Social media plays key role in New Zealand rescue efforts

Users offer hope, shelter, information on loved ones after earthquake

Social media sites might be the silent heroes of the New Zealand earthquake.

People in the region are hailing a spontaneous effort to provide vital information over social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Apps after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the Christchurch area earlier this week, according to Hayley Tsukayama of the Washington Post.

The sites are communicating about those who are missing or have been rescued, and they are offering information about resources for victims.

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A Google app called “Person Finder: Christchurch Earthquake, February 2011” is operating like a missing persons bureau. It allows visitors to share and look for information about people who are unaccounted for since the earthquake. It currently holds about 5,200 records, according to the site.

Twitter hashtags or trending topics, such as #NewZealand, #chch and #nzeq, are providing valuable information for victims’ families. Messages are simple and to the point. “Does anyone know if Lake Terrace Road, Christchurch has been hit by the quake? Looking for Frank and Ann Downy,” one says.

And there’s even a good news Twitter account available to mention those who are safe and have been found, named @safeinchch, referring to “Safe in Christchurch.”

Facebook and Twitter users are posting offers for accommodations from those living outside the immediate earthquake area, reports Andrew Gibson of, a travel website. Many homes in the earthquake zone have been reduced to rubble, and there is a shortage of hotel beds because of the surge in need.

“If anyone needs to get away from the city, we have space on a three-acre block — have a spare room, own water tank, can accommodate anyone that comes regardless of space,” Rebekka wrote on Facebook. “Room for animals as well.”

Another website,, is compiling user-generated information and official reports of affected areas and posting it on Google maps. That helps take the pressure off emergency services, writes Garreth Bloor of memburn, a South Africa website that tracks emerging technologies.

Social media is obviously popular among New Zealanders — even most Parliament members have at least one social media account. The tools reportedly influenced the 2008 general election campaign, according to the Parliament’s website.

Meanwhile, researchers around the world are hoping to learn something from the disaster. In response to the earthquake, authorities in the United States and other countries are working on early-warning systems for large earthquakes, reports Ralph Jennings of IDG News.

Most systems would work by using a network of laptop PCs, Jennings writes. In Taiwan, researchers say special sensors would send data to computers that would be programmed to estimate a potential quake’s magnitude from the initial vibrations and then communicate the messages to simple amplifiers and speakers. Text messages containing the information would be sent to LED displays in the area warning citizens of the impending natural disaster and ordering evacuations when necessary.

About the Author

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.


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