Social Media Effectiveness in Disaster Response

Social Media Effectiveness in Disaster Response

There are many natural disasters that may face mankind without any warning. Landslides are examples of these natural disasters and they can be very devastating. Primary impacts of landslides are the immediate effects on the property and life. These are the damages caused by the landslide such as deaths, injuries, damage to buildings and structures, bridges, and roads (Schneid & Collins, 2000). Secondary impacts of landslides may include; tidal waves, diseases, and fires. Landslides may destroy electric cables and gas pipes, causing the spread of fires. Diseases and famine are also secondary impacts of landslides. Supply of fresh waters may be cut off, leading to cholera and typhoid. The absence of food and shelter results in human suffering. Landslides also lead to liquefaction of soil. This happens when soils containing high water are shaken violently to lose mechanical strength leading to sinking of buildings and destruction of structures (Oliver, 2011). The major impacts of landslides can be seen on human life and property. Severe landslides cause damage to human structures such as rails, buildings, bridges, roads, dams, and factories. Other general effects of landslides include loss of life, injuries, landslides, fires, flash floods, deformation of earth’s ground surface, and tsunami. With all these effects among many other brought about by natural disasters, social media has chipped in to help providing information on when a natural disaster is anticipated to occur, where it would affect and also on other information. This case study seeks to address on the benefits of social media in curbing the effects of the above identified disasters.

The world has witnessed many developments in the field of social media. As a result it has come to be adopted as a means of providing information before, during and after disasters assisting in minimizing the number of casualties as well as properties (White, 2012). On top of that social media has been used to provide information on the whereabouts of family members providing contentment and the satisfaction of knowing that family members are well, even where their regions may have faced natural disasters. For example, in 2005 not many people knew how to use Facebook, since it had just been made. At this time, one of the biggest hurricanes, which came to be dubbed as Hurricane Katrina came, to ravage the Gulf Coastline of the U.S. During this time, there was no Twitter and many people had not even known how facebook was being used. There were also no iphones in the market or any other android phone in the market. Many people relied on the cable telephones as well as television sets for any information. These sources of information were not that much reliable because the hurricane brought down telephone posts as well as interfered with television signals meaning that people were totally in the dark (Potts, 2014). This is more so in regions which are too much in the interior and somehow inaccessible. This means that rescuers may not have reached to these areas searching for survivors unless there were signals of survived victims in order for them to navigate the area.

However, after people had accepted social media as one of the most effective means of communication nowadays, there was also another disaster that hit this country. This is more so when Hurricane Sandy which ravaged the eastern seaboard. The social media stepped up to be the most relied upon means of communication between friends and families, as well as to the rescuing teams (Potts, 2014). In the areas where signal cells were lost during this disaster, people turned to social media which turned out to be the only form of communication people could turn to. Millions of Americans turned to Facebook and Twitter as a source of information. This was more so to keep track on their friends and families, as well as to notify express support and other authorities.

Therefore, it would be right to say that the days where only official news like Television and newspapers used to provide information on disaster news are long gone. This is because; researchers in matters of nature have started posting data on social media forums. This has also made security experts as well as other lawmakers start assessing how emergency management can be well adapted through social media, as a means of managing disasters. This does not mean that the old forms of responding and managing natural disasters will be thrown out of the window. Instead, this system will be revised to incorporate new data from federal agencies, different researchers and other nonprofit agencies. This is maimed at investigating just how deep the social media has penetrated the United States, so that it could be incorporated in the responsive means to natural disasters.

It is undisputable that social media has become a significant tool in response to disaster. In fact, after Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern Seaboard in the United States, there were more than 20 million Tweeter posts in regard to the same despite the fact there cell service was lost in many regions near where the Hurricane hit (Kingston, 2012). This was according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), on its National preparedness report released in June 2013. On top of that, one the largest utility companies in New Jersey, PSE&G said that it sent so many retweets regarding the hurricane to people all over the United States. This was to an extent where at some point they even exceeding the limit of the tweets they are supposed to send in a day.

Other than hurricane sandy, there are other so many disasters where many Americans have turned to social media as a source of information. Another example would be the Marathon Boston Bombings. During this time, reports indicate that at least a quarter of Americans looked it up on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites for information (Potts, 2014). This is according to The Pew Research Center. These sites also were of significant importance in the same as they helped in forming an information cycle. This was until when the Boston Police Department finally posted that it had “captured” the perpetrators of the Marathon Bombings. On top of that, more than 140,000 people retweeted this post. On top of that, social media has turned out to be of use even in assisting the needy in natural disasters as well as during other form of misfortunes that befall mankind. For instance, there are instances where people have even used simple tools online like Person Finder, or Google documents to offer food and shelter when roads are closed due to natural phenomena.

Social media has been used for many uses when it comes to responding to impeding disaster and even during disasters (Oliver, 2011). Other than contacting friends and relatives, social media has been used to share disaster warnings, disaster information as well as raising funds meant for disaster relief. For instance, before disaster happens, people who do not normally watch news or follow up weather forecast can be notified by their friends on such impeding matters through facebook and other social media sites. A good example is when the weather forecast analysis centers may foresee a hurricane or a storm that may bring disaster. People who do not follow news or even watch weather forecast can be notified by their friends who take such things seriously leading to their safety. In such a scenario, social media would serve as a forum of issuing disaster warnings.

