Emergency and unpredicted communities: Quakebook

Almost three weeks ago an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale and a subsequent tsunami destroyed vast areas of North-Eastern Japan. It’s an event which marked a significant change in the way that information is distributed.  It’s widely acknowlegded that with no electricity and no mobile phone network coverage, social media such as facebook and twitter were fundamental in communication, more so than ever before.

Kim Stephens writes a blog about Social Media and Emergency Management and says

With every disaster the importance of social media and its potential power seems to grow.

But it’s not the messages of ‘I’m safe’ that interests me here. Whilst the use of social media to let loved ones know you are alive and well is undoubtedly a breakthrough phenomenon, there is already a plethora of articles and blogs about this all over the net.(idisaster2.0 is a good place to start if you are interested.)

It is the way that the internet and social media in particular, have served to create communities of people wanting to help in reaction to the disaster. International charities and NGOs have employees galore to deal with this but what about the individual, independent people – generally in Japan, those who are trying their hardest to raise money for the relief effort are also trying to raise awareness too.

Quakebook is a project set up by a British long term resident of Japan, known to the blogging world as the Japan Times’ Our Man in Abiko. Combining his skills as a former journalist and a modern day twitter fiend he decided to gather as many people’s tweets, stories and thoughts together. He wanted to use his journalistic experience to edit them into a coherent series of anecdotes under extremely tight time restrictions and publish them in a book called 2.46 (after the time the earthquake happened) within a week. But to do this Our Man in Abiko needed to create a community of people who had witnessed the disaster, and quick.

Grabbing the attention of major news organisations such as the BBC news and the Wall Street Journal was the breakthrough. Within 24 hours quakebook had several huge, international organisations on side as well as Yoko Ono! Once again it comes down to advertising the existance of your community. It’s about gathering momentum and interest.

The Quake Book Blog describes the moment it started

The 2:46 Quakebook project started with a tweet and is on the verge of something great, a way that we can help all those hit by the the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and its aftermath.

Led by Our Man in Akibo, a call went out across Twitter for contributors to create a book to raise funds for Red Cross Japan. The idea was to share the stories and experiences of people actually on the ground during the earthquake, whilst raising funds for the Red Cross…. The contributions have come from a wide variety of sources, and include photographs, personal accounts, drawings; each telling their own tale.

The quake book phenomenon was viral and the book was completed in seven days. Video journalists from Japan and elsewhere formed a community to create the book. Journalists and writers joined the community to help with the heavy task of editing all the contriubtions. All money raised from the book will go directly to the Red Cross Japan. It’s inconceivable that even 5 years ago a community of this size and influence could have been created and nurtured in this way, particularly in such a devastated natural disater zone.

Final thought: The key thing in establishing a large, online community in a situation like this is capitalising on the momentum achieved from publicity from large organisations/ prolific tweeters with many thousands of followers. In the long term, a community like this would be difficult to manage. But this kind of ’emergency community’ is not for the long term. You could almost say it has now served its purpose – the book is published and the funds will start coming in.

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About Natalie Wright
A journo in training at City University, London. I love Norway, Paris, Athletics and the Eurovision Song Contest. I chase elements of the ridiculous.

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