Last week, leaders from Mexico and the United States gathered at San Diego State’s immersive Visualization Center for the third annual Exercise 24, a disaster simulation that utilizes Twitter and other social media platforms to connect disaster control to necessary resources in a time of crisis.
Last year’s X24 exercise simulated an offshore earthquake resulting in a tsunami striking San Diego. This year’s exercise created a scenario involving multiple disasters in Mexico, the most significant of which was an active volcano erupting near Mexico City.
Once the disaster simulation began, participants interacted with one another through several communication media to find the most effective way to control the situation. The tools in SDSU’s Visualization Center ensured interconnectedness among the participants of X24 Mexico.
“As soon as something happens, you’re all connected to each other,” director of SDSU Visualization Center, Eric Frost, said. “You can create a shared vision to cohesively respond to a disaster. Everyone knows the role they have to play.”
According to Frost, making these connections prior to a real disaster is imperative in order to solve real-time problems in an effective manner.
“If you’re exchanging business cards when the disaster happens, you’ve already lost. It’s already way too late,” Frost said.
Director of X24 Mexico, George Bressler claims the simulation is beneficial not only in a communication-building sense; much of the computerized simulation can also be applied scientifically to actual disasters.
“During X24 San Diego, we explored a situation involving a tsunami in Southern California, which we then applied to the situation in Japan,” Bressler said.
However, Japan could have benefited even further from an X24 involving communication between it and the United States.
“The single hardest part of the Japanese tsunami was Americans getting a travel voucher,” Frost said. “Nobody knew who to talk to, so it took two weeks to get people over there. Most people needing to be saved will be dead by then.”
The X24 simulations are designed to overcome these problems before any casualties occur.
Despite working in a room filled with cutting-edge technology and software, Frost claimed Twitter has now become an invaluable resource for disaster control. The real-time, microblogging site is now in its fifth year of existence and is continually evolving.
“If you want to accomplish something during a disaster, Twitter works in a dramatically effective way because it’s one-to-many,” he said.
Overcoming the language barrier between the United States and Mexico was another obstacle made easier through Twitter. More than 60 percent of Twitter is in a language other than English. Frost said the X24 simulations have benefited from several Twitter users who have been especially innovative in dual-language tweeting.
“Shakira is the champion of dual-language tweeting,” Frost said. “She now tweets in Spanish, English and French. When she tweets, it goes to 14 million people. The U.S. government isn’t capable of that.”
X24 Mexico’s website featured three live Twitter feeds alongside a real-time map, making the emergency simulation easily understandable to outside viewers and inviting people from around the globe to participate. This year, the simulation attracted participants from 43 countries.
“If something happens now, people will be connected to it,” Frost said.” Twitter will make sure regular people are aware and involved in what’s happening.”