On September 25, 2009, Typhoon Ondoy lashed Metro Manila and plagued it with wind, rain, floods and power failures. Mobile networks (mainly Globe) went down, causing communications breakdown. And social media took center stage as people plugged into the networks, reporting news, finding news, generating Tweets, Facebook updates, sharing media, and creating homespun disaster reporting networks.
On September 27, 2011, in an eerie coincidence almost two years to the date, practically all of the above repeated itself, only this time the typhoon was called Pedring.
Once again, I got all of my news through digital social media, through SMS, on mobile internet, and on the social networks. Very early in the morning, the office sent an SMS broadcast to all employees – no need to go to work today, just stay home, and stay safe. What’s going on, I asked, how is everybody? Years ago, I would stay glued to AM radio and the TV news channels. Nowadays, I bring up the Twitter app on my phone and scan the feed. Why wait for commentators and news anchors? Social media is more immediate.
Twitter, Facebook, joined this year by Google+, all served as the primary source of information by the digital generation. Trees knocked down in the neighborhood? Rooftops whizzing by? No mobile phone service in your area? Power down? Is it flooded where you are? People took to reporting the news by themselves with a speed that professional news organizations struggled to match.
Certain incidents stood out as we monitored the people-powered newsfeeds. Roxas Boulevard is flooded! Check the Twitpics and the YouTube clips for confirmation.
Billboards crushed cars on Buendia! There’s a YouTube clip for that.
The Sofitel Hotel got flooded! The Sprial restaurant – site of many a memorable buffet dinner – was under water. Proof? There’s a Twitpic or Yfrog photo for that:
Here’s a photo of the flooded Sofitel (posted on Yfrog by Jerick Bautista, hotel employee):
Here’s another photo by Jerick Bautista of the floodwaters swamping the back of the Sofitel Hotel.
There was the inevitable meme. Floods everywhere, hey did anyone inform Christopher Lao? Was he informed? And just like that, Christopher Lao trended once again on Twitter for a brief spell.
Hey how could we help? Check out the Philippine Red Cross Twitter feed for details.
As in Ondoy, DIY crowdsourced disaster reporting mechanisms popped up, allowing people online to report critical areas needing help. The best one I saw was the Typhoon Pedring Crisis Map on Crowdmap.com. It even has a handy list of Emergency Hotlines .
And then there were the commentaries.Two years after Ondoy, did we learn anything new? Are we more prepared for disasters than before?
When the worse of the typhoon was over, I suddenly remembered I had a television set. I turned it on to ANC. The 24-hour news channel was rehashing all the info, reports and video clips I had already seen on social media sites.
The best Typhoon video coverage wasn’t captured by television news crews: it was uploaded on YouTube, shot by ordinary people on phones and small cameras.
At what point did the idea of a 24-Hour TV News Channel get so outdated?