Monday, January 18, 2010

Timeline of a Tragedy

This has been a very difficult week. Last Tuesday we found out about the devastation in Haiti as a result of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, the largest in the region in 200 years. Our televisions ever since have been filled with images of death and destruction and the ongoing attempts to pull people out of the rubble that has been left behind. Then on Wednesday we learned about the death of Yvonne Martin, a wonderful lady from my church community who was in Haiti serving God and serving the people she loved. And of course, working for World Vision, it has been a non-stop attempt to motivate as many people as possible to donate to our relief efforts.

One aspect that I have found fascinating about the media coverage of the tragedy is the prevalence of "social media" in the reporting and dissemination of information regarding rescue attempts, relief efforts, and fundraising activities of the various humanitarian organizations. If you weren't convinced of the value of social media prior to last Tuesday, you should be now.

The following timeline is an account of how Twitter and Facebook played a significant role in the immediate aftermath of the news of the earthquake both personally and professionally:

4:53 PM - Earthquake takes place in Haiti.

5:24 PM - Twitter message received: Haiti hit by 7.0 earthquake. The word is out only 30 minutes after the quake has taken place. This was the first post I saw about it. I'm sure it was out there even earlier.

5:27 PM - Knowing that Yvonne had left for the Haiti that morning, I informed my wife (who is on staff at Waterloo MB Church) of the earthquake and immediately turned on CNN. They had just begun their coverage of a "potential tragedy unfolding in Haiti."

5:38 PM - My wife calls our Director of Global Outreach (who hadn't yet heard about the earthquake) raising immediate concerns about Yvonne's safety. Sarah begins making calls to parties within the church who need to be aware of the situation.

5:58 PM – Tweet: Massive 7.0 earthquake just hit Haiti. This was my first tweet about the situation.

6:40 PM – Retweeted @hadleypaul: #Haiti live audio and chat reporting. This was live streaming audio of a radio station in Port-Au-Prince attempting to broadcast what was happening and taking early calls from hysterical survivors trying to find family members. At this point, CNN had virtually no live information of what was happening. Power was out and phone lines where down making it almost impossible to transmit images from Port-Au-Prince.

6:50 PM - Tweet: Helpful #Haiti earthquake exposure map from the USGS. This was a link to an exposure map posted by the United States Geological Survey explaining where the quake had been felt the strongest and what area would likely suffer the greatest amount of damage.

6:56 PM – Facebook: Haiti Is Going To Need Our help…watch for more details. I posted this to my World Vision Southwestern Ontario fan page. As far as I am aware, this was the first public posting by a World Vision employee in Canada.

8:56 PM – Facebook: World Vision’s website open for donations. Another post to the fan page. Again, I believe this was the first posting to let people know our website was ready to accept donations.

8:59 PM – Twitter: World Vision's emergency response to Haiti is now accepting donations. A real testament to our staff in the National Office that they had this web page functional within such a short time from the first news of the quake.

9:42 PM – Twitter: Please visit World Vision Canada's website to aid us in our emergency response to the earthquake in Haiti. Recognizing by this point we were looking at major devastation to an already impoverished country, I began reposting the donation message repeatedly over the next couple of hours and again throughout the following day.

In the meantime, Chris, our Regional Team Leader in Central Canada was in process of starting a $10 Challenge fundraising page on Facebook that as of this moment has 1,534 members with more than 19,000 people invited to join. That's a TON of word of mouth and just shows the power of social media to get the word out without costing World Vision a dime.

If there has been one star throughout the coverage of the Haitian earthquake it has been social media. Twitter and Facebook allowed me to notify key people within our church of a potential (soon to be all too real) tragedy as well as to get the early word out about fundraising opportunities for World Vision's relief efforts. Much has been done online by World Vision staffers since last Tuesday which I have had no part in, but I'm pleased to say that my "addiction" to Twitter allowed me to be an early voice in the unfolding coverage of the devastation that we have been seeing for the past week. I hope and pray that people will continue to donate long after the mainstream media has moved on to the next big news story. There will be no quick fixes in Haiti. They are going to need our help for years to even begin to recover their lives again.

Please text the word WORLD to 45678 to make a $5 donation via your cell phone or visit the World Vision Canada website for images, video, resources for teachers and church leaders, exclusive journals of staff who were in Haiti at the time of the quake, or to make an online donation. Thank you.

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