Operation Connect: Social media and cloud in disaster relief

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Social media provides an opportunity to disseminate information in real time, along with crowd sourcing situational information. It also includes technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue, even when people are remote and connected only electronically.

In the recent Uttarakhand flash floods disaster, social networking sites Facebook and Twitter were used as social media interaction. The Operation Connect  Facebook page and Twitter handle provided a platform to reach out to the relatives of people reported missing and provide/request additional information about missing people in order to locate them.

The Uttarakhand government has established a disaster “missing cell” for making contact with people who have been reported missing during the flash-floods. The Opertion Connect Facebook page was getting used by missing cell persons to report missing person details and to upload missing person’s photos.

Once data was getting entered in the missing person form it was creating one spreadsheet in the background to collect all data in certain formats, which was minimizing the efforts of missing cell people .

Using social cloud media like Facebook and Twitter, things can be easily spread among mass of people, which I saw using Operation-Connect Facebook page.

The Operation Connect Facebook page has the following features:

Report missing person – Functionality for the people (relatives) to report the missing person details to the state government.

List of missing people – It has the list of people missing categorized state-wise along with their name, photograph, spot of last communication and place of residence. This allowed people to view all the missing people’s details and if they have any additional information about the missing and found (rescued) person, then they could provide it as a “Comment” on the individual’s photo page. Also in order to keep continuous track of any updates related to the person, the Like or Share feature was used.

Report found person – Functionality to report the found person details and who has reached home safely to the state government.

Operation Connect found people – It has the list of found people categorized state-wise during the Operation Connect initiative.

Request supplies – Functionality for the non-governmental organization (NGO and other agencies engaged in relief work to request supplies or other support from the state government to support their work.

Sponsorship – Functionality for people interested in helping rebuild the impacted region by sponsoring a child/family/village or other means.

Facebook messages – Functionality for people to send the private messages which they didn’t want to share with others.

Keeping the worldwide population in mind, in the recent Uttarakhand flash floods disaster, Facebook and Twitter were used as both the sites have largest number of active users. Recently, with increased smartphone usage, these sites are the most visited sites worldwide and provide a way to quickly connect to huge user base, allowing them to ask more information and give feedback.

The State’s Emergency Management Services (108) also used the Operation Connect page to locate and/or update missing people information. These information updates are automatically collected in a spreadsheet for further actions from Uttarakhand Missing Cell Department like verification of missing/found people data with State Government Missing people data and police FIR data.

Based on a social media survey, two out of every three Internet users in India access Facebook or Twitter (62 million and 33 million Indian users as of January – 2013 on Facebook and twitter respectively).

This is my personal experience on how social media can be used for disaster relief work. Do you think social media and cloud can be more useful in such disaster situations?

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