This article was submitted by Abhinav Walia (a PhD student in the Department of Architecture), and his wife, Anindita Sinha (an independent consultant in Disaster Risk Management).
The impact and number of disasters have been increasing drastically across the world, and there are many recent examples of major disasters that demonstrate the need for a communication tool to manage them efficiently. Globally, many countries are at high risk for disasters, with different types of vulnerabilities. During any disaster situation, it is challenging to manage communication in all its aspects.
A few decades ago, it was extremely difficult to communicate updates during any disaster situation, either among governments, communities, or relief agencies. Through advances in information technology, we are now able to effectively communicate during any disaster situation. Social media tools provide us the opportunity to easily communicate via various modes of communication.
Social media enables people to share information in the form of voice, pictures and videos. Nowadays, a majority of people use social media to communicate and for daily updates. With the decreasing cost of gadgets, and simpler financing processes, a poor person can also easily afford a computer, tablet or cell phone which provides an opportunity to use social media applications (ie. Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, etc.).
According to a Pew Research Center Study, Facebook is the most recognisable news centre among many other social media platforms. Therefore, it is no surprise that social media has a strong and growing influence on the emergency management domain. In the field of emergencies, online networking (blogs, messaging, wikis, etc.) are utilized as part of various courses tuning into open debate, monitoring situations, extending emergency response and management, crowd sourcing and cooperative development, fostering causes through charitable donations, and improving research.
During any disaster event, people look to social media as their initial source of information. With that realisation, disaster relief organisations now have a prominent presence on social media. Facebook supports various crisis-related organisations, including Information System for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM),The Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Project, as well as a number of universities working on disaster management-related projects.
Presently, Facebook is considered the speediest method of correspondence to spread information to a high number of individuals in the shortest time period. Uploaded photos and videos give real-time glimpses into the situation. This tool has changed the whole field of disaster communications.
In recent years, the utilisation of web-based social networking has expanded considerably into emergency and disaster management. Online networking sites are a way to successfully scatter data rapidly among a high number of people. These instruments can be utilised by government and aid organisations to improve preparedness, response and recovery efforts (by sending alerts and warnings) and also monitor public interaction.
In the current era, communication has been redefined by social media. It is now easy to connect to any part of the world in a few seconds. Social media has proven to be an effective tool for gathering and disseminating information during times of disaster and emergency situations.