin towers, destroying the iconic buildings and killing more than 2,700 people. For 102 minutes that day what we watchers were offered through the media was basically George Bush as an official spokesperson informing the world of the terrorist attack. Ten years ago, we did not have Twitter, nor Facebook, Skype, Ustream or Youtube among all the Social Media possibilities. That would have made a great difference in the way things were broadcast.
Would things have been different if they would had been recounted in a different way? In other words, would it have been possible to save more lives or to have had less injured people? Would reality have been different if told in a different way? Though this is, obviously, a science fiction exercise, I believe that probably social media would have not only offered different points of view, but also would have become civil protection agents, as we have recently seen in some other catastrophes recently.
102 minutes- the time the North Tower in Word Trade Centre took to collapse- is a long time. Surely, we would have not only had the official version against Al Qaeda and the Muslim terrorist attack coming from the media, with all the practical information given by President George Bush, but also we could had had the opportunity to listen live to many people's needs and feelings in those terrible moments. What for? To help them. As in Japan, or Troy, New York, where Major Harry Tutunjian (@TroyMayor) and other elected Troy officials have been using social media in emergency situations.
September 11 victims: workers, civilian an emergency services
Nevertheless, we know that some passengers were able to make phone calls using the cabin airphone service and mobile phones and provided details that there were several hijackers aboard each plane.
What could citizens in the towers have done if they had had social media at their disposal?
Smartphones. The key to social media
If we consider that nowadays more than one third of American adults own a smartphone, it could had been possible for them to know, through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, what was going on, and, for some of them, to take action to, maybe, save their lives or at least to communicate with their loved ones and say goodbye, as some of them did from the aeroplanes via mobile phones. They could had been geolocated. Therefore, it could had been possible for the emergency services to reach their position and, maybe, to take some measure to protect them.
It is important to remember that over 90% of the workers and visitors who died in the towers were above the points of impact. In the North Tower 1,355 people at or above the point of impact were trapped and died of smoke inhalation, fell or jumped from the tower to escape the smoke and flames, or were killed in the building's eventual collapse. There was no much hope for them anyway. Also a further 107 people below the point of impact did not survive. In the South Tower, one stairwell remained intact allowing 18 people to escape from above the point of impact. 630 people died in the South Tower which was fewer than half the number killed in the North Tower. Casualties in the South Tower were significantly reduced by the decision of some occupants to start evacuating when the North Tower was struck.
I'm especially thinking in those people when I wonder how it could have been with social media. It is among this group of people with whom it could have been possible to communicate and listen to their needs.
We should as well remember that the total number of people in the area was about 190.00 people, if we consider the 50.000 workers of the Towers plus 140.000 tourists.
Police and emergency services overwhelmed
It is now known that communication systems and protocols that differentiated each department were hampered by the lack of interoperability, damaged or failed network infrastructure during the attack, and overwhelmed by simultaneous communication between superiors and subordinates.
It is also well documented that landlines failed and telephones went dead, so people were unable to know where their relatives where and civil protection services did not work properly.
A quick look at any of the last big catastrophes, such as Japan's eartquake, would give us a lot of ideas of how September 11, 2001 could had been if social media had been there.