Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy was a noteworthy event for many reasons. However, one of the more interest facts that came out was related to the use of social photos to document the disaster. For example, photo-sharing service Instagram released statistics showing more than 1.3 million photos were shared during the event with a peak average of 10 photos posted every second. Clearly this trend is worth exploring related to how it impacts emergency management and response.
The increased use of mobile devices to document disaster response and recovery activities is helping personalize the impacts of the event. While traditional media have always provided large-scale perspective about major disasters, smaller events and personalized issues are being projected much more quickly and efficiently through social photos.
While emergency managers already struggle with managing to assess the overwhelming amount of information related to a disaster, social photo sharing is an additional source to provide both primary information about the disaster as well as secondary confirmation. The confirmation capabilities are particularly important as limited emergency services resources can be better allocated if they do not have to provide confirmation about particularly issues in a given location.
Whether emergency managers like it or not, a growing (and significant) portion of their communities leverage social systems to communicate, commiserate, and ultimately emotionally cope. Much like traditional sharing, people often benefit psychologically from sharing hardships and challenges -- particularly those faced during disasters. Often they find others who have experienced similar hardships or who can provide clarity to the situation. When localized support systems are damaged, social systems often continue to function with little to no interruption. Sharing photos in social environments like Instagram is just one example of this.
Clearly, social photo sharing will continue to be an important part of disaster response and recovery. The faster emergency managers figure out when, where, and how that happens the more efficiently they can help their community recover -- physically and emotionally.