The Role of New Media in Disaster Response

The Role of New Media in Disaster Response

April 28, 2020 0 By Chanyanat Sawatmethakun


Remember the first time you were informed that an unnamed virus was spreading around China. At that time the news hit me, I was scrolling on a Twitter feed. Although the information about it was rarely available, many people can gradually witness its existence. In the present from a virus similar to MERS and SARS, to the novel coronavirus, to today COVID-19 which is the official name. It is the most challenging and largest disaster strike in the era of new media. So far it kills many lives of people all over the world. The dread of this virus is not only attacking the human body, but also the rapidly increasing number of infected people over the world. 

In many recent emergencies from natural events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and typhoons; from industrial accidents such as explosions of an oil drilling rig; from terrorist attacks; and from disease outbreaks, the new media platforms become the contributor one way or another. 

1. Surveillance/ Monitor

Nowadays, almost everyone is always tracking the news on the online platform which provides many sources of information, and at the very beginning, a massive amount of information is bombarding to social media users. People can detect the origins of certain situations before approaching and impacting on our lives. Moreover, the online platforms always have the topics that are currently popular or widely discussed online which can change when the time passed by, and it is called “Trending.”  Trending also provides a lot of benefit to people on online platforms, since it makes people receive information that might be necessary for their daily lives even if they didn’t follow it. It can be seen that trending not only has information about our country but also provides information about what is going on around the world that can affect our lives. 

However, not only does the information related to the natural disaster warn the public, but the government and other involved organizations also use the integration of new big social data to understand the context of causes and impacts, and assess the location and timing of such disaster. 31% of social media information and another 31% from internet of thing and sensor websites were employed to monitor remote sensing data which improve decision making in implement mitigation strategies in many disasters such as flood, bushfire, earthquake, landslide, and volcanic eruption (Yu et al., 2018).  

In addition, humanitarian response to certain disasters can be detected by organizational levels to analyse the reaction of people. Data Analysis and Data Mining is the way to drill the information from the source and then analyze the information. It can be seen that the government and other organizations can learn how to control the situation when the emergency happens by data analysis and data mining. Crisis management is necessary for an unprecedented situation. Data analysis from social media usage and other sources of new media can process people’s behaviour and the behaviour evaluation can direct government policy for handling particular situations. 

2. Real-time Alert/ Providing Information + Instruction

The change in forms of communication in the new media such as online social networking sites and blogging services leads to more active participation, especially the responses to the real-time alert. In a crisis, social media can inform how to handle the unexpected situation even though individuals have no ideas about the particular topics in order to save lives and prevent dangers. In case to guarantee the information people in the midst of the crisis encounter, the state can take social media as a tool to ease the situation. 

According to Douglas MacMillan, the journalist from the Wall Street Journal, Florida’s tourism office informs 281,000 people visiting the state during the Hurricane Irma in 2017 by sending via Facebook Messengers. On social media, users transform the platforms to be a real-time discussion. Also, Floridians benefit from the preparation by Florida’s court which works with Twitter as a thread of breaking news. Instead of waiting for the radio announcement, people can access the essential information to survive in unexpected situations immediately. 

The Hurricane Irma in 2017 

3. Identify survivors and victims

The extensive reach of social networks enhances the process of rescue for disaster victims by enabling communication to ask for help. Natural hazards and vulnerabilities caused the disconnection of victims in the past. However, many cases of natural disaster have proved that social media becomes the available resources that people call for help. 

A bushfire broke out in North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia, on 2014’s New Year’s Day. 900 campers were trapped in the island but later evacuated by the rescuers. They directly communicate through social media which triggered the rescuers to respond more quickly. Fortunately, there was no loss of lives thanks to Facebook. 

Smoke from bushfires over North Stradbroke Island

source: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/north-stradbroke-island-fire-flares-up-20140106-30deo.html

4. Encourage Donation and Gather Volunteer

In the present time, social media is an important way to communicate and receive information. As we can see that in dire situations social media can be a big part of ameliorating and easing the conditions. It can connect people all over the world to pay attention and help each other in dire situations by encouraging donation and gathering volunteers. For example, bushfires in Australia was severe which injured much wildlife, and in this situation, the hashtag #prayforaustralie and #Australia has emerged to raise funds and supports from world population around the world. The tangible outcome is money gathered from many parties to help recover the forest and wildlife in Australia and also the volunteers who flew to lend a hand in the time of hardships. GoFundMe, an online crowdfunding platform, can encourage people to donate money to help the injured koalas and thirsty koalas from bushfires in Australia up to 1million Australian dollars. GoFundMe was a significant part of fundraising from people around the world. It is true that 

In 2010 Eruptions of Mount Merapi, a community radio station changed the use of radio for news dissemination to organise Twitter for gathering 35,000 volunteers to help search for victims, cook for survivors in the ash-covered jungle, and rebuild the communities. 

source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zww4nbk/revision/6

Volunteers worked for mitigating the Mount Merapi Eruption

5. Stress Management 

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled the new feature called Safety Check. The concept is when there are hazards and natural disasters such as earthquake and tsunami, we can’t help worrying if our friends and family are under the risks. Safety Check will send a warning message to ask people whose location is at the disaster areas to post that they are currently safe which can console and relax people who worry about them. 

Furthermore, social media is used for a tool to release some stress by positive feedback from those whom people who deal with suffering may not know. For instance, in this COVID-19 situation, much medical staff have to face obstacles to fight the virus. Sometimes, they might be dispirited from an extreme workload and responsibilities, but it has many encouragement posts on Twitter hashtag #saveบุคลากรทางการแพทย์. It might be a small part; however, it makes them know that many people appreciate what they did and they can relieve the stress more or less. 

Thai singers joined the campaign to support the medical operation in COVID-19. 
Source: https://www.sanook.com/music/2417893/

Finally, new media comes up with new roles to respond to the natural disaster crisis and create more chance for the humankind to survive in hazardous situations. From monitoring disaster to dealing with stress, this is how new media were invented and developed to reshape our world in crisis management.