April 15th, 2013. What a day? Last year I was standing exactly where the first bomb exploded waiting for my friends to cross the finish line. What a world? Who would think that festive Boston would turn into a crime scene in fragments of a second.
On Patriots Day, late afternoon, a tweet interrupted the Sandbox Summit at MIT. A participant raised his hand to break the news about the explosions nearby the marathon finish line, and instantly everyone was on their smart phones, tablets and laptops checking the updates. Everyone knew someone that could be a potential victim, and everyone who knew us in that room thought we might be hurt. In view of the tragic events, everyone was hungry for information.
Less than five minutes from the first tweet, I received calls, texts, tweets, and facebook alerts from friends and family in Greece, Brussels, Malta, UK, Switzerland and so forth. Indeed news spread faster than light thanks to the collaboration of individuals, journalists and news agencies using new communication technologies.
Local, national and international media covered the story spreading the images of horror that changed forever the notion of this day for Boston. However, most people were following Twitter updates, as immediate reporting on such episodes tends to be heavily depended on non-professional journalists. Crowd sensing and reporting crisis can be salvaging for the community keeping everyone safe and away from hazard.
As the evening evolved, the Fletcher School’s community gave such a salvaging example. The students, in an effort to confirm that every single person in our small student body is safe and sound, used technology to organize and help as they could. Right after the first explosion an email thread started on our common listserv, known as the ‘Social List” to sent alerts from the scene and confirm the status of our classmates who were either running or attending the marathon. Almost instantly, students put together a simple Google doc listing the names of people that someone knew were out there.
Regardless of their professional background, everyone at Fletcher became a reporter, an investigator an information source. Reading through the Google doc, it was obvious that student used every tool they had, from their networks, cell phones, Internet or cars. Everyone identified a role for themselves and took the lead of specific tasks. The use of social media prevailed in checking if the “missing” individuals had reported their location or condition, with Facebook being the most popular.
Students started recording the time and manner they last connected with the named individuals, keeping track of updates and taking follow up actions to ensure that everyone was safe, while updating the tracking status on the Google Doc. In addition to this admirable collaborative work, car owners provided their contact information to be reached and facilitate safe transportation for those at the scene back to campus. What a great tool indeed.
This basic platform was developed comprising different sources and was solely dependent on the power of the groundswell. Needless to say the power of the community to organize for such purpose would not be so time effective without the support of technology; but this is not to overshadow the fact that more than 90 people participated in this initiative, without expecting anything in return.
I am amazed by the power of human community and equally appalled by the terrorizing actions.
What a world we live in!