On March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake – the fourth largest in the world since 1900 – proceeded by a massive tsunami. Reports indicate that at least 550,000 people have been displaced, and at least 10,000 have lost their lives. In the hours and days following these disasters, individuals and organizations have utilized the Internet as a “virtual crisis center,” using websites particularly social networking sites, to share information and locate friends and family members.
According to Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research, “Social communications, like Twitter, and social networking sites, like Facebook, are at their best when big news is breaking.” As seen following the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, humanitarian aid organizations have used social networking websites to solicit donations. Individuals have also used the sites to share information about their experiences on the ground and reconnect with friends and family members. Online Social Media, an organization which tracks social media services, reported that just an hour after the earthquake hit Japan, Twitter was experiencing 1,200 tweets per minute, many of them containing hashtags related to the tragedy. Facebook was similarly flooded with posts, which students in the U.S. and Japan are working together to use to paint a picture of the extent of the tragedy.
Large corporations have also created portals to help individuals locate loved ones and provide information about where to obtain medical assistance, food, potable water, and shelter. Google’s Person Finder database, available in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, and Portuguese allows users to enter a name and search for missing persons or post updates about people who they know are safe. A local version of the crisis-mapping tool, Ushahidi, has also been created and put in place. Ushahidi allows individuals in Japan to text or input online the locations of trapped people or clinic locations which are then plotted on a map so that users can easily pinpoint where people may be trapped, dangerous areas that should be avoided, and locations where food and clean water can be obtained.
Patrick Meier, director of crisis mapping and new media at Ushahidi, notes that “Ten percent of this [sharing of information] is the technology, and the other 90 percent is the people…That’s truer and truer as the technology gets easier to use.” As technology use and adoption becomes more widespread, the use of technology during the rescue and recovery period is likely to increase. By utilizing existing information and communication technologies and developing new ones, outcomes following natural disasters can be improved.
Mobile applications that can prepare you for or provide assistance in a disaster situation:
- American Red Cross: Shelter View (iPhone – Free)
- Disaster Readiness (iPhone – $0.99)
- Disaster Readiness (Android – $1.99)
- Pocket First Aid & CPR (iPhone – $3.99)
- Pocket First Aid & CPR (Android – $2.99)
- Emergency Radio (iPhone – $0.99)
- Scanner Radio Pro (Android – $2.99)