The Top 4 Ways Social Media Can Help in a Disaster

Kira KirkEducational

When disasters occur, we all want to help.

Since Echosec’s expertise is in social media search and discovery, we thought we would share some actions our clients take in a disaster response scenario, when a global event occurs.

Nepal graphic

Echosec being used during the Gorkha earthquake – Nepal April 25, 2015

We hope you never find yourself or a loved one caught up in a disaster. In an effort to hope for the best and plan for the worst, we’ve compiled a list of the top 4 ways social media monitoring can help you to understand and respond to a man-made or natural disaster:

1. Be the first to know

Time is of the essence. The sooner you know the better. The social media response to an event can actually travel faster than the event itself and as a result can be an invaluable method for detecting and coordinating a response.

This one is best explained by this xkcd comic:

As every minute wasted is an opportunity to save lives, by watching social media for dramatic events first-responders and foreign aid organizations can react with speed and timeliness to maximize effectiveness.

2. Understand the Local Environment

The ‘present’ or ‘recent’ state of the world is well documented through social media and we can take advantage of this in a disaster.

Once something unimaginable happens, external organizations looking to provide aid must understand where to focus and deploy resources. Using social media to understand what was located in a region could easily make the difference between an efficient response or a sluggish one.

Applications that are based on geographic check-ins, like Foursquare, are a great way for first responders to check where things are (or were) in the area. Key resources like hospitals, grocery and drug stores, restaurants (for canned goods) and emergency services (fire departments, ambulance, police stations) are a few of the places that come to mind.

3. See where the problems are

Social media is a fantastic resource for mapping out the actual effect of the disaster region. As people post from each location, it provides an easily readable, virtual map for emergency crews to read and evaluate. Eventually, you can piece together a ground-level picture of the affected area and plan your response to what is actually going on in the area.

4. See where people aren’t posting from

Sometimes, the most telling posts are the ones that aren’t there. A true social media ‘dark spot’ or social media ‘black hole,’ is so rare that if you find one its probably for a reason. This is especially true of large, populated areas.

If you search over an area with a date-range before the disaster and compare the results with afterward, a noticeable drop in posts can confirm the impact of the damage in that area. It a highly connected world, a lack of social posts likely indicates interference with infrastructure.

As we mentioned, we hope you never need to use it, but it could be useful one day.

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This post was Adapted from – Kira Kirk’s 5 Ways to use Social Media in a Disaster April 29, 2015
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