2011/03/11 – and a media tsunami

As I sit at my office desk at 15h39 on a Friday afternoon in the sunny city of Cape Town, 18 562 Kilometres away on the islands of Hawaii, anonymous residents are watching the shoreline for a tsunami. Live video feeds of pre-dawn morning and unfamiliar shorelines as the water recedes some 200 feet and exposing the reef at Diamond Head. Tweets from residents, urged by sirens to head for higher ground, keep feeding emotions and news to the rest of the world. The world is practically there, as most are out of harm’s way. The same, however may not be true for Japan, having experienced the fifth biggest recorded earthquake in the past one hundred years.

Tsunami Hits Japan after M8.9 Earthquake
Video: Tsunami Hits Japan after M8.9 Earthquake

Earlier reports today claimed figures of tens and twenties of casualties. A few hours later, reports of some 200 – 300 bodies being found along the Japanese shoreline following the tsunami that hit earlier today. The true devastation though may not be calculated for the next few days, as aftershocks and receding surges expose the power of earth and ocean.

While, my heart and prayers go out to those in the affected area (which is almost the entire Pacific Ocean now) guiltily my thoughts gravitate more towards the unsurpassed level of digital communication that we now have access to. How in real time we experience a natural phenomenon on the other side of the world. The anxiety and suspense as real as if we were indeed there.

While this is nothing new to talk about and as awesome as it may be to watch and experience (practically) first-hand the power of nature through media, it’s purpose extends beyond that. With the communication technologies available to the average citizen in the street today, reports and information and warnings can be issued globally to assist in rescue and planning. The statistical data being fed to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre‘s headquarters from instrumentation spread throughout the ocean allows local and national news stations to estimate tsunami arrival times down to the minute!

While this tragedy will certainly unfold more and more over the next few days, with Japan only gearing into action hours after the disaster and Australia, New Zealand and some 50 other countries are on high alert for possible tsunamis, it’s good to see the technological age and media being genuinely utilised, notwithstanding the need to sift through the exaggerations and hype that unfortunately gets hits and clicks on links and which are just as important as ratings.