Social Media Could Boost Search and Rescue Operations
Over 2,480 people died in marine disasters in 2015, and the financial cost of these disasters was $1.7 billion. A coordinated approach to using social media in search and rescue has the potential to reduce this toll.
Applications such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp and Flickr often provide breaking news to anyone connected to the Internet. Their potential to be used to disseminate safety messages, training and warnings and to aid in the collection of data for natural disasters has been proven on land or near the coast, but their use in marine accidents remains primitive.
The efficiency of a search and rescue (SAR) operation depends on quick planning and rapid response: assessing the nature of the distress situation through information gathered during the initial phase of the emergency and from that determining what action should be taken. Social media could be used to help victims request assistance and to provide information on injuries. These platforms could create a fluency of immediate reports for first responders and SAR management about victim’s needs, but a potentially large number of shared reports would need to be filtered to select only those of high priority for decision making.
To date, there is no global, authorized network specified for SAR in operation. A suitable legal framework would need to be devised with cooperation between the IMO, social media owners, governments and research centers to overcome any economic and technical challenges. A technical body is also needed to manage the associated internet satellite services and develop a social media application specialized in SAR that could be controlled by the IMO.
Such a system could collect a trusted flow of reports (messages, voice, photos and videos) from the scene of disaster. These reports would flow in different three paths from volunteers near the scene, relatives and friends and relevant SAR authorities. Volunteers could drop lifesaving appliances, and at the same time report to the nearest SAR coordination, center while relatives and friends could report to relevant authorities and inform the media so that they can follow the situation.
The required Internet service could be provided via two different paths: for coastal area, coverage could be provided by a local internet service provider, offshore, coverage could be provided by satellite communication services (Inmarsat, Iridium, O3b and SpaceX).
Added to the maritime industry's already formidable technological advances and strict port state control through IMO conventions, this system could further decrease the number and cost of shipping accidents to better protect life, assets and the environment.
Captain Abdelkhalik Kamal Eldin Soliman Selmy is a Lecturer at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology & Maritime Transport.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.