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The Japanese Earthquake: Disasters in the Internet Age

March 15, 2011 / John Christie


Like millions of others, I was drawn to the devastating pictures from Japan this weekend. News sites on the internet provided coverage faster than newspapers or daily news broadcasts.  Often, world media are catapulted into the scene of a natural disaster after the fact, but this time the story unfolded, almost in real time, to the rest of the world. This was crowd-sourced journalism in action, with Twitter, cellphone videos and the ‘net getting the story out to the rest of the world. The country most prepared for earthquakes is also one of the most technologically enabled. And this means there are a lot of cameras. I couldn’t help but wonder what the photographers were thinking while they were recording these images. Every journalist wants to capture the story in the most compelling way. But what if that story is right in your neighbourhood? What if you’re in the traffic helicopter filming a torrent of water rolling over everything in its path? Or this clip, it’s about 6 minutes long and brilliantly shot:

Whoever shot it had the perfect vantage point. A stairway to higher ground enabled the photographer to move up and down, getting close to the water without being in constant danger. But I can’t imagine what was going through his or her head. That’s your city in front of you, being destroyed by a wall of water that just grows and grows. There are no edits in the footage until about 6 minutes in, the shooter repositions a lot, holding for a few seconds to get a great shot and then re-framing to get a better or different angle. It’s powerful, shocking and surreal.

It will take Japan a long time to recover, and although they are a wealthy, “First World” country, they can use our help. The Canadian Red Cross accepts online donations through credit cards or Paypal.

And you can’t watch the Japan story unfold without thinking what it will be like when we face the same thing in British Columbia. It’s not if the next earthquake hits—it’s when the next earthquake hits. Spend a few minutes thinking about how you would cope with a situation like this. The BC Provincial Emergency Program has some good information on their site.


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