On March 18th, Weathernews Inc., a Japanese private weather service company, held a public forum with a theme “What can the Internet users do in disasters?” This is one of the forums held relating to the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which is held once every ten year.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred on March 11, 2011, not a few Japanese people have found that the Internet has a unique power in disasters. If we can use the Internet power more effectively to reduce risks in disasters, our community may be stronger against disasters. Then what can we do with the power? To find out an answer to that question, a discussion was held. One of the discussion members was Takafumi Horie, a Japanese entrepreneur who founded Livedoor, a website design operation that grew into a popular internet portal.
Horie’s comments were as follows;
“On the next day after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Honda, one of Japanese leading car makers, published road condition data including jammed or closed spots. Now we can analyze big data according to information uploaded through smartphones. This cannot be done by broadcasts but broadcasts and the Internet are both necessary things. What we need to do is to use each medium properly according to purposes. For example, useful information for the majority people should be conveyed via broadcasts and the information of victims or missing people should be conveyed via the Internet. Besides, people must have the minimum media literacy. People should know that too many calls at the same time make communication get jammed and finally break and that sending text messages is not such a heavy burden to the line.
At the Great East Japan Earthquake, many celebrities with a lot of followers retweeted information relating to the disaster via Twitter and they acted like, so to speak, a hub of information. Horie said that he also retweeted relentlessly without sleeping for 24 hours and finally he was misunderstood as a robot by Twitter and his account was locked!
“As for the way of spreading information, I know that I can’t do 100 % right things, but it is more harmful that precise reviews prevent necessary information from spreading, I think. If spread information is wrong, viewers respond to deny it very quickly and the original information can be modified right soon. In this way, hubs are created automatically in the Internet, which is a merit and demerit of the Internet. The ideal way of using the Internet is that every user judges by themselves which person or organization is reliable to get useful information. In addition to that, traditional mass media and government should exist.”
“Nobody yet has created a ranking to show reliability of information on the Internet. Set 10 or so categories and rank liability of information publishers in each category. Then the most reliable person’s news is displayed the biggest and the least reliable person’s is not displayed. This is like , creation of a reliability network.”
“This is about a prototype of news apps. Now we have news apps such as Gunosy or LINENEWS or Yahoo! News and so on. Gunosy provides us news customized for each user using its original algorism, but I don’t think it’s perfect. If we develop an app applying my ideas suggested above, we can offer ideally customized news, I think. “
“There are many things we can do in disasters. For example, just uploading photos of your location on Instagram can be useful. If you put hashtags such as #earthquake or #emergency, they can be gathered to create a website. If you enable your location information, a geotag is shown. If one hundred thousand people do that, a real time hazard map can be automatically created.“ Also he added,” Evacuation drills using the Internet should be done in communities or schools.”
“Many people think that their uploading information on the Internet is useless. However the whole situation can be grasped by gathering each person’s information. Education of what we can do for ourselves and for others using smartphones is the only way to be strong against disasters. That is a matter of life or death.”
In 2014, Japan suffered from Mount Ontake Eruption and a series of landslides following heavy rain. It seems really urgent to find an effective way of using the Internet’s power and do practices so that everyone can conduct it precisely to survive in disasters.