accessibility & help

Is social media changing the way we deal with disasters

19 April 2016

When the earthquake hit Nepal a year ago on 25 April, the Nepal Red Cross were amongst the first on the scene. In addition to providing direct help through search and rescue and first aid, their Facebook page reached millions of people throughout the Kathmandu valley with advice on how to stay safe and well during the disaster.

In Nepal, Facebook is the most visited website, ahead of Google and Wikipedia. After the earthquake the British Red Cross, a long-time partner of the Nepal Red Cross, helped manage the Facebook page allowing the Nepal Red Cross to respond to the emergency.

Through Facebook the Red Cross posted messages and ads featuring films with information about how to avoid cholera, check houses for damage and deal with aftershocks. All the messages were able to be targeted precisely at people living in affected areas.

Even though people were stranded, they still had access to the internet. Many people posted messages from badly hit areas, meaning the voices of people affected could be heard. The British Red Cross was able to pass these messages to the teams on the ground.

The Facebook messages and adverts reached an incredible 3.9 million people in the Kathmandu valley. With Facebook advertising costing just 10p to reach 1,000 people in Nepal, this is a hugely cost-effective way to communicate to people in crisis. 

In the most recent tragic earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, the Japanese Red Cross kept both Facebook and Twitter updated on its actions and let people know where they could go for assistance. The Ecuadorian Red Cross is also using its social media pages to keep people updated on the response and answer questions.

Being able to reach so many people, in such a short space of time and at very little cost, could completely change the face of humanitarian work in the aftermath of a disaster.

Jamie Sport, Social Media Manager at the British Red Cross, said:

“Following an earthquake it can be extremely difficult to reach people, particularly in remote areas like the Kathmandu valley in Nepal. While phone lines were down, the British Red Cross found that many people still had internet access on their phones. We were able to reassure people and let them know we were coming.

 “While social media cannot replace urgently needed supplies and first aid, it can communicate important safety messages with people, even in hard to reach areas. Millions of people were reached with messages and advice about how to be prepared, should another disaster occur, in a quick, easy and cost-effective way.”

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Notes to editors

The Nepal Red Cross Society is the largest humanitarian organisation in Nepal. It is playing a prominent role in helping people in the 14 districts identified as being the worst affected by the earthquake.

The British Red Cross helps millions of people in the UK and around the world to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies, disasters and conflicts. Our volunteers and staff help people in crisis to live independently by providing support at home, mobility aids and transport. We also teach first aid skills. We are part of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent humanitarian network.

We refuse to ignore people in crisis.