Category Archives: emergency

Using Web 2.0 tools for instant information: Murderers, earthquakes, and snow — oh, my!

An article on Mashable notes four innovative uses for Google Wave. One such interesting use was a manhunt for a Washington state man who was suspected of shooting four police officers. When The Seattle Times opened up a public wave to exchange information about the state-wide search:

“The Wave received photos of the suspect, sightings, a description of what was believed to be his vehicle, evidence, and updates from the police radio. The Times also set up a Google Map with place markers for important events and locations in the manhunt.”

Now that’s a pretty cool way of using these new Interwebby tools for the greater good, eh? One wave participant, Brianwpost, commented that the instant exchange of information “makes Twitter look slow.”

While I’m not sure I’d agree that Google Wave should overtake Twitter, as they both have their well-intended uses, I do think it was a creative way to use Wave in a beneficial new way…Talk about collaboration.

Twitter has also been used for such instant information exchange, as we’ve already seen countless times. Take this morning, for example, when I looked out my window and saw my first London snow. I, of course, tweeted it out and then searched for other mentions of my post code, whereby I then saw that the #uksnow hashtag was in use — apparently resurrected from last year. Within moments, there was a flurry (pun intended) of snow notes coming in from across the country. One tweeter, Chris_Titley, observed, “Iwent to the toilet and came back to 1547 tweets on #uksnow .. I wonder if it is snowing,” as the hashtag instantly zoomed up to the top of the trending topic list.

The immediacy of sharing is the coolest part of these new tools, in my opinion, and can be used not only in manhunts or in weather reports, but in the event of disasters such as earthquakes. According to a BBC article this morning, the US Geological Society (USGS) is searching and filtering tweets “to get instant public reaction to earthquakes.” Using tweets of those in a particular region (as such tweets spike following a quake), they are able to quickly gauge the severity of the event.

Dig this:

“It is a speed versus accuracy issue,” explained Dr Paul Earle. “Twitter messages start coming out in the seconds after an earthquake whereas, depending of the region, scientifically derived information can take 2-20 minutes,” he told BBC News.

Seriously cool. I’ve seen this in action myself. Last May, my boss’s daughter was on a volunteer trip to Costa Rica when an earthquake hit the very area in which she was situated. By culling Twitter tweets and using sites like CNN’s iReport (and using my Spanish language skills to translate the “terremoto” tweets), we were able to not only get a handle on the severity of the quake, but to also obtain emergency phone numbers long before they were published on traditional Web sites. (As a p.s. to the story, I’m pleased to report that the daughter was fine and had been outside of the badly-hit village.)

Folks always note how much information is constantly and continuously being pushed at us in this new age. That may be true, but we have the ability to sift and filter and even tune off, should we wish. However, we can rest assured that when we need the information instantly, there are sure to be tweets and waves out there to satiate our instant information appetites.

…and heck…Just imagine if London could have created a public wave during the time of Jack the Ripper, eh?

Social media use in tragedies

As I write this post, I’m re-watching Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” which if you’ve not yet seen it, I highly encourage it. It’s extremely powerful, though incredibly hard to watch at times.

I remember when Hurricane Katrina happened, and I remember surfing the online news to see what new information we could get. It seemed with each day, with each hour, it was unraveling into a horrific situation that should never have occurred in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I’ll hold off on my social commentary for now, however.

It was during this event that I first learned the importance of what we now term social media during a crisis. I was, of course, looking for information on the standard news sites like CNN, MSNBC, etc., F5-ing constantly to see if there were anything new posted.  I then found something more informative and personal: the blog updates from an employee of the Internet domain name service, DirectNic (who have, since 2004, hosted my own personal Web site).

DirectNic was headed out of New Orleans and some of its employees had stayed behind to ensure the data center would remain functional. Michael Barnett was using his blog (through Live Journal) to let his friends know he was okay. However, his blog turned into much more than online notes to his friends and family. His updates were read across the nation, particularly after the site link was posted on Fark. He had more information, it sometimes seemed, than the media and was sharing it openly with the rest of the breath-holding nation.

We’ve seen plenty of examples of this in tragedies that affect our hearts and our health. One twitpic image tweeted by Janis Krums moments after Capt. Sullenberger heroically landed the USAirways flight in the Hudson was circulated across the globe in a flash. A few years earlier, we had the tragic events of September 11. This was PT (pre-Twitter), where nearly everyone communicated simply through e-mail, and blogs were more related to the geek set. I recall, for example, a friend sending out periodic group e-mails to all of us, as we desperately awaited her next communication.

Let’s fast-forward back to the present. We can now track hurricanes through iPhone apps, weather-related Twitter streams, sites tailored for mobile browsers and, of course, plain ol’ Web sites. I suspect that if Hurricane Bill had turned out to be anything greater than a Category 1 storm, we’d be looking for information from our neighbors – the everyman who’s actually experiencing the event – rather than the media. CNN’s iReport.com is set up for that, but breaking news will likely come from our Twitter and blogger friends. Perhaps we just leave the hourly updates to the traditional media channels. (Aside: The folks at Mashable gathered a great Hurricane Bill list together last week.)

At my own company, there’s a specific, multi-faceted disaster plan in place that is constantly reviewed and updated as needed. One component of it is an employee-only (i.e. private) Twitter stream that we can use to tweet out instructions or updates in the event of an emergency.

As a side note…Yet another thing I’m particularly proud of with Premier was the quick response by staff during Katrina (although I wasn’t employed there at the time). Member hospitals unaffected by the storm volunteered supplies and medical employees and, in fact, clinical staff from Premier went down to help as needed. Another VP was instrumental in orchestrating suppliers to transporting desperately needed items to the area, even speaking on two phones at once to quickly get the information passed. That quick, innovative response was what was needed. It raises my eyebrow that it was arranged by private organizations, rather than the federal government, though.