In March 2011, a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami overtook Japan, toppling buildings, causing widespread power outages, and clogging up the phone lines. As victims struggled to communicate with loved ones, they turned to Twitter, the last reliable method of communication they had.
Now, Japan is considering standardizing Twitter’s use for emergency communications. During a government panel in Tokyo Tuesday, PC World reported, Twitter Japan head James Kondo tweeted he hoped users would soon be able to place emergency calls on the network.
It’s not a new notion for Kando, whose company has been updating the Twitter Japan blog in recent weeks with tips for tweeting through an emergency.
"If your circumstances allow, please add #survived to your tweets. This will help when family and friends that are worried about you search on your welfare," says one entry, translated by PC World.
Twitter was vital for victims of last year’s earthquake and tsunami, but that’s far from the only time the social network has saved people’s lives. Following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Turkey, a news anchor tweeted an address where two people were still trapped. Emergency workers were able to dig them out two hours later. Well-timed tweets have also prevented theft, kidnapping, and suicide.
If the Japanese government makes it possible for citizens to reach 1-1-9—the Japanese equivalent of 9-1-1—through Twitter, victims won’t need to rely on other users to pass along their tweets to the right person. They’ll be able to directly get help, even without access to power or telephone service.
Nothing has been decided, but already some government agencies are making themselves more accessible on Twitter. On Wednesday, the Tokyo Fire Department opened up its own Twitter account, @Tokyo_Fire_D.
Photo by Cliff Cheng