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The Use of Social Network Applications in the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Response Efforts

The March/April print and online
editions of PA TIMES featured several articles on the aftermath of the
devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. Contact
Christine McCrehin, [email protected], to find out how to receive the paper. See the Related Articles box for links to read more of the featured articles.

Matthew Lloyd Collins, David Milen

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, 2011), “the Honshu tsunami was generated by a Mw 9.0 earthquake (38.322°N, 142.369°E ), at 05:46 UTC, 130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan.” As of March 22, 2011, the BBC News estimated that the official death toll from the earthquake and tsunami had risen to more than 9,000 while more than 12,645 remained missing. In the Japanese earthquake and tsunami response phase, Social Network applications have been utilized to locate missing citizens. Social Network applications have also assisted in the dissemination of information between Japanese governmental agencies and the citizenry in the aftermath of this catastrophic disaster. To add to the existing public administration and emergency management academic literature on the post-disaster utilization of Social Network applications, elaboration will be made on the Ushahidi Social Network Trends Map, Google Person Finder, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ushahidi Social Network Trends Map
According to the MIT Technology Review (2011), within several hours of the devastating Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami a version of Ushahidi, a web software Social Network application that assists with information dissemination during disasters, had been developed by Japanese computer experts in partnership with the Fletcher School at Tufts University. The Ushahidi Social Network Trends Map consists of a basic web-server that enables disaster victims to upload information using the world-wide-web or cell phone. Information regarding the location of trapped disaster victims and where to find clean drinking water, food, and shelter was shared utilizing this application. Using this application, disaster victims and responding governmental agencies were able to filter reports by category to better understand both spatial as well as temporal trends.

Google Person Finder: 2011 Japan Earthquake
In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Google launched the Google Person Finder. The Google Person finder Social Network application was first utilized during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This application enables disaster victims and their families to search for displaced and / or missing individuals. The Google Person Finder is available in many languages including Japanese, Chinese, and English. The application is designed to be embedded on websites and social network pages. This enables the widest possible dissemination of information regarding the location of disaster victims. A primary conundrum resulting from the chaos subsequent to disasters is that many aid agencies struggle with the coordination of victim location and mortality records. The Google Person Finder Social Network application allows for better collation and record keeping of displaced or missing disaster victims when catastrophe strikes.

Facebook and Twitter
Like the aforementioned Social Network applications, both Facebook and Twitter were used by disaster victims to disseminate information to other disaster victims as well as to communicate with the outside world. Twitter was even used by the Japanese Prime Minister to Tweet messages to the citizenry regarding the disaster. Used in this manner, Twitter is a form of what is commonly referred to as e-government. This innovative type of e-government will gain prevalence in response efforts in subsequent catastrophic disasters as a means of expeditiously disseminating crucial life-saving information from government officials to the citizenry.

It is clear that Social Network applications are playing an increasingly important role in the response phase of emergency management. The Ushahidi Social Network Trends Map, Google Person Finder, Facebook, and Twitter have helped to locate trapped disaster victims, direct disaster victims to clean water, food, and shelter, and expeditiously inform familial members of the post-disaster fate of loved ones. A decade ago many of us would not have been able to envision the manner in which Social Network applications now permeate every aspect of our current daily lives. Today, all of us understand the omnipresence of Social Network applications, but until the pivotal event of a catastrophic disaster strikes many of us are oblivious to the live-saving power of Social Network application information dissemination.

Matthew Lloyd Collins is the Walden University MPA program director. Email: [email protected].

ASPA member David Milen is a professional emergency manager specializing in hospital and healthcare emergency management. Email: [email protected].

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