The impact of social media in emergencies. Restoring security and safety in case of crisis.

A year has already past since both earthquakes struck the Spanish city of Lorca and Kobe in Japan. In Lorca, the earthquake came as a total surprise, since Spain is not used to them. Therefore, there was not an alert sent to the population, nor a social media emergency plan established, nor did citizens know what to do to protect themselves. (Basically stay indoors, don’t use elevators, cover under a table or similar away from glass, windows and so on, and don’t move until the shaking stops). If outdoors, move away from buildings, street lights and utility wires). Nine people died when some buildings collapsed. Recovery was organized, through social media, while Emergency Services did their best and were able to restore security in a reasonable time. Fundraising was organised in Twitter (@smxlorca)

Japan Tusnami and Earthquake

The Japanese case is completely different. No only for the magnitude of the catastrophe, that can not be compared ( 15,845 casualties, 3,380 missed and  5,893 injured)  but also for the Tsunami that followed the earthquake. So long as we know, tsunamis can not be predicted. Despite the fact that Japanese citizens know very well what to do in case of earthquake, the impossibility to set a Tsunami’s early warning is the key point when talking about mitigation and recovery. 

Japan's Tsunami
In Japan social media were used from the very beginning, reaching more than 5,500 tweets per second.  Let’s remember that while the earthquake knocked out electricity supplies and shut down two nuclear power plants, Internet availability remained relatively unaffected, so agencies and citizens, as well as the Government, were able to use social networks to find useful information about what to do in the aftermath of the disaster as well as to connect and search for their loved ones.  Usahidi was also very useful.  

Japan is but one example of how social media has become an essential part of recovering in the aftermath of a disaster. The issue now is how we use social media in the recovery phase of a catastrophe. If we take into consideration that at least a third of the general and online population would expect help to arrive in less than one hour, according to @RedCross survey, it seems to me that PIOs, Governments, Emergency Managers and Agencies should try even harder to come up with their expectations.

Digital volunteers versus virtual operation support team.

Digital volunteers and virtual operation support teams /groups are proving to be a good solution, but as some #smem people say, we should extend this model, since we have the technology and are capable of developing early warning systems. In fact, there are some projects in the European Union, like the Alert4All project, where I give advice as a media expert, which has among their main goals to improve early warning systems in case of emergency. So, as I already said, what is left is our will to use the available technology to enhance recovery in the aftermath of a disaster.

What do you think? Comments are welcome.

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