New Social Network Aims to Turn Catastrophes into Connections

San Francisco’s SF72 website and app may provide a blueprint for emergency preparedness.

When it comes to natural disasters, the residents of San Francisco are well aware of their city’s history. In 1906, a major earthquake, which had an estimated magnitude of 7.8, struck the city. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck just before a World Series game in Candlestick Park, becoming the first earthquake broadcast on national television.

Many years later, a new social-networking website and app called SF72 could ensure that the city’s citizens are connected and prepared to face catastrophe. The project’s leader recently spoke with BuzzFeed about the vision for the service:

"We looked at everything from CB radio protocols to earthquake apps, as well as emerging and established social platforms," says Kate Lydon, who led the project for IDEO. "The central insight that SF72 is built upon is this: in the event of an emergency, human relationships and a community network are more important than a backpack filled with supplies—that people might not know how to use and are often out of date."

The name SF72 is inspired by the first 72 hours after a disaster, a reflection of the time it may take to restore vital services. In the aftermath of a disaster, the SF72 platform would allow users to access live updates and tweets from around the city, search for missing persons and offer help in the form of supplies, housing or relevant skills to those in need:

"We want to make it simple and take fear out of it," says Francis Zamora, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (SFDEM). "It appeals to people's values. We live here for a reason and this is our home and we want to be a part of it and make simple connections with our neighbors."

Within the past year, states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts have experienced crisis situations that have demonstrated the importance of strong local connections. But the fragmented nature of social media makes it difficult to centralize resources.

The idea of a social network dedicated to emergency preparedness is promising. If the website and app gain traction, other cities may choose to implement the SF72 model.

SF72. This is our city. from crowcrag on Vimeo.

<p>iStockphoto/Thinkstock</p>

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May 01 2013