2013, year of natural calamities: How social media boosted disaster management

Friday, 20 December 2013 - 11:39am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

As floods ravaged Uttarakhand in June this year and governments struggled to evacuate victims and save lives, NGOs and citizens mobilised social media to create awareness, mobilise funds, locate loved ones and distribute official data.

Many organisations dispatched teams to Uttarakhand to assess the crisis and provide live updates using social media. Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), one of the principal ones to do this, had a team on-field sending emails to government officials and journalists with details.

CAIT used its Facebook page to flash up-to-date information that would help families who were looking for lost members. Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of CIAT, says, “We had updated pictures and emergency numbers to disseminate information that could help victims as our team continuously provided information from the disaster struck areas.”

Other pages such as MediaHelp’ and ‘Uttarakhand Disaster, Khoya Paya’ gave out timely updates and pictures to connect families and victims.

Even Google entered the Fray with ‘Google Crisis Map’ and ‘Google person finder’ which focused on places affected, closed roads, and relief and medical centres.

Many like Alok Bhatt of ‘Nature Connect Outdoors’ came forward to help after checking out Twitter.

Cyclone Phailin that hit Orissa in October saw a similar proactive use of social media for disaster management. Initially, many hashtags were doing the rounds, but blogger Bhawana Upadhyaya started trending the hashtag #Phailin to facilitate better collation and development of a crisis map.

Doing the rounds much before the cyclone hit, hashtag #Phailin helped create awareness about the impending disaster.

Explaining the changing dynamics of social media and crisis management, Vidyut Kale, who hosts the website aamjanata.com says, “We found that people wanted details of what was going on and how they could contribute to help the affected families. We hosted a searchable database of survivors and casualties, along with when and where they had been recorded based on the survivor lists put out by the government.”

Sarika Gulati, a photographer who visits disaster-struck areas to collate data, says, “ Over the years, I have been to several disaster struck areas in India [Orissa, Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Assam and Sikkim] and South East Asia. Social media is a great medium to be inclusive and proactive.”

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