On top of that, social media can be used to provide disaster information. Many are the times that natural disasters find people unprepared. Therefore, if people learnt of the things that would befall them before they happened, loss of life and properties could be controlled. People do not always have to wait until a disaster happens for them to learn that doing a particular thing is wrong and another one is not. Therefore, people can use social media as a forum of sharing information on the means of avoiding disaster (Kingston, 2012). For instance, local jurisdictions can use social media as a forum of educating the people as well as warning them on what to do in disaster management. Looking at landslide as an example, local jurisdictions can restrict human access and property development on hazard disaster-prone zones on their websites, blogs as well as other social media sites (Schneid & Collins, 2000). Local government can also help in the reduction of landslides effects through strict, but necessary the land use regulations and policies.  Local governments can also reduce the risks of natural disasters by educating people from the past hazard history sites. Local jurisdictions can also pass laws that would make sure that any structures erected in their locality would be of the right engineering and planning standards, so that they can withstand the effects of such disasters. This can be done by obtaining services from a professional like; an engineering geologist, geotechnical engineer or civil engineering, who can evaluate the hazard potential of the site, of a building. All of this information could be made available on social media for everyone to access it.

The hazards can also be reduced if local authorities restricted construction on steep slopes, or by stabilizing them. Stabilizing the slopes increases the level of ground water, preventing it from raising the mass of a landslide, by covering it with the impermeable membrane (Schneid & Collins, 2000). Therefore, if the local jurisdictions educated people on the right practices to follow, then effects of natural disasters can be reduced. All of the above restrictions as well as the advantages of following instructions on why not to go against any of the above information can be made available on social media sites.  In fact, it is encouraging to see that in the world, there are governmental agencies who have adopted the use of social media tools in gathering information on the effects of a disaster as well as the locations of trapped victims. However, there are concerns that the public should be taught on how to use social media and its tools during disasters.

This is because, during the tsunami that hit Japan, there were reports of so many requests which were retweeted repeatedly (Kingston, 2012). This was even after victims had been rescued. However, social media proved on the different forums that it can be used during the Haiti earthquake. Social media was used to create awareness in the world as well as implore people to pray for the people of Haiti as well as make donations. The Red Cross society also came in and proved that the social media can be used to make donations to people affected by natural disaster during the earthquake that hit Haiti (Potts, 2014). Many people from all over the world engaged in campaigns for donations towards rebuilding Haiti and save it from the effects of this earth quake. People also used different social media forums to send relief funds to those affected by this disaster. This is including many other that have struck the people after social media has become an essential tool of communication.

However, there are many concerns that social media can also lead to exploitation as well as many other vices, more so when it comes to sending and receiving funds that are meant to be for victims of disaster. A good example is when there was the school shooting that took place in Connecticut in 2012. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed to have arrested a woman who was exploiting funds from the public claiming to have been a close relative of one of the victims through Facebook while in the real sense there was nothing of sort. On top of that, there are many concerns about the social media more so bearing in mind that there are hackers who have embarked on stealing funds raised towards disasters relief among other sensitive forums (White, 2012). This has been brought about by the availability of the internet, leading to one of the most heinous crimes in the world; cyber terrorism. The woman who was using Facebook to exploit money from well wishers is even claimed to have hacked into another person’s account. This has become of the most significant challenges facing IT managers, well wishers looking to give money to victims of disaster as well as mony other forums.

Taking facebook as an example, Facebook has more than one billion worldwide users. It also connects people from all walks of live regardless of their country, origin, race, religion or creed. One Facebook account can connect all the countries in the world within a minute. When people signed up for Facebook, it was a safe site for socialization, sharing and saving data. Well, it is not the case anymore. Many are the times that Facebook user accounts have been compromised. Hackers have accessed personal accounts by implanting debugs and other hacking mechanisms in order to access unauthorized information (Clarke & Knake, 2010). For example, Facebook users in Bangalore had their accounts hacked in November 2011 and their profile pictures replaced. Although this was not proven, other complains have followed from Facebook users up to date. Other than just Facebook, other organizations like twitter, New York Times, Microsoft and NBA among others have also been associated with hacking reports to date

Therefore, based on all the above scenarios, I believe that hacking is the most nagging vulnerability facing IT managers today even in times of disaster response (Clarke, 2011). This is because everyone is connected through social networks and wireless networks among so many cyber services nowadays that facilitate hackers to find connections among different users (Janczewski & Colarik, 2008). In the past, there was a belief that firewalls were hack free, and no one could bypass them to access unauthorized information. Well, they have been proven wrong. Hackers have gone to the extent of introducing viruses that attacks these firewalls, and once they leak the protected information is accessed (Erbschloe, 2001). Others are introducing worms and Trojan horses in order to access whatever information they pleases. To make matters worse, these hackers sometimes access even the most sensitive information and release it to undeserving parties.

Therefore, this point questions the credibility, accuracy and the integrity of the information that we store in our phones and our laptops nowadays, as well as the information one sees on social media, even during the time of disaster (Oliver, 2011).  However, no one can dispute that in as much social media may have devastating effects, it has become of the best forums of communication more so if the information in it is from a credible source. A good example would be how the social media the social media has been used in the last two month during the search for the missing Malaysian flight. Government officials in Malaysian have been using social media forums as well as other forums to notify the families of the affected as well as the whole world on the efforts of their search. It also used this forum to ask the world to support them in prayers as well as in consoling the kin of the perished passengers.














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Janczewski, L., & Colarik, A. M. (2008). Cyber warfare and cyber terrorism. Hershey: Information Science Reference.

Kingston, J. (2012). Natural disaster and nuclear crisis in Japan: Response and recovery after Japan’s 3/11. London: Routledge.

Oliver, C. (2011). Catastrophic disaster planning and response. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Potts, L. (2014). Social media in disaster response: How experience architects can build for participation.

Schneid, T. D., & Collins, L. R. (2000). Disaster management and preparedness. Boca Raton, Fla: Lewis Publishers.

White, C. M. (2012). Social media, crisis communication, and emergency management: Leveraging Web 2.0 technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.