Impact of Mobility on Disaster Management

The world is changing. Mobility has taken over the lives of a majority of the urban population, and in a good way for the most part. Fast lifestyles and crazy schedules have led to lack of attention from most people. Businesses and personal contacts alike are clamoring for attention of the average person.

And more often than not, that person’s attention is focused on the small, brightly lit screen in the person’s hand. Moral of the story – if you wish to get noticed or heard, use mobile as the communication medium.

One situation under which communication is critical is a disaster. Whether a natural calamity like an earthquake or a socio-political situation like the Boston bombings, when disaster strikes, fast and effective communication can be the difference between the life and death for many people. Mobility has changed how news flows through the various channels. You do not have to wait for the news channels to get to ground zero. You have people on the ground letting the world know what’s happening. The news hits the world in seconds, not hours. This can help the disaster management authorities get the right kind of help to the impact zone and also prevents the panic from setting in.

As per the digital government document, “When a 5.9 earthquake hit near Richmond, Virginia on August 23rd, 2011, residents in New York City read about the quake on Twitter feeds 30 seconds before they experienced the quake themselves.” In West, TX, where the fertilizer factory explosion rocked the town, images and videos of the event immediately went viral, and many people used social media to issue alerts regarding missing family members, express their condolences, and coordinate donation efforts. In Boston, the phone lines jammed, and providers like Verizon and AT&T asked people to text and use data rather than calling. Many posted to Facebook to update that they were fine, lest loved ones get worried. Even the Boston Police put Twitter to use, wisely, with updates about specific police activity that affected residents. An unidentified police commander was heard saying over dispatch – “I need somebody up there to get on social media and let people know what we’re doing here”.

Another example of how social media helps during crisis is that after the FBI released some low-resolution pictures of the suspects, hundreds of people then started sifting through their image galleries from the event, trying to find a match. Ultimately, David Green, CEO of Play Harder, a sportswear company, provided a clear, high-resolution photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the accused. Post positive identification, almost a minute by minute chase and eventual capture of the suspect was tracked online. Initially, when law enforcement called for the public to send in any relevant pics or videos taken from their mobile devices, The amount of data received was of the order of 10 TB.

However, since there is little control over the content shared over the social media, there are potential downsides to it as well. The lack of a validation can cause erroneous information to snowball, and can have a serious impact. In the boston bombing, a student of Indian origin, Sunil Tripathi, missing since March 16th started trending as the possible bomber due to a Boston Radio Scanner potentially reporting him as one of the bombers. His family had to live through hours of ordeal, until NBC reporter Pete Williams said on Twitter that Sunil Tripathi was not the man wanted by police, that the mayhem started to ease. Another example is when CNN reported that NYSE floor was under 3 feet of water after Sandy hit east coast. It was found that the news came from the weather channel, which picked it off twitter.

Whether good or badScience Articles, it can’t be denied that the way information and news is shared has been forever changed by this combination of mobility and social networking.

This was a guest article from Jennifer Lewis.

Author is a part of one of the leading enterprise application development company in India. The iPad app development companies with its team of mobile developers has providing mobility solutions to enterprises. It is also one of the most renowned Dallas mobile app development firm.

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