How Twitter Can Improve Emergency Relief Efforts in Disaster Zones

Weather Conditions Are Five Times More Likely to Produce a Disaster Compared to 30 Years Ago

Abnormal weather events such as concentrated rainfall are increasingly leading to natural disasters. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, weather events caused 14 disasters in the three-year period from 2012 to 2014, compared to just three disasters during the corresponding three-year period 30 years ago, from 1982 to 1984.*

Japan has had many volcanic eruptions over the past 10,000 years and more earthquakes of magnitude 6 or higher than anywhere else in the world. The people of Japan are prepared for a disaster to strike at any time.

But sometimes the sheer scale of the disaster proves overwhelming, and it is necessary to call in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) to help local communities rebuild and restore normalcy. Every year the JGSDF lends assistance to relief efforts in more than 500 natural disasters.

Emergency response information sharing system

* From Japan Meteorological Agency report Natural Disasters Attributable to Weather Events, 1988 to present

Information Supplied by the General Public Helps to Improve the Speed and Efficacy of Emergency Response Services

What is needed is an efficient and coordinated means of collating information from sources on the ground and using this information to provide a more effective emergency response. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, for example, residents in affected areas used social media platforms such as Twitter to describe local conditions during the massive snowfalls of 2014. This information proved very useful to the relief effort.

The reality is however that information gathering in disaster zones is limited in many ways. Local government emergency services and fire departments do not have a common platform for sourcing and disseminating information from local residents. There is a pressing need for this sort of infrastructure.

Better Emergency Response Services Will Save More Lives

Fujitsu has launched a local information collation service designed to improve the efficacy of emergency response services by providing a central coordinated sharing mechanism accessible to local governments, fire services, the JGSDF and emergency services working on the ground. The service has already been implemented by the JGSDF 15th Brigade.

The service is coordinated at a Fujitsu data center. Emergency workers send in images of the disaster damage (typically flood or landslide damage) taken on smartphones or equivalent devices, together with corresponding GPS location data and comments where applicable. The data center collates all available information and generates a map display in real time.

Emergency service coordinators can then use the map to deploy personnel where they are needed most, or as close as possible. And by designating a particular area on the map, they can instantly broadcast instructions to all personnel within the area.

It is important to get the general public fully involved, because information provided by ordinary citizens can be very useful. For example, if a village has been cut off because a landslide has blocked the road, images and position information sent in by local residents can help the emergency services to organize a rapid response.

In addition to the JGSDF, a coordinated emergency response requires the involvement of many groups and organizations, including local government, fire services and community groups, as well as members of the general public. Fujitsu hopes that this service will help to provide better coordination that translates into more lives saved during natural disasters.

Left: Single message to specific recipient Right: Broadcast message to all recipients in designated area