Why the emergency should be twitted

This article came to my mind after reading the post Why the emergency will not be twitted. Even though I can accept to a certain extend that data Collection should improve greatly so as to be a reliable channel of information for first responders during an emergency, I am a wholeheartedly advocate of using social media in emergencies. 

Why? Not only because they have proved to save lives (a single life may be worth the effort) but also because social media are here to stay and, as I wrote in some other posts in this blog, social media constitute ways to reach the population in emergencies and to find lost people, as we have seen so recently in Philippines. Therefore, they should be improved to enhanced emergency management, as it is been done since they started till nowadays.

The technology gap

Despite the technology gap, there are ways for people who do not have access to those means, even if internet is still expensive for them. It depends on whether there is a journalist, a humanitarian agency or any one “armed” with a smartphone or a device capable of sharing information using social media in the area. Nevertheless, even if their emergency is not tweeted “live”, there are still reasons to use social media.

If we think of Haiti and the way American Red Cross used social media for fundraising, that is to  me a good reason for using social media in the aftermath of a disaster.

“ In less than 48 hours after launching its first-ever mobile-giving campaign (Text HAITI to 90999), the American Red Cross’s plea for donations was re-Tweeted 2.3 million times. The campaign raised more than $32 million. Forty-two percent of those donors were under age 34”, as explained here

Of course it is still true that Internet not only is not free, neither cheap, and there is a possibility that it will never arrive to all places in the world, but  the advantages highly surpasses the disadvantages. Not to add that internet, when available, is a means to mitigate disaster response, as some communities are doing. Think of Chistchurch, Joplin or the last big catastrophe you have in mind. Sure you will find examples of social media being useful. 

Social media, one more tool in the toolbox

It is true that people rely most on the radio to get information when a disaster strikes, but it is also a fact that people use internet and social media to do so. What is more, if we have a look to the 2012 American Red Cross survey, people expect to be informed and be helped after using social media in case of disaster.

So, social media is one more tool in the toolbox, with its advantages and drawbacks, as any other tool. 
Does anyone think that the radio, tv or traditional media are perfect channels? As a journalist, I like traditional media, especially because I trust the information obtained by realiable and trusted sources and, basically, I can take for granted that information delivered in traditional media is still accurate and truthful. But we all know that communication here flows in one single direction.

We can not hear what the witness and people directly affected by a disaster can add to the story. Neither can we know what they need or where exactly they are, in case they are under debris after an earthquake, as it happened in Turkey in Ocotober 2011.


It’s been proved that internet is much more reliable than land and mobile lines, as we have seen during Japan's earthquake and tsunami. Let’s not forget that “Social media was used to perform vital relief functions such as safety identification, displaced-persons locating, damage information provision, support for disabled individuals, volunteer organization, fund-raising, and moral support systems” after the tsunami and earthquake, as explained here, despite the fact that the Japan’s Prime Minister opened its personal Twitter account (@JPN_PMO) on March 16th, when the tsunami struck, and it reached more than 100.000 followers soon after.

Let’s remember that the Japan’s Government didn’t have a Twitter account in those days and opened it immediately.  Not to mention what a great effort they did with Google Person Finder.

The human contact

We all could agree to the fact that human contact is fundamental in a disasters situation and, as human beings we all can feel comforted by a hand on our shoulder assuring that everything will be all right after a disaster strikes. Contact eye, a supporting hand and the warm of human company is important, no need to insist on this.

Nevertheless, what it is most important to anyone in a disaster situation are two things: getting the right means (including information) to survive and to know that our loved ones are Ok, as well as letting them know that we are safe. Both means can and are achieved through social media, as people expect, according to the American Red Cross survey mentioned above. Facebook is a clear example, as I explained here, and you can see also here.

Bird covered in petrol after Gulf's oil spill 2010 (

Psychological impact

Another issue that  is the use of grief made by traditional media, who” will often show repeated negative images: People who are dying or in distress, lacking food and water,  animals that have been abandoned, hurt, or covered in oil ,Lndscapes, such as collapsed buildings, flooded homes, or oil floating on top of water”, as explained in chapter II of  this document .

Social media are horizontal, if we need help we can ask for them directly, expressing plainly what we need (food, shelter, information) with no need to victimize ourselves or others, as well as giving information that may be helpful to first responders and humanitarian agencies.

To sum up, social media had become an integral part of disaster response whose importance, for many reasons, is undeniable to me.

If you are still not convinced, you may have a look to this article about a baby being rescued in Australia with the help of Twitter Alerts.

What do you think?

No hay comentarios: