The short history of social media has shown it very adept at covering disasters. Since social media became popular, whenever a disaster occurs you can be sure someone will be close by, smart phone in hand, mobile data (or Wi-fi) on ready to provide breaking news footage. Because of this new broadcast phenomenon, we now know exactly what it looks like to be swept up in a tsunami, escape a terrorist attack, live through an earthquake and drive through a burning city.
Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have been used for everything from fundraising to reaching people who are trapped, from communicating with rescue workers and the power company, to letting family members know that their loved ones are safe and sound. Social media has helped people in ways traditional resources couldn’t.
The Boston Marathon bombings is a good example of the role social media plays in the disaster response. Majority of the population accessed Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for information about the bombings. When the Boston Police Department posted its final “CAPTURED!” tweet, more than 120,000 people retweeted it.
Another example that hits more closely to home is the Fort McMurray wildfire. “For many fleeing the Fort McMurray flames social media became their communication lifeline. Status updates, accompanied by photos and videos told the world what was happening (Edmonton Sun, 2016).” Instead of being glued to the TV everyone was glued to their phones, constantly refreshing their news feeds waiting for the fire chief to give an update.
The fact that I could stay in Edmonton and see what was happening in Fort McMurray is a testament to how important social media is today. We can now see almost everything happening in the world in real time and I think this softens us a bit. When we can see, these things and see that they are affecting real human beings it makes it harder to ignore. It’s no longer just something happening over there somewhere.
Social media has come to play a major role in disaster response. It has become an efficient way of sharing information between disaster relief and government organizations and citizens during times of emergencies.