The world is a connected place. We live in proximity to one another not only through physical means but also through cyberspace. With a simple internet connection, we as human beings are ever more present and felt from the far reaches of our homes connecting with those who live a world away. No longer is physical distance a barrier to keep individuals apart. The sharing of ideas, emotions, hopes, fears and everything in between can be translated with a single post or a click of a button. The internet is a powerful place. It has been known to unite people together but also has the destructive ability to tear us apart. However, when used for good, each connected user has the power to bring meaning and purpose to the world around them.
While most people think of Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat as popular social media platforms, there are others too that serve a more humanitarian focus, enter OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is a collaborative platform that empowers its user to map areas of the world that may not be mapped yet. This is vital for humanitarian efforts when and if these communities should become victim to such disasters, man-made or natural. While OpenStreetMap employs its own faithful following of close to 5 million users, the integration of such mapping open source platforms with well-established and widely used social media platforms could catapult disaster response to unprecedented new heights as live feeds and geotagged images can help guide rescue efforts in a more effective and efficient manner.
Facebook’s safety check feature allows for individuals to inform their friends, family, and loved ones whether or not they are safe during a disaster event. Photo retrieved from: http://stylecaster.com/facebook-to-launch-disaster-feature/
We don’t have to look very far for examples of how this could be implemented. Facebook already employs a safety check button for those in assumed proximity to a disaster event. This small prompt is enough to inform loved ones that you are ok, and more importantly leave breadcrumb clues in the internet of the situation around you. More common examples would be the use of Snapchat to record events of significance in real time as evident by users’ stories providing firsthand accounts, unique to each individual’s location and perspective. These programs exist individually within their own social media platforms but if there was a way to integrate these platforms and triangulate the user generated content to better pinpoint areas most affected by a disaster, the status of the individuals at the time of the media production, and the situational awareness derived from said media, what initially was considered a dire situation can now be effectively triaged to provide the best means of aid and allocated resources to yield better recovery rates. Being able to decipher all this information, catalog it, and execute a game plan will be the difference between a preferred outcome and further disaster.
Aside from the operational effectiveness that these data points would provide, it also provides a multi-tier response system. Rescue efforts are not only relegated to rescue emergency personnel but good Samaritans who have access to real time information to aid in the recovery efforts, as seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. A simple tweet or post of distress could garner the assistance of friends and neighbors. That means regular citizens are coming to the aid of their neighbors to provide immediate medical and rescue assistance that sometimes might take longer for actual emergency professionals to arrive on scene. This is the power of a connected system, the power of social media.
From a technological standpoint, it is relatively easier to re-establish cellular service and internet access to a disaster area in contrast to infrastructure rehabilitation and repair. Mobile phone companies like Verizon are testing out emergency signal response technologies like cellular/wifi enabling drones and other ground assets that could aid in the immediate recovery of downed service providing more access to avenues of communication that could have taken days or even weeks to fully restore. In situations where time is of the essence, every second counts and being able to mobilize assets into an area that could re-establish lines of communication is vital to the success of the recovery mission. With these advancements in technology and further pursuits by open source software and companies alike, the mobilization and execution of recovery efforts can happen the moment after a disaster. Increasing response times simply equates to saving more lives.
When disaster strikes, it could be videos or pictures taken by people in the heart of the situation that could provide the logistical advantage for search and rescue recovery efforts. Live streaming videos and geotagged photos can paint a vibrant picture for those who rely on fast information to coordinate rescue and recovery efforts. With great power comes great responsibility and we as users of such platform have the power to serve and inform others around us. In a world where seconds count, the fast action of live feeds and up-to-date accounts will prove to be the critical advantage that will ultimately save countless of lives. Social media and being connected are not only for keeping in touch with friends, family, and loved one but also, now a means to be there for those and so many others during a catastrophic event or time of need.
Harraz Mohd Reza is a graduating senior at the University of Northern Colorado. Harraz is passionate about the human story and further exploring the complexities and intricacies that make us who we are. He is fascinated by the power of storytelling and believes that the world of GIS does just that by taking complex patterns and data and sharing it in a means that can invoke feelings and bring about change. Harraz will be graduating with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Geography with an emphasis in GIS with double minors in Biology and Chemistry. Harraz’s academic interests lies in public health and disaster response and management. Charismatic and passionate, he see endless opportunities for GIS applications for his life and future endeavors. He hopes to take his talents and further develop them in a Graduate program in the near future. Until then he can be found sharing his love and passion for all things geographic, wherever he may be.