Social Media: a Powerful Crisis Management Tool

As the Japan Earthquake reminds us, natural disasters can leave us incapacitated. Cities, states, and countries can come to a halt with complete chaos as we struggle to get back on track. In the middle of a crisis, one of the worst experiences is uncertainty. Where are our loved ones? Are our parents, siblings, and friends alright? When will we regain contact? -- When will we know more?

Earlier this week, social media writer Talia Page discussed the value of social media during times of crisis. In the midst of the Japan quake, mobile technology has helped to quickly raise funds while Twitter has enabled account-holders to quickly share and receive updates. Even still, social media records are frequently decentralized, and information can be a whirlwind to follow.

To help connect friends and family members, Google launched its Japan Person Finder, which as of yesterday, contained 64,000 records. Using Google's Person Finder, it is possible to determine (1) whether someone is searching for somebody else and (2) whether somebody has posted a message or update. To exemplify the viral nature of this project,  there are currently 125,000 records available -- nearly double what was available yesterday. The resource is available in a number of languages to connect people from all over the world. All data are publicly available and freely viewable by anyone. Google does not monitor records; nor does the company verify information. The resource is completely user-driven.

According to CNN and AOL's Patch.com, more than 80 percent of Japan is online, and individuals are leveraging Twitter to find their loved ones.

Google's Person Finder tool reminds us to examine the utility of social media beyond a casual, business, or marketing framework. Within moments, this interface can help connect loved ones -- while landlines are down and while information is tough to obtain.

Beyond basic networking, social media can evolve to serve as a crisis management tool for governments, hospitals, community groups, and others -- especially during times of crisis when information tends to become lost within whirlwinds of chaos.

Is there a next stage to social media for crisis management? Perhaps there should be,  when Google has shown us that the resources are readily available.

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