Terror in Mumbai and the evolution of crisis communications

July 13, 2011

Several hours ago, three explosions hit the Indian city of Mumbai. At the current time (18h00 GMT), reports suggest seventeen people have been killed and 81 injured.

Less than three years after the siege of 26/11, the citizens of Mumbai are facing the consequences of another terror attack. It is hardly a surprise that people are using Twitter to communicate, but its use as a tool for crisis communications is evolving. 

Back in 2008, I suggested that an eyewitness tag on Twitter, such as #EW, would help people identify relevant material from the vast torrent of tweets that were being posted about Mumbai.

In 2011, Twitter users have taken things beyond my rather simple idea by organising a number of separate hashtags to relay information.

Rather than only using one hashtag (#Mumbai) as many people did three years ago, today the Twitter users of Mumbai have started posting to:

1. #mumbaiblasts, for information relevant to the attacks
2. #here2help, for people who can offer assistance
3. #needhelp, for people who are in need of assistance
4. #mumbaitraffic, for updates on the transport situation
 
Of course, the system relies on users posting information to the right hashtag and for others not to post irrelevant information, so it’s far from perfect. But it is certainly more sophisticated than a single hashtag.

In addition, as Guardian journalist Laura Oliver has pointed out, Indians are putting together a shared spreadsheet to coordinate useful contact information in real time.
 
The network is evolving to find solutions to the problems of information overload and accessing relevant material quickly.
 
New tools are also being explored by journalists.
 
Digital strategist and freelance journalist Kevin Anderson said he heard of the attacks via Google+. His source, however, was a long-established contact – he had interviewed her after the Mumbai train bombings in 2006.