Social Media Perspectives on Recent M8.3 Chile Earthquake and Tsunami

Immediately upon getting home last Wednesday, I received the U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Notification Service‘s alert for the Chile earthquake and subsequent tsunami. It was a long week with the 2015 SCEC Annual Meeting, so visualize the look on my face when I was ready to unwind but saw that alert come through!

(Hey – I’m not special. You too can sign up the USGS ENS service =>)

Whenever a large earthquake occurs, my job requires me to stay on top of it, communicate information to the public and media as necessary, and dive deep into the conversations happening to learn about what’s going on. Note: I’m not an emergency responder, but a communications professional. Think of it like this: we want to get the most accurate information, because we have people coming to us wanting to get that information. If we don’t know it, we can’t help. (Tons of reasons why, way beyond this blog post, shhh that’s not the point of this post anyway.)

And with a tsunami advisory issued out to California and Hawaii, it was time to roll up my sleeves and get down to business.

Within minutes, I started looking to Twitter. Not too much going on… I quickly deduced that many were probably evacuating due to the probable but unconfirmed tsunami. I didn’t know it at the time, but Santiago (large capital city, and largest city near the epicenter) have pretty legitimate buildings. Chileans have learned a lot.

Proof to us in the United States that hey, strong building codes really do save lives. Imagine that.

But then, this Twitter user (@Maikelsin) posted a few photos that a lot of journalists picked up, and you can see why. Despite all the ruckus, it’s clear: Drop, Cover, and Hold On makes sense. When things are falling and flying, the ground is moving, why try to run? What’s a doorway going to do for you? Think about it…

Drop before the earthquake drops you!

from Mall de la Serena (Coquimbo, Chile). Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

from Mall de la Serena (Coquimbo, Chile). Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

I switched over to our friends at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the NWS (National Weather Service, a division of NOAA) to see what the tsunami situation was like. Tsunami.gov is the absolute resource for tsunami alerts, which is operated by NOAA/NWS’ tsunami warning centers. Sure enough, a tsunami had struck the Chilean coastline within minutes, and it was headed to California and Hawaii. Fortunately, Hawaii and California were mildly affected (enough to bob some boats around and create strong currents).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and National Tsunami Warning Center were tweeting about the earthquake and tsunami, with our accounts retweeting and spreading the information. You should follow them too:

  1. NWS_PTWC
  2. NWS_NTWC

Also, Facebook’s new “Safety Check” feature was working well, as NBC Chicago reported. See how one woman living in San Diego was able to discover that most of her friends back in Chile were safe and well.

NBC Chicago Reports

NBC Chicago Reports

CNN summed it up: Chile knows how to deal with earthquakes. So much that maybe we ought to be jealous here in the states.

They also hold the record for the largest recorded earthquake, in fact. The 1960 M9.5 Valvivia Earthquake and Tsunami rocked not only Chile, but the entire Pacific. From the U.S. Geological Survey:

Approximately 1,655 killed, 3,000 injured, 2,000,000 homeless, and $550 million damage in southern Chile; tsunami caused 61 deaths, $75 million damage in Hawaii; 138 deaths and $50 million damage in Japan; 32 dead and missing in the Philippines; and $500,000 damage to the west coast of the United States.

WOW.

Why does the Pacific coast of South America have such huge earthquakes and devastating tsunamis? Find out with IRIS. It’s these big tectonic plates, or blocks of earth’s crusts, that are colliding and involving thousands of square miles. Imagine all that mass, just smashing together. And when it happens under the sea, it shifts water around. Clap your hands under water next time you’re in a pool or bath tub. That water has to go somewhere, right? That’s what creates a tsunami.

When you feel shaking: Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

When you feel shaking: Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

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