Where is the best place to get information during Natural Disasters in the Caribbean?
Social Media platforms aid in getting information out to the public during dire times
Natural disasters are an unfortunate reality in the Caribbean. The region is susceptible to various types of natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and even volcanic activity. The repercussions of these disasters often leave thousands of people in need of aid and assistance. In recent years one of the best ways to get this assistance is through social media.
One platform tends to stand out, that gets information out and as quickly as possible. Twitter has been known to aid in natural disasters around the world and the Caribbean has proven to be the same.
So let’s explore why:
Similar to how politicians and even celebrities use Twitter, the platform allows government officials, prominent figures and even NGOs to share information quickly and directly from a verified account to the general public.
Prior to, during and after a natural disaster the public requires information and updates to come out as quickly and clearly as possible. This is vital for their survival and their ability to make the choices that feel right to them during turbulent situations. Twitter’s format provides quick information and collated information through designated hashtags, which allow citizens and even fellow Caribbean islands to be in the loop in real-time as things occur.
One of the most recent examples being the UWI Seismic Research Twitter page that kept the public in St Vincent and the Caribbean region informed both before, during and after the eruption of La Soufriere in April 2021.
Companies, governments and organizations that act as crisis managers during these situations have to communicate quickly and urgently to get volunteers or assistance during these times. While messaging types of apps, like WhatsApp, are definitely useful at this stage, Twitter allows these messages to reach a larger audience faster.
One recent example is the Greenvale flooding in La Horquetta, Trinidad in 2018. The instantaneous and dangerous flood left many people without homes in minutes and the damage would require months to fix. Through messages from NGOs and journalist on the ground, locals were able to know how to donate money or goods to help the families in the compound.
A recent study by Catherine M. Ver Burgos & Donyale R. Griffin Padgett called, Using Twitter for crisis communications in a natural disaster: Hurricane Harvey, explores how social media and more specifically Twitter fosters a sense of community during these times.
The study states:
Indeed, according to Williams et al. (2017) providing fast and accurate information in a crisis helps to protect people and build community resilience.
Similarly, in the Caribbean social media becomes not only the place where people can access information about these situations but also get information on how they can send money or donate goods to the cause.
Vital in the “pre-crisis” stage
What is equally important to note, is the role Twitter plays pre-crisis. Especially with disasters that can have a little warning before their full effects like hurricanes and volcanoes. In the same study, they mentioned:
since the pre-crisis stage is when most people need information (Fink, 1986), crisis managers should use Twitter to encourage people to be calm and offer specific actions to improve positive outcomes.
During the 2021 eruption of La Soufriere, both organisations like the UWI Seismic Research and the government ministries in St Vincent issued information to help the public understand what was occurring, what areas were in danger and where citizens were meant to go to seek safety.
However, this can go even further back than just the period right before the crisis. Crisis management agencies like the ODPM in Trinidad and Tobago have been releasing information to help citizens know how to prepare for various types of disasters and crises.
While we, at Connective Pros, may have some critiques over the presentation of their information (more digestible and readable graphics please!) there is no doubt that the information they are providing is both vital and important for the public to know and hopefully, implement for their future safety.
For many Twitter may be the place to read memes and people’s thoughts and opinions but during a natural disaster, there is no doubt these platforms play a crucial role in disseminating current information and dispatching assistance to those in need.