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The Media Of Disasters

If you’re reading this, then it’s doubtless that somewhere on the Internet you’ve come across news about the earthquake and tsunami that have devastated northeastern Japan. Those of you who are more up to date will likely also know about the deepening nuclear crisis unfolding there as the damaged nuclear plants’ reactors near meltdown because of cooling system failures. What you may not know, however, is how media, both social, traditional and global are shaping the aftermath of this disaster.

Google, which has taken an active role in many humanitarian initiatives as its clout as a company grows, has a blog dedicated to crisis response and providing information to those in need. More than just links and information, advances in imaging and mapping technology have allowed Google and others to create detailed crisis maps that detail the areas affected, rescue shelters, provide updated satellite photos and many other helpful information sources. The maps and information can even be overlayed in Google Earth.  Google even provides a twitter feed at the bottom of its blog page for those seeking up-to-the-second updates. One of the tools that grew out other humanitarian initiatives is Google’s Person Finder, a tool meant to be embedded on websites that allows people who are having difficulty communicating to post or search for information about missing people.

Beyond just providing more tools for those in need and those trying to help the distressed, the advances in the media have served to greatly improve the coordination of search and rescue efforts and to provide a whole new level of depth to those on the sidelines. One of the drivers of this is the coordinated response from the international community on providing constantly updated imagery to local search teams and, by extension, the public. The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters is a keystone of this. It is a charter that came out of the desire to provide better and charitable satellite data to relief organizations in the event of major disasters. Japan is a party to it and has invoked its use for this recent disaster. For those wanting to see in detail the effects of the tsunami on the coastal areas, I highly recommend this article which overlays before and after pictures on top of one another and allows adjustments with a slider.

More than just increased television coverage or a greater internet presence, advances in media and how we use those media are now playing large roles in how we react and deal with disasters, be they failed states or natural disasters. Twitter allows for live updates and satellite maps allow for improved rescue operations. Lastly, the increasing depth of the coverage and what kind of coverage is available is also serving to bring those thousands of miles away closer together with those suffering.

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  1. March 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Great post Grant – thanks for sharing. I have a friend in Tokyo and she had no electricity, no heat, and no transportation in the hours just after the quake. She was able to communicate her location and experiences to friends around the world through Facebook. And now, she’s just arrived back in Colo. Such worrisome times. Times is now posting Q & A on nuclear impact in Japan: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/q-and-a-on-the-nuclear-crisis-in-japan/?hp#health

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