The Role of Social Media in Future Disasters

Last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan left phones clogged as loved ones tried to check on the well-being of friends and family affected by the disaster. One of the only reliable modes of communication was through social sites, such as Facebook. To that end, Facebook has developed a Disaster Message Board that it is now in the testing phase in Japan. The feature, which appears on a user’s page when there is an emergency in the area, allows for the clicking of an “I’m Safe” button, thereby notifying friends and family that they are okay.

The Disaster Message Board, which will be available in other areas if disaster strikes, also allows users to comment or mark others as being safe — an ideal feature for those who don’t have Internet access during a crisis.

Google, on the other hand, released  “Person Finder” within two hours of the Japan disaster, as well as creating a Crisis Response page to help gather donations for the victims of the 3/11 tragedy. Google also worked with other companies to create services that were geared toward helping those involved in the tragedy.

On another front, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding the CLIQR Quest Challenge, which asks participants to use social media tools to locate critical resources that emergency responders will need in the instance of a disaster. Rather than physically finding the critical resources, which are in the shape of a QR code, participants are asked to use social medial to find the codes. The first team, or person, to find and submit all the codes wins $40,000. The contest is an effort by DARPA to try and better understand how social media sites and tools can be used to find crucial supplies when responding to a crisis. The contest began on February 23 and runs through March 8.

For more information about social media use during a disaster and the DARPA contest, visit: