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Social media in disaster response

Objective: 
Cross-sectoral enabler: 
Organisation: 
UNEP-DHI Partnership – Centre on Water and Environment
Body: 

Description

Technological advances have resulted in social media becoming an important tool to improve disaster response. The ease-of-use and relatively low cost makes social media applications an effective way to disseminate information during or following a disaster, and allows for those affected by a disaster to be in touch with disaster relief organizations, friends and family. Information transmitted via these applications can also be used by emergency teams to determine the scale of the disaster and pinpoint specific locations in affected areas, resulting in swift and effective action. It can also be used to quickly notify a large number of people about distribution sites, shelter areas, evacuation zones, etc. Facebook and Twitter are two commonly used social media applications used during disaster situations, while new micro-blogging applications are emerging as effective platforms for volunteers to organize relief efforts. Data received from social media can provide important information about the behaviour of affected citizens and be used to improve disaster risk management in the future.

Implementation

The first step in using these applications is establishment of reliable network to allow for Internet access (if not already available in the area). A significant majority of the population should have access to smart phones or other Internet sources for the system to be efficient and beneficial. Once it is established, important stakeholders (policy makers, disaster relief teams, technical experts) should meet and outline a social media plan in the context disaster response. During a disaster social media use procedures should be clear amongst decision-making authorities and response teams. Individual roles and responsibilities should be agreed upon as part of general disaster response strategies. Building awareness and training local citizens on where and how to send and receive important information via social media during and following a disaster is also important. After a disaster, all relevant data should be collected and analysed for improving future planning.

Environmental Benefits

- Provides a quick way to report on the ground impacts of environmental disasters (for example pollution leakage) and supports timely and targeted response that can mitigate any potential ecosystem damage.

Socioeconomic Benefits

- Provides a source of real-time information covering areas that may not have measurement stations.
- Allows disaster relief teams to send important information directly to those affected by a disaster.
- Allows those affected to be in contact and reunite with friends and family following a disaster.
- Provides information disaster relief teams can use to pinpoint sites of heavy impact, allowing for quick and effective relief efforts.
- Provides a platform to generate worldwide funding to assist in disaster relief efforts.

Opportunities and Barriers

Opportunities:
- Provides high climate change adaptation benefits, particularly in a disaster setting
- A relatively low-cost technology with wide coverage
- Allows for a high level of connectivity amongst those affected
- Can be an effective funding tool (via crowdfunding) following a disaster.

Barriers:
- Use requires the necessary technical equipment, knowledge, electricity and an adequate network and internet coverage, which is often limited or lacking in remote regions of developing countries
- False information on social media can lead to the rapid spreading of rumours or misinformation
- Certain demographic groups, particularly older generations, may not be familiar with social media or even the internet.
- Literacy is required to use social media.

Implementation considerations*
Technological maturity: 3-4
Initial investment: 1-2
Operational costs: 1-2
Implementation timeframe: 1-2

* This adaptation technology brief includes a general assessment of four dimensions relating to implementation of the technology. It represents an indicative assessment scale of 1-5 as follows:
Technological maturity: 1 - in early stages of research and development, to 5 – fully mature and widely used
Initial investment: 1 – very low cost, to 5 – very high cost investment needed to implement technology
Operational costs: 1 – very low/no cost, to 5 – very high costs of operation and maintenance
Implementation timeframe: 1 – very quick to implement and reach desired capacity, to 5 – significant time investments needed to establish and/or reach full capacity

This assessment is to be used as an indication only and is to be seen as relative to the other technologies included in this guide. More specific costs and timelines are to be identified as relevant for the specific technology and geography.

Sources and further information