Friday, January 22, 2010

Worst case scenario? There's an app for that.

Although the Haiti earthquake decimated the island's infrastructure even as it devastated people, somehow wireless communications remained. And that allowed social networking and telecommunications to live up to its promise of changing people's lives.

According to Wired, Tweets and text messages from people injured or trapped in fallen buildings have been a big help to rescue workers trying to track down survivors. Here's one example:

"Relief workers in Haiti received an emergency text message Tuesday about a collapsed school, with children still alive in the rubble. A search-and-rescue team on the scene, however, couldn’t find the right location.

Then a group of volunteers in Boston pinpointed the origin of the message, sent using the 4636 SMS shortcode. They rapidly relayed the information back to Eric Rasmussen, a former top naval medical officer working with rescue teams in Haiti.

A team was then dispatched to the correct grid location. The coordinates were accurate to five decimal places."

Amazing as this is, it's one among many apparently miraculous uses of the personal technology and media of the now.

CNET reports that Dan Woolley, an American Filmmaker hurt and trapped in the remains of his hotel, used an application on his iPhone to get first aid info on how to stabilize his own serious head and leg wounds. He then set its alarm clock to go off every 20 minutes to keep himself conscious, and (interestingly) preserved what he thought might be his final words in pen and paper. (There's an interview with him here.)

These are just a couple of stories. Twitter users on the scene provided instant (if not always reliable) eyewitness accounts of the devastation in real time, creating an unprecedented global awareness of the tragedy as it happened. And now informational Tweets are being used to get search and rescue information back out to isolated survivors.

In the rest of the world, social media have been mobilized in a massive, multifaceted fundraising effort for Haiti relief. Not only does this help spread the appeal to many people who would not be reached effectively by mainstream media, but it also keeps the story alive when the headlines get smaller and deeper in the news.

I'd be remiss if I didn't end this post with a renewed appeal to join, donate to, or share our own Haiti cause page, Hearts Out to Haiti. We've raised $650 since yesterday for the Canadian Red Cross Society, and if you haven't already found a good online donation site, this one is secure.

Take care.

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