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Social Media Packs a Punch When it Comes to Disaster Response

In Chile's magnitude 8.8 earthquake, the country's telecommunications have been hard hit, landlines suffering the most damage while mobile telephony has stayed relatively usable and intact. Add to that the fact that (according to MSNBC) 92 percent of the Chilean population has mobile phones and it is no surprise that Twitter and texting are playing a critical role in the aftermath of the quake. Here are some of the ways that social media is providing powerful support to Chile's disaster and recovery efforts:

Using Twitter hashtags to locate missing persons

Shortly after the quake, #chile, #quake, and #terremotochile emerged as the hashtags most commonly being used to relay quake information, and concerned family and friends were able to use those hashtags to twitter requests for help from locals in finding missing persons. Now the single hashtag #buscopersonas (missing persons) has evolved into a main hashtag for searchers, and Twitter feeds like this one help to spread information on the missing. To help expand the search, any user can retweet search messages, and in conjunction with Google's People Finder application, concerned friends and relatives have been able to create profiles of missing people and then tweet links to their information.

Using Twitter to update and inform victims of the quake

Otherwise left in the dark, victims have been able to access Twitter via Blackberries and iPhones to get updates on conditions. In addition, Twitter has been used by citizens to post alerts as well as to organize grassroots responses and coordinate efforts. Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy has an interesting post about how Twitter has "become a tool for everyday navigation in a country that is, for the moment, a bit chaotic."

Using texting to contact and coordinate

Even if cell phones are operational, too many voice calls can easily overload the system, while text messages don't require as many resources. An MSNBC report quotes Lucia Bibolin, senior researcher for BubbeComm, as stating that after the collapse of several antennas of the three main wireless carriers, "the government asked everyone to limit their use of mobile phones to avoid network overload which might hinder rescue efforts. People were advised to send text messages rather than talk."

Texting and tweeting for Disaster Relief

Last but not least, Twitter has made it easy for charities and individuals to go global quickly in getting out the word for aid, and, as in the Haiti earthquake (where the Christian Science Monitor reports 40 million was raised by text giving) many organizations have created donation numbers. CSM blogger Steven Kurczy lists those numbers that have been approved as valid by the Mobile Giving Foundation.

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