Doctors Without Borders communications director Jason Cone and NBC Today news anchor Ann Curry shared their experiences in trying to get planes carrying supplies and emergency personnel the clearance to land in Haiti after that country’s devastating earthquake during the Social Media & the Haiti Disaster panel at The New York Times Building in New York, part of Social Media Week 2010.
Curry had prior experience with the way humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders worked, and she took action after receiving tweets from Cone describing the frustrations of not being able to get the group’s planes to land.
We already had about 30 international staff and 700 Haitians working on the ground when the earthquake struck, so our first hours were making sure our staff was OK. It was only in the days after that we realized Twitter and Facebook could be used as a way to mobilize and get some of our teams off the ground.
In many regards, it was Twitter and the conversations we had with Ann through Twitter that removed some of the obstacles. We just started sending Twitter posts out raising the question: Why aren’t our planes able to land? Eventually, the Air Force’s Twitter feed itself was responding. By Wednesday, we were getting calls from the very highest levels of government trying to facilitate the landings of the planes we needed.
It clearly was a fire-starter to have this sort of communication online.
Curry’s side of the story:
When I came back and saw (Jason’s) tweet that Doctors Without Borders couldn’t land their plane, I said, “Wait a minute.” The idea that they could not land was just unacceptable, in my view, in terms of saving lives.
I have contacts in the military, but this is sort of outside my journalistic box.
Curry was able to lean on some of her contacts and get them to prioritize landing slots for Doctors Without Borders, and she concluded, “The bottom line is that Twitter helped save lives. Isn’t that incredible?”