“Cyclone #Hudhud 720 km southeast of Vizag; expected to cross #Vizag forenoon Sunday; expect winds in next 24 hours; travelers be forewarned”, said a tweet from @umasudhir, a senior journalist from NDTV as Cyclone Hudhud pounded India’s eastern seaboard leaving widespread damage in the coastal states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
The devastating cyclone had ceased the lines of communication.The only surviving medium to connect and inform was the social media. And social media turned out to be a powerful tool for disaster communication, one more time.
Timely, interactive communication and user-generated credible content are hallmarks of social media. Social media has evolved with time, from just being an information sharing platform to playing a more dominant role in keeping people connected during disasters. People knowingly or unknowingly have transformed social media from being a mere platform for personal use or business use into an effective vehicle for disaster communication.
Government, individuals, rescue agencies, NGOs and relief organisations effectively used social media during Cyclone Hudhud to connect immediately with the rest of the world. They used every possible platform of social media – Facebook, Photo/Video Sharing and Podcasting, Flicker, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs and Twitter to post information, storm updates, emergency shelter locations, road closing, storm surge maps, emergency responders, photos of local flooding.In short, people provided valuable information through social media to help them deal with disasters and their aftermath.
I was particularly impressed with how the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Shri N. Chandrababu Naidu used Twitter to communicate during Cyclone Hudhud. He was tweeting constant updates on progress of the cyclone, shelter locations, relief efforts, etc. Through his tweets, the Chief Minister encouraged people to donate and volunteer for relief efforts. In an attempt to demonstrate his hands-on leadership and credibility,his tweets also informed people about his government’s relief measures and actions.
Andhra Pradesh Government also used social media to involve citizens in disaster management. With the help of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NSRC) the AP government launched an Android app for a crowdsourcing project. #HudhudAP pictures submitted by the people on social media were collected and were used for geo-tagging locations to spot the damage and navigate areas that are in the greatest need for assistance.
Social media was giving us live updates as the cyclone unfolded its fury on Visakhapatnam and surrounding coastal regions. These live updates helped extensively in connecting up with relief efforts by Government as well as with NGOs on ground. Save The Children, an international NGO,had its team stationed at Visakhapatnam for disaster management and relief efforts.The team effectively used social networking sites to help coordinate and facilitate disaster relief efforts. The team from Save the Children was posting regular updates on the progress of the cyclone, helpline numbers, relief material required, and contact numbers of people coordinating relief and rescue in different parts of the region.
Despite the challenges posed by such a devastating cyclone, courageous journalists (including women journalists like Uma Sudhir) continued to transmit timely, reliable and accurate information not only to their audiences, but also to the official administrative sources, state disaster management, relief and rehabilitation departments, local NGOs and local community leaders. Journalists covering the cyclone used Twitter and Facebook to provide the vital information resource. They were constantly relaying critical information to and from affected parties, tweeting about the situation on ground, areas and people affected. They also posted pictures and videos on social media to highlight the relief and rehabilitation work.
Locals in the region were uploading pictures and posting videos taken from their smartphones on to YouTube. Friends and family of people living in the region could get live updates on the safety of their loved ones, and it was all in real time. Cyclone Hudhud opened up several new facets of social media and its use in effective disaster communication.
Following the cyclone, several Facebook pages were created with thousands of people following it. To speed up the relief work, AP government launched AP Disaster Management page on Facebook.
Government, NGOs, civil society organisations, and the aamadmi demonstrated how social media can be used very effectively during disasters to not only transmit information but also call for relief and rescue operations. Hashtags in Twitter such as #Hudhud #CycloneHudhud were trending for a few days.
Today disaster communication increasingly occurs via social media in addition to more conventional media (e.g., newspaper, TV, radio). What set the new media apart from other traditional media is its convenience based on social norm, personal recommendations, timely unfiltered and filtered information,determining disaster magnitude and self-mobilisation.