|Social networks vital in crises|
Friday, 18 March 2011 10:46
The Internet and communication technologies are proving to be invaluable resources in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
From social networking to telepresence, a number of big players are offering their services to aid the recovery process.
Tata Communications, together with Westin Tokyo, will provide free telepresence for the Japanese community affected by the disaster.
“Consumers and businesses with a critical face-to-face communication need will have free-of-charge access to the high-definition video conferencing room in order to stay connected to friends, family or business counterparts across the globe,” said a Tata Communications' statement.
The company's telepresence room in Tokyo is connected to a global network of 33 public rooms, located within 17 different countries. Customers can book one-hour sessions at a time.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is also pitching in by dispatching emergency telecommunications equipment to severely affected areas. Seventy-eight Thuraya satellite phones, equipped with GPS, have been dispatched to facilitate search and rescue efforts, along with 13 Iridium satellite phones and 37 Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network terminals.
According to the ITU, the equipment can be charged by car batteries and is also supplied with solar panels to enable operations during power outages.
ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré says: “I hope the deployment of emergency telecommunications equipment will assist the government of Japan in search and rescue operations and re-establish vital communication links.”
Re-establishing communications is a critical tool, particularly in the immediate aftermath of disasters, to ensure timely intervention and support for the victims and to assist in rescue and rehabilitation efforts.
Within an hour of the first reports of the earthquake, Google launched Person Finder, an online tool that allows users to search for people, or provide information about someone who may be missing as a result of the earthquake in Japan.
Person Finder has been used in previous disasters such as the Haiti and Christchurch quakes. The service acts as a central database that individuals, governments and aid agencies can tap to find people and gather information.
A dedicated Google Crisis Response page has also been set up and contains a number of resources associated with the Japan disaster – including warning mechanisms, easy donation links, useful maps and latest news.
Value of real-time
While social media can be used to find loved ones, it has also been proven as a highly-effective means to gain situational awareness. FireTracker2 reported via Twitter that the Country of Maui, on Facebook, saw a 700% increase in fans as citizens sought information, while waiting for the tsunami to reach their shores.
Tweets that were tagged "#prayforjapan" and "#tsunami" became top trending topics almost immediately on Twitter.
Before the end of the day last Friday, nearly $7 000 had already been donated to the Red Cross through Facebook's fundraising application Causes, which is reported to have about 150 million users.
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