There are many ways technology can help during times of natural calamities

There are times when technology kicks up a storm — and times when it helps handle one, claims a young techie.

BC: Hi, it’s sad to see the trees missing in your neighbourhood.

AD: Blame it on Nilam — she took quite a few with her.

BC: But her big sister seems to have created a lot more havoc in the U.S.

AD: Sandy? Some of my friends in New York and New Jersey had a tough time. There was no power for a week — and you know how almost everything there runs on electricity.

BC: With half the country shutting down, wonder how the media went to work.

AD: It was technology that saved the day. Smartphones captured images and videos, social networking sites became message boards, blogs ran articles while Twitter messages gave regular updates… In short, the local residents turned journalists and offered updates by the minute.

BC: But how does one verify that the news they give is authentic?

AD: You’re right. At times, rumours and fake news did the rounds. For instance, someone had posted that the New York Stock Exchange was flooded. This was picked up by many and re-tweeted so many times that even major news agencies believed it.

BC: I remember residents becoming journalists for a local tabloid in my neighbourhood… So, such collaborative efforts existed even before technology arrived.

AD: It’s not just about local tabloids — even TIME magazine decided to capture Sandy through mobile cameras and uploaded the images on Instagram.

BC: I think one of those images made it to the cover of the magazine, right?

AD: Right! And with social media coming in, the role of technology in disaster relief has become more prominent. Take every natural disaster that has struck us in the past few years, like the earthquakes in Japan and Christchurch last year, or the floods in Thailand.

BC: Good to know that people use Facebook for better things than wishing their spouse a happy anniversary.

AD: No kidding! Reports have it that Instagram had as many as 10 images with the hashtag #sandy being uploaded every second.

BC: For once, the general public wouldn’t have minded being bombarded with updates and messages.

AD: Well, even the authorities were on social media to reach out to people when they realised that newspapers and television would never get there. From passing on important warnings to announcing relief measures, social networking sites became the favourite media vehicle for many.

BC: I’ve been reading about the death toll and the widespread damage caused — it seems like a nightmare.

AD: Reports mention losses amounting to over $20 billion. Sandy had become such a hot topic on Twitter that it was popularly dubbed Frankenstorm, in other words a ‘Frankenstein of a storm’. Unfortunately, it turned out to be true.

BC: Guess it just goes on to show that when faced with Nature’s fury, even technology has to stand and watch helplessly.

AD: But technology did help many who were trapped in their houses or in flood-ravaged areas. There were several SOS messages that were constantly forwarded, shared or re-tweeted by many. This helped as these tweets found their way to various rescue forces and government departments that despatched teams to help those who were stuck.

BC: Back home, Nilam has done its bit to mess up the city. There was so much garbage piled up everywhere.

AD: And before all that garbage could be moved out, the streets have exploded with more trash.

BC: Another cyclone?

AD: No, I was referring to Deepavali — the streets are strewn with leftovers of crackers, cartons, plastic covers and paper.


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