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The Power of Sharing: Social Media in Disasters

Social media, as we have learned, has become such a huge part of everyday life. It is through multiple social media channels that we are able to build relationships with friends, communities, businesses and brands. This phenomenon has allowed us to satisfy the need to belong, to interact, to share. It is a necessary tool for brands and businesses to use and connect with consumers. While social media has indeed gained popularity in the business and commercial scenes, recent events across the world have proven that this particular medium has more to offer than just connecting people – is a very rich source of information and influence, especially in times of emergencies and disasters.

Last week, Hurricane Sandy swept through the East Coast, devastating New York, New Jersey and Long Island.  News channels and radio stations broadcasted minute-by-minute updates on the super storm’s progress as it intensified throughout the day; however, these were not the only news sources people were glued to. People around the East Coast were posting photos and videos sharing how Sandy was affecting their towns or cities. Facebook and Twitter were flooded with status updates on Sandy’s progress. YouTube housed a lot of videos showcasing Sandy’s “wrath.” Networks around the world were following the super storm as it went state to state via first-hand information from loved ones and friends. But more than just getting up-to-date information on what was going during the hurricane, what was more important was what happened during Sandy’s aftermath. Social media channels were busier than ever before, broadcasting information regarding towns and cities that had increasing floodwater and no electricity, impassable roads and emergency situations. People were calling out for help through these channels, and subscribers did not hesitate to help out by sharing information and reaching out to disaster relief operations. Social media was bridging those in need and those who could respond – a world of millions of helping hands.

The power of social media and information sharing is so great that it really does make a huge difference in connecting people during these disasters. Back in 2009, the Philippines was caught off-guard when, after three days of non-stop monsoon rains, the country’s capital, Manila, was submerged under water. 

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As floodwaters continued rising in different parts of the cities, Filipinos cried for help via social media through their smart phones. Rescue teams were mobilized and sent out to neighborhoods and places that were in dire need of help. With the help of social media where locations of those in need were broadcaster, homeowners were rescued from the rooftops and food and water supplies were distributed to evacuation centers. Filipinos were communicating via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and blogs. These channels were used to report emergency situations, updates on water levels and information on passable roads for rescue teams to take. Moreover, social media was also used to get relief operations going after the rains had stopped. Google maps were used to identify areas that were still in need of rescuing, as well as volunteer centers where donations and relief operations were up and running. The whole country got together and responded quickly to this disaster, showing how powerful the concept of “sharing” is – through social media and getting thousands of Filipinos to give what they had to those in need.

Unfortunately, another series of monsoon rains tested the strength of the Filipino social media community as it left Manila underwater once again in August of this year. Without any time to lose, social media networks busied themselves in passing along important information to government agencies and rescue teams. This time, while the Philippines was not expecting another great flood to happen, the community was well prepared. Relief operations were organized and mobilized smoothly with the help of Twitter hashtags, YouTube “live” reporting and Facebook minute reports.

Until now, different relief operations for Hurricane Sandy are still identifying communities and places that are in need of assistance via social media. These channels are also being utilized to get more communities involved in helping others out whether it be through volunteer work or donations. Moreover, social media is also being used to keep communities posted on these operations’ progress. It just goes to show that social media is such an important tool that can be utilized to respond to disasters that hit different parts of the world. The power of sharing is so immense that it can band people and communities together to respond, act and assist one another in times of difficulty and challenges. 

Check these other articles out: 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/social-media-hurricane-sandy-emergency-planners

http://socialmediaphilippines.com/how-filipinos-communicated-during-typhoon-ondoy/

http://mashable.com/2012/08/07/philippine-floods/#80455Problem-areas

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