By Mandy Hale, Public Relations Specialist, Connected Tennessee
From the moment the massive 9.0 earthquake hit northeast Japan on March 11, the heartbreaking story played out in real time via Twitter and Facebook, with citizens around the world flocking to their computers for minute-by-minute updates. Within an hour, with aftershocks still rocking Tokyo, Google had launched its Japan Person Finder to help people get information about their loved ones in Japan. And within 36 hours, its pages had been viewed 30 million times. Usage remains steady almost a week later, according to Google, and shows no sign of slowing.
The site allows anyone to upload information on individuals affected by the disaster. It now contains records on around 250,000 individuals caught up in the quake which is more than the combined total of the similar Person Finder sites Google launched after the Haiti, Chile, and New Zealand earthquakes.
Just three days after the quake and resulting tsunami that swept away cars, airplanes, and even entire villages, numerous Internet and phone providers began to step up to aid victims through the free use of their services. Time Warner Cable is providing its subscribers with free calls to Japan (specifically from March 11 to April 15), while AT&T is offering free wireless calls and SMS texting to Japan – as well as credits for up to 60 minutes for landline customers – through March 31. Verizon Wireless has set up a way to quickly donate $10 via SMS to a number of different support organizations. They are also offering free calls to Japan for most wireless and landline customers until April 10. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Verizon, and Comcast are also providing users with free ongoing access to Japan TV, after the 24-hour channel’s distributor made the open feed available to all companies.
Once upon a time, social networking sites were used for connecting with friends, former classmates, and even old loves you had lost touch with over the years. Today, when a natural disaster leaves phone lines clogged and people unable to connect with the outside world, Facebook becomes a touchstone for ensuring the safety and even the whereabouts of the people you love. Following the earthquake in Japan, Facebook quickly became the first resort for many to get in touch online. Displaced people could log in from anywhere and tell all their friends and family they were safe with just one status update, without the need to remember dozens of e-mail addresses. On the day of the earthquake, Facebook counted 4.5 million status updates that mentioned “Japan,” “earthquake” or “tsunami.”
The Japanese Prime Minister’s Office even started an English-language Twitter account earlier this week, providing updates on the earthquake situation. The account, @JPN_PMO, tweets translations from the Japanese disaster information account @Kantei_Saigai, which the Prime Minister’s Office created March 13, two days after the quake.
Within a day and a half of its launch, the @JPN_PMO Twitter page has more than 18,000 followers.
Twitter is even being put to use as an “Underground Railroad” to assist displaced earthquake victims. When most railways stopped in greater Tokyo on Friday evening, many office workers were left isolated and decided to either stay put or walk back home. Assistance was offered over Twitter by stores, restaurants, campuses, and even individual citizens along main roads who tweeted that help was available. Twitter even set some official hashtags to help identify the tweets, such as #jishin (general earthquake information); #j_j_helpme (requests for rescue or other aid); #hinan (evacuation information); #anpi (confirmation of safety of individuals, places, etc.); #311care (medical information for victims).
With thousands of casualties and an entire country in chaos, citizens in Japan and across the globe are turning to high-speed Internet connections to find assistance, offer aid, locate loved ones, and update the rest of the world on the conditions in the earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged areas. It is clear that the same technology that connects us to our friends and loved ones in our own communities also connects us with our global community, as donations continue to flood in through Google, the Red Cross, and other charitable organizations. Never before has it been more evident that a broadband connection is no longer merely a way to save time, but a way to save lives.
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