The social media networks: A valuable tool during times of crisis.


If you are a human being, then by now you have heard of the utter chaos and destruction that has befallen on the country of Japan.  On Friday, a massive 8.9 earthquake hit off the coast of Sendai.  [this has since been updated to a 9.1 earthquake as of this afternoon] For those of you wondering where exactly that is:

Map of Japan with Sendai highlighted.

From what the news reports have been saying, this is the 4th most powerful just behind the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, to have ever been recorded and certainly one of the more fatal ones.  The earthquake seemed to have lasted more than 4 minutes with many frequent aftershocks.  (There was also a 6.6 earthquake reported this morning in Nagano.)

To make matters worse, since the earthquakes occurred so closely off the coast of Japan, there wasn’t much time for locals to react to the ensuing Tsunami’s which were triggered immediately after the quake.  23 ft. walls slammed into the northeastern coast wreaking havoc.

According to CNN, “At least 184 people have been killed, 722 have been injured and 530 are missing after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on Friday, according to the official count by Japan’s National Police. Between 200 and 300 bodies have been found in the coastal city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture following the subsequent tsunami that struck that area.”

Hawaii was also hit last night by Tsunami waves ranging from 1-5 ft in height around 3am HST but thankfully no lives or injuries were reported. Mostly flooding and damage.

It is during times like these that social media has proven itself to be a invaluable tool.  Imagine if these events were to have occurred just a few years prior to the social media revolution.  Things such as information sharing, communication, emergency response time among other things would have greatly been lacking and at a disadvantage.

Here are the benefits of social media that I’ve witnessed over the last 24 hours during this tragedy.

  • Information gathering/Sharing. News agencies such as CNN, NHK and TBS all featured and had access to user submitted videos on YouTube and user photos submitted through various social networks to display the power and damage of the quake and tsunami in the different areas of Japan.  Something that would be impossible to accomplish as a stand-alone news entity.
  • Speed of information. Due to the immense users on the social networks, news of the quake and tsunami traveled fast.  My guess is that there are some people around the world who were more informed and knew about the events before some of their own local news agencies did…all because they were “online” when things went “viral.”
  • Overcoming down phone lines. I happened to be at a dinner last night with a few friends native to Japan.  The phone lines were out when they tried calling their families (from what I hear AT&T service was in & out last night and part of today) but they benefited from social media.  They weren’t able to call anyone but they were able to contact loved ones via email and Twitter.  It may not give the same type of security as hearing someone’s voice but it’s better than not hearing from them at all.  The social media networks proved to be a reliable secondary alternative to downed phone lines.
  • Facebook status updates. Through the chaos and downed phone lines many people couldn’t connect with others in Japan or even here locally.  But they were on Facebook updating their statuses and informing others of their health and safety.
  • First-person point-of-view. One gal, @StarletShay was live streaming from her apartment in Tokyo answering any questions that she could via the chat feature based on the local news.  You could actually see the shaking of her Tokyo apartment live from the aftershocks.  This was also another means of letting her family here in Hawaii know that she was alright.  She wasn’t the only one however, live streams from news reporters and others were ever present on the web covering the situation.
  • Safety. Here in Hawaii we went from Tsunami watch to warning in less than a few hours.  If you weren’t near a TV or radio, you wouldn’t know what’s going on.  But if you were with your smartphone in hand and your social networks handy, you knew.  In fact, I was out at dinner last night when I was checking on someone’s Tweet when I read about the Japan quake and tsunami warning that we had.  As I arrived home I flicked on the news but I gained more knowledge (Tsunami warning zone, Hawaii Pacific Tsunami Warning Center updates, Tsunami preparedness tips, etc.) reading up on Facebook & Twitter.  I also was able to get questions answered instantaneously, either directly or indirectly.
  • The search for loved ones. Less than 24-hours after the events in Japan, Google set up a Person finder website.  Once it went live, the site went viral on the the social networks with speed and critical mass.  Extremely useful tool for those looking out for loved ones.
  • Mobilization. You’ve seen the events unfold online and on TV.  You know you want to help in any way you can.  If you’re not sure how you’ll find out.  I’ve noticed after many types of crisis’s, the Red Cross and related agencies are great at mobilizing a communications campaign that not only includes traditional means but social media.  Good Samaritans take care of the rest by passing the word along.  Those with star power help the cause with their many followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook.

Actor Jimmy Fallon has 3,283,485 followers on Twitter.

The evolution of the internet and how we share information today makes me realize how fortunate we are when disaster strikes.  Sure, no one wants to go through things like this but there is no controlling mother nature.  So it’s better to be prepared, informed and proactive about how we handle the situation rather than sitting in the dark which we literally did only a few years ago.  There was this time when we had a hurricane here in the islands…..maybe you remember Hurricane Iniki (1992)?  I sure do.  In my neighborhood, we had no power or water…we were a few years from the internet and any smart phone let alone the mass production of cell phones.  If not for our battery operated transistor radio, we were cut off from the rest of the world.  Can you imagine that same feeling now during a time like this?

Houses swallowed by tsunami waves brun in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture (state) after Japan was struck by a strong earthquake off its northeaster coast Friday, March 11. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)

Workers inspect a caved-in section of a prefectural road in Satte, Saitama Prefecture, after one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in Japan slammed its eastern coast March 11. (Saitama Shimbun/Associated Press/Kyodo News) #

Houses are swept by a tsunami in Natori City in northeastern Japan March 11, 2011. A massive 8.9 magnitude quake hit northeast Japan on Friday, causing many injuries, fires and a ten-metre (33-ft) tsunami along parts of the country's coastline. There were several strong aftershocks and a warning of a 10-metre tsunami following the quake, which also caused buildings to shake violently in the capital Tokyo. (Reuters) #

More of these surreal images can be viewed at The Big Picture.

Please get involved.  To donate to the Japan Earthquake & Tsunami fund, you can do it a few different ways.

  1. Text REDCROSS to 9099 to give $10 automatically to your phone bill which will in turn pass the money over to the Red Cross.
  2. Click here to go to the Red Cross website where you can use your credit card to donate any amount over $10.00.
  3. Or you can donate to Global Giving by going here.
  4. Donations are also being accepted by AmeriCares.
  5. Japanese native speakers can check out Medicines sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders).

[UPDATE: More ways to help can be found by clicking here]







2 responses to this post.

  1. You should add this link to your post. It’ll leave your readers speechless.


  2. […] have reviewed it, menu, etc. Same goes with a current event topic.  Last week I blogged about how social media is a Godsend for the Japanese during their times of crisis.  This was a valid positioning but in […]


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