Nice piece in Nature about the way regular people use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and whatever works to communicate within seconds of a disaster. Regular people are faster than the media, faster than the first responders.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, students used Facebook to figure out the list of the 32 fatalities a day before the university released the names. One of the first photos of US Airways Flight 1549 floating in the Hudson came from a guy on a ferry, posting to Twitter.
And one of my personal favorites: Mike Wilson, who posted to Twitter about 7 minutes after his plane crashed in Denver last year:
Holy fucking shit I wasbjust in a plane crash!
5:25 PM Dec 20th, 2008
Ugh ... My glasses fell off in the mass exodus getting off the plane ..
Can’t see very well5:57 PM Dec 20th, 2008 from twitterrific
This was crash #2 for me.
Maybe I should start taking the bus.
5:58 PM Dec 20th, 2008
The cool thing is that the very same hysterical media that breeds rumors also snuffs them out. The day after the crash, Wilson used Twitter to squelch rumors that he had been tweeting from the plane while it was on fire.
Just to clarify, I was NOT tweeting from inside a burning plane. My first tweet wasn’t sent until I was safely away from the plane.4:52 PM Dec 22nd, 2008 from twitterrific
In any case, there is huge opportunity anytime you make it easier for people to communicate in a disaster. People crave information like water, usually more, in most emergencies.