A powerful explosion in an under-construction building ripped through Lahore’s bustling Defence Y Block Market leaving nine people dead and more than 20 injured on Thursday. Shortly after, conflicting media reports appeared, terming the blast as a “generator explosion”. As the pictures started to filter in, with the public confused whether it was a bomb or a generator blast, another report gained traction, even briefly appearing on various news channels that there had been a blast in Gulberg as well. While the people of the country watched in horror, the residents of Lahore felt, for a few moments, that the world had come crashing down around them and “forwarded as received” text messages made the paranoia worse.

Reports surfaced soon after that the news of the Gulberg blast had been false. A crank caller had been the source of the chaos, leading to the immediate evacuation of McDonald’s and the surrounding buildings on Main Gulberg Boulevard, and a bomb disposal squad sweeping the area. While misinformation spread like wildfire, the facts took much longer to reach the people, as conspiracy theories about cover-ups had become conventional wisdom.

There are valuable lessons to be learnt regarding emergency response from yesterday’s harrowing experience. The safety of your family and friends depends upon your ability to remain calm and wait for various sources to confirm any news before you act. It is imperative that we don’t believe every forwarded text message or Tweets that we see. The sources of text messages cannot be verified, and those tweeting often have as much information about attacks as the person reading the Tweet. More often than not, Tweets are either conjecture or personal opinion, and must not be treated as facts, unless they are from a trusted news agency.

It is also important to know that in the immediate aftermath of an attack even the media is not sure of what really happened, and will constantly update their reports. The best course of action is to wait before forwarding dangerous texts. While the media can be called out over a false report, text messages and hearsay cannot.

The security agencies as well as news agencies are doing their best at this sensitive time. The policeman on site and the reporter on the ground have no incentive to fool the public or generate fear and distrust. It is time that we come together, and rely on the resources we have, to generate better information and safety protocols for Punjab. It is also time that Federal and Provincial governments set up easily accessible social media accounts and SMS facilities to get the right information to the public, as well as receive their concerns and eyewitness accounts of any unusual incidents they see.