Pakistan is no stranger to disasters and emergencies, both natural and man-made. Emergencies at local and national levels can lead to a surge in demand for services and information.

Amidst this sea of questions, the local emergency management infrastructure can find it hard to cope with the demand and this is where members of the local community can bridge an important gap.

According to open source information published in 2013, Pakistan has 30 million registered internet users out of which 15 million use mobile phones to access the internet. Research presented by “School of Data” reports that 155,000 Pakistanis have Twitter accounts meanwhile the number of Facebook users is considerably higher at 15 million registered users.

This vast network of people all connected through single or multiple social networking platforms can provide vital grassroots level information to both members of the public, non-profit and government agencies.

Twitter alerts in some areas are considered so reliable and quick that subscribers in Karachi share tweets to alert other users about potential traffic jams, congestions and alternative routes around the metropolis.

The use of social media for incident reporting and damage assessment is now well established. From Karachi to Kuala Lumpur, there have been numerous cases where the use of social media by members of the public, non-profit and government agencies has allowed responders to get a better understanding of the situation on the ground prior to deployment, allowing triaging of response to avoid duplication of efforts and ultimately save lives.

The floods of 2010, 2011, 2014 and more recently the flash flooding witnessed around the country caused a flurry of information exchange on both Twitter and Facebook with community based activists, local NGOs and volunteers sharing information on needs assessments, relief requirements and damage assessments.

Despite this, the government body tasked with Disaster Management both at the Federal and Provincial/District level remained silent and did not alert members of the general public about areas at risk, what precautionary measures to take, and situation reports on who is working where and doing what.

This is further reinforced by examining the official NDMA: National Disaster Management Authority twitter account which is dormant and was last active in December 2010. If a member of the general public needs to get an update on the actions being taken, it requires paying a visit to the official website of the authority and trawling through sit-reps and various announcements to obtain the relevant information.

In today’s world where billions of people are all connected through a network of 1’s and 0’s a simple 140character tweet can help people spread the message to prepare pre disaster, reduce the impact during the disaster and aid recovery post disaster.

The NDMA can learn vital lesson from the use of social media in disaster preparedness and response from the way the American Red Cross uses YouTube to educate members of the public in Earthquake safety during the “Big Shakeout”, to the way social media users helped direct aid and emergency services to remote and heavily hit communities in the recent disaster in Nepal.

Whilst disaster management is ultimately the concern of the state, members of the local community can help play a vital role in life safety and disaster risk reduction by sharing relevant and accurate messages relating to developing emergencies or disasters in their city.

If mobile services are congested in your city due to a sudden surge in subscriber demand or network congestion, people can connect to their Wi-Fi networks or use computers connected to the internet to spread the message to people outside the affected area.

It is important that we should remember that emergency services rely on information to activate and this can be achieved by using the free tool kit provided in the shape of social media.  

Ultimately working together to keep our nation and her citizens safe and secure.