March 2011 will always mark a powerful event in our lives. Japan experienced an unprecedented triple disaster, the uber-powerful 9.0 magnitude earthquake, then the historic sized tsunami, then the still ongoing nuclear disaster, with a near miss on that one looking more and more likely.
But we also saw the growing up of the social media around government 2.0, emergencies, and crisis. Look backward two years – Chile, Haiti, Argentina, New Zealand – each of these natural disasters were powerful, destructive and historic. Underlying each were several ongoing citizen and government driven exercises. There is the Crisis Commons – from which has come a lot of the critical thinking and best practices for ongoing crisis social media implementation including mapping and imagery. There is Ushahidi which is becoming an underpinning of many crisis response methods for social media emergency management experts around the world.
There is of course Twitter and Google, Bing, Facebook as well as lots of other tools. But there are some highly developed skill sets which allow the emergency management social media expert to quickly break through the clutter of the general flow of social media and use such things as hashtags, email alerts and advance search queries to be able to deliver a balanced set of answers to their constituents questions. For example, when I first heard about a possibility of a missing town of seaside villagers in Japan, I created a Twitter search column in tweetdeck for the word “#Minamisanriku“.
At first it was a slow feed, then suddenly as reports of maybe as many as 10,000 people missing; then this search stream filled up, and continued as a highly fast changing twitter search for several days. Likewise as the disaster unfolded Thursday night my time into Friday morning, I had created several new columns for searched phrases on Twitter in my tweetdeck. “Fukushima.” “EQJP.” “Honshu.” What does this mean to you and I? It means the local emergency manager now has the power of never ending flow of information at their fingertips that can quickly siphoned and divided into necessary parts. This makes the local or hyper local emergency social media expert now a global player on the Government 2.0 emergency and crisis networks developing in social media.
In prior emergencies not so many people were live tweeting the experience. Japan showed us the power of livetweeting in emergencies – in real time we were witnessing the dissection of the Japanese government statements through on the ground reporting. In many cases, the Japanese government has literally been saying one thing on the news or social media, while citizens were tweeting to the contrary at the same time. Admiral Mullen has referred to this as … “governing at the speed of twitter.”
We have also been seeing the explosion of sms based reporting to news agencies as well as 3g cellular networks remaining in place even while traditional hardwired phones were disabled in many places of Japan. We are witnessing citizens using these tools to enhance (and complicate simultaneously) the work of emergency social media experts. We are seeing unfold before our eyes, the evolution of crisis management and social media as well as Government 2.0 and mapping. Japan is a very unpleasant reminder that much of the hard work of people behind the scenes in the Gov 2.0 movement is actually working as intended. So for that we should all be proud. There is lots of hard work to do, both in Japan, and elsewhere to see that transparent tools that enable open government; and an active and engaged citizenry are implemented worldwide.