TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

Section Navigation

Connecting Communities Online


2012 Academic Festival

2012 Academic Festival

The use of social media (instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter) in disasters and epidemics has steadily grown as mobile technology becomes ubiquitous, agreed three experts on the discussion panel “Connecting Communities Online,” moderated by John Allegrante, TC Deputy Provost and Professor of Health Education.

Still, said panelist Thomas Chandler (PhD ’09, MA ’00), Research Associate at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, three elements must be in place for successful planning and response:  robust Internet connections to facilitate fast and widespread connection; residents who have computers or mobile technologies and know how to use them; and a local capacity to work together during emergencies in order to target the correct resources to the right places.

Annie Feighery, a doctoral student in Health Education, talked about her creation of MWater, a social network for sharing information about water quality and safety worldwide. Feighery has researched the post-earthquake disaster response in Haiti in 2010, which she said was poorly coordinated and, in fact, a “giant failure,” because relief coordinators could not respond to quickly changing needs on the ground. She compared the relief in Haiti to the far more successful response during the Arab Spring uprisings just a little more than a year later, when the capacity and saturation of mobile technology had substantially improved worldwide. Universities, Feighery said, should release new technologies before they are even finished, so that user response governs refinement and further development. “The beta mindset rules Web 2.0,” Feighery said.

Indeed, technology develops so quickly, and academic research takes so long that new developments often are obsolete before they are released, said Christel Hyden (EdD ’11), Assistant Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Hyden challenged academia to become more nimble and creative, and to be willing to give up some control over the information being shared online. “We need to let the discussion evolve organically,” she said.

previous page