New Media and Post-Disaster Communications

Whether it’s an earthquake, hurricane or terrorist attack, communicating in the wake of a major disaster can be a serious problem as the breakdown of communications and infrastructure often adds to the devastation and loss of life. After the powerful earthquake that hit Haiti late Tuesday, what’s striking is that mobile communications and social networks are playing an immediate and important role in the disaster recovery efforts. An article in the Seattle Times notes that more than a million Haitians rely on the mobile phone service Voilà   for communications which is provided by Bellevue-based Trilogy International Partners. Members of the Trilogy/Voilà   crisis task force were one of the first aircraft to land at the Port-au-Prince airport yesterday morning to assist on-the-ground efforts. A number of organizations are also using Skype as a key tool for phone communications in the earthquake-disrupted area. Meanwhile a number of informational and relief efforts have sprung up on social networking sites. On Facebook an informational page Earthquake Haiti has been created to allow people to share relevant information to help find family members in Haiti and provide guidance on donating to legitimate relief organizations. It already has more than 90,000 members. The American Red Cross is posting Haiti updates to  both Facebook and Twitter  to spread information about donating to relief efforts by texting “Haiti† to 90999. On Twitter “Help Haiti†, or #Haiti, are among the most popular trending topics and are providing an important space where people can tweet calls to support various relief efforts. Twitpic  and Flickr have also become main venues for sharing photographs from Haiti, according to media reports. The business oriented networking site LinkedIn already has at least one group set up for Haiti earthquake disaster relief efforts. And a word-press powered blog Haitifeed is providing first-hand accounts as well as worldwide status reports on the earthquake. There are many more examples, but what is clear is that post-disaster recovery efforts have taken on a new meaning in the new media age.

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