Thousands of people, stranded all over the world by the volcanic ash plume have been turning to social media for help. Facebook groups and dedicated websites have been created to offer news and advice about conditions surrounding the plume. Carpooling and couch surfing websites have been working overtime organising accomodation and transport for displaced travelers. Blogs have been filled with amusing and harrowing anecdotes. Twitter has been an invaluable asset in organising and communicating all of the above, as well as allowing airlines to keep their customers updated and embassies to offer direct and timely advice to confused citizens.
Has it been a perfect process? No, as many who are still stranded can attest to.
Immediately after flights were canceled it was difficult for people to find information available on the internet concerning flights, rental cars, trains or other options, whether because the sites overloaded, or because the companies hadn’t gotten around to updating.
This reflected less on the capacity of the internet to respond to the disaster, and more on the present abilities of the agencies involved. Thankfully social media has come to the rescue, as those affected by the volcanic ash have been able to access a large amount of public information to help make the crises easier to deal with.
Tourism operators of all stripes should take note of how powerful these sources of information and communication can be – as should anyone who happens to get stuck in a similar situation. And governments and disaster relief organisations should also take note, because the next big disaster might not be as benign as a sky full of smoke.