Mapping the Social Media Response in Japan

The geodata masters over at ESRI have created some excellent live data mash-ups map of Japan that visualize information compiled from personal social media accounts. Warning, it takes a few seconds to load the info and you must have Silverlight installed (but it is worth it).

Social Media Map

This map shows content related to the disaster posted on social media sites.  It includes posts from Youtube, Flickr, Twitter and Ushahidi (a tool that allows anyone to report incidents via SMS, e-mail or the web). It has a very visual impact with the raw data posted by citizens and government alike.

Trends Map

According to ESRI, this one “uses trend analysis to visualize community reports related to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.” It is a visual constructed by those who are in the zone of impact and still needing help.  The map includes geographic points posted wherever someone posts a message requesting help or info or offering help or info.  These messages include things like shelter information, transportation routes, power outages, etc.  But it also documents postings from individuals – stores are posting a general summary of the supplies they have available, etc.   Go to fullscreen view for the maximum impact.

As of Monday (3/21) afternoon, there were over 2300 such postings available for viewing on these maps. This is an excellent visualization of the collective crowdsourcing power of social media.  Not only does it help first responders and emergency planners focus their efforts with more eyes and ears in the thick of it, it also shows how social media is used to connect people-to-people, with or without emergency management coordination.

If you want to know more about the technology behind the mashup, you can read the news release from ESRI.

There was also a recent article on Mashable that highlights the other crucial role that social media has played in the recovery efforts in Japan.

Because internet access has been mostly unaffected by the disaster, social media has been a lifeline for reconnecting families.  In fact, on March 14th, the US Embassy actually sent a message to US citizens in Japan encouraging them to use social media to stay in contact with family outside the country: “While we understand that there have been disruptions in communications in Japan, including the interruption of internet and mobile telephone service, we encourage you to continue your efforts to be in contact with your loved one(s) using SMS texting and other social media (e.g., FaceBook, My Space,Twitter, etc) that your loved one(s) may use.”

Score one for ESRI and score another one for social media legitimacy in government!

Social Media & Emergency Management

Recently I agreed to do a webinar on the connection between social media and emergency management.  I always knew there was linkage, but I was actually quite astounded at how deeply social media could, should and actually is embedded not only into the four formal phases of emergency management, but also in even the general “public safety” functions that our local governments perform.  There are hundreds of great examples available via Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and even some simple yet extremely powerful examples of how crowdsourcing mashups are helping the world recover from major events.  For example, check out this great ESRI mash-up that geo-tags citizen provided tweets, photos and videos to help extend the reach and reduce the response time of emergency responders in Christchurch, NZ.

Because of the great body of work on the topic, I am going to start a new blog category that deals exclusively with social media use in emergencies, public safety and emergency management. I intend to use it to share what I’ve already learned on the topic, highlight useful examples of its use and point you to even better resources that are more informed on the topic than I.