The Role of Social Media during a Natural Disaster

Nov 18, 13 By Rajashree

Social Media Pulse

natural-disaster-managementMarketingCharts, in January 2013 had reported that on an average an American user spends about 3+ hours every day on social networking sites. While another report released this October by IAMAI and IMRB International stated that the number of social media users in urban India reached 78 million by June 2013. Well there are thousands of such reports and analysis on the usage and statistics of social media. For whatever reasons people use social media two things that don’t change are:

1)    People are very active on social media

2)    Social media generates enormous amount of data

 Making sense of the big data by processing and analyzing them has been one of the biggest revolutions of the century. One such achievement is the role social networking sites plays in society during a crisis. During such times Twitter and other social media networks provide an instant view of conditions on the ground.

Broadly social media is used in 4 ways during a disaster:

  1. Sharing information and spreading awareness.
  2. For relief operations: Eg: building communities, volunteering etc.
  3. For collecting funds
  4. Monitoring and providing insights to the whole situation.

For example, during Hurricane Sandy there were 20m disaster-related tweets in a single week. In December 2012, when typhoon Pablo struck the Philippines, a taskforce was assigned to analyze Twitter activity and map relevant information. They had analyzed 20,000 tweets in about 10 hours; the data collected had later become the basis for the official UN crisis map. When Typhoon Haiyan struck Philippines, a surgeon from Iloilo posted a simple but urgent message on social media asking people to donate so that a medical team could be sent to Tacloban; within 24 hours she received more than 30,000 pounds. According to another report, Twitter usage in Japan shot up to 11,000 tweets per minute on the day of Fukushima quake in April 2011from an average of 3000.

 This shows how social media has changed its significance from being a medium of connecting friends and family to being a lifesaver.

 Case Study on Disaster in Uttarakhand and Social Media

In June 2013 when the Himalayan Tsumani struck Uttarakhand, India; it caused devastating flood and landslides. A number of relief operations began to restore normalcy in the state. One of them was online campaigns on social networking sites which were started to trace information of missing victims. Social media had shown a ray of hope to people who had given up all hopes of finding their dear ones.

People were able to post pictures or search or even provide information of someone they had information about. A Facebook page called “Uttarakhand flood disaster 2013: information, help and relief” is one such example.

The Facebook page, ‘Help Uttrakhand – 2013 floods’ has traced information of 50 people so far, according to the page moderator.

Other Facebook pages include Uttarakhand Disaster, Khoya Paya, etc. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), had also started sending out details of the missing people on emails to government officials and journalists through which tracing of victims became easier.

Another initiative during the disaster was taken by the State government of Uttarakhand when they created a Facebook Page called “Uttarakhand State Govt. Initiative- Operation Connect”, to connect missing people with their loved ones.

Twitter played a big role in finding out information about missing people. There were several hashtags created such as #RebuildUttarakhand, #Uttarakhandhelp, #Kedarnath, #Uttarakhand and #SaluteIndianArmy. People had been actively engaging and spreading awareness all across the world through which many families have been united as well.

rebuild uttarakhand

Google had also made a personalized ‘Person finder’, a portal where people could type the name of the missing person and through the help of Google database it would provide information of the person. Using this portal more than 150 disaster victims have been traced so far. Anyone could provide or receive information which had made it really convenient and helpful.  Press agencies and other non-governmental agencies’ contributions to the data had made it even stronger.

Even YouTube was flooded with the video posts of the disaster. Apart from publishing and broadcasting news, dedicated channels for the flood were also created e.g. FloodedUttrakhand.

Conclusion

Social media has emerged as a new way through which natural or man-made disasters are dealt with. In fact, today social media is being used for almost all activities be it directly or indirectly. It has become a must for every sphere, for brands, for celebs, politicians, everyone! With its proper usage one has been able to create an impact on the society.

And use of social media during a disaster or emergency management is an entirely new outlook.

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About Rajashree

Rajashree Das is the Community Manager at Simplify360. Connect to me on Linkedin at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dasrajashree

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