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Social Media That Matters—for Families and Disasters

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Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)

Forget the incessant cacophony about social-media use in business for one nanosecond. This post is about family, friends and loved ones. Find a way today to get them all connected to a social-media network of some type, because when disaster or terrorist attacks strike …


Here’s why.

Several years ago my oldest son Kane worked in Galway, Ireland for a summer on a UN humanitarian law school project. When it was finished, he and a friend decided to visit Istanbul for a couple days on the way home. Being the ever-encouraging and positive father I am, I said,

“No. Are you nuts? You’re an American. Stay away. Did you look at a map? Did you happen to notice that Istanbul is not really on the way home from Ireland?”

Istanbul is not really on the way home

Being the ever-obedient son Kane is, he went anyway—with much panache I might add.

That same weekend as I was traveling with my youngest son Zack up the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (a 17-mile trip up, then 18 miles down the mountain) with no access to any phones, stores or gas stations—a completely uncivilized ( heavenly) driving environment, I heard a beep coming from my son’s phone in the passenger seat.

“What’s that?”

I asked that question because a year earlier there was no cell service going over the mountain—a dead area.

“My Facebook phone alert.”

Facebook? In this isolated stretch of mountainous highway? Was there no peace to be had anywhere on earth anymore?

Zack looked at his phone.

“Dad, Kane says to tell you not to worry (he actually said “not to freak out” but Zack had edited it), he’s okay.”

Now, usually when someone says “not to worry, I’m okay,” that means there is a lot to worry about that you didn’t know you should have been worrying about until they told you not to worry about it.

My youngest son is a perceptive communicator and translator. He anticipated my reaction and quickly texted his oldest brother,

“Dad wants to know what the %$^$%& you mean.”

“There was a terrorist attack—an explosion, a bomb—near our hotel. Killed a lot of people. The hotel management was rounding up all Americans staying there and securing us in a room—for protection I guess.”


This is what is typically referred to as a “Maalox Moment.” 

A Maalox moment” is that involuntary tightening of the essence of your entire being that occurs right before an impending disasterlike when your car is out of control and you know you’re going to crash. Or, you look out the window and see an F-5 tornado headed your way. The list could go on and on. These type of events all invoke a “Maalox Moment” response.  I’m sure it’s an intelligently designed, evolutionary, genetic trait. One that is instantly triggered, when your son texts you …

… “Don’t worry. I’m okay.”

We texted back and forth going up the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway until I felt he was safe.

Now think about that. In the middle of nowhere, instantaneous communications from the Smoky Mountains to and from Istanbul—surreal and unimaginable, even the year before.

From the Smoky Mountains to Istanbul

I turned the radio on. The national news networks had no coverage of it. In fact, it was three to four hours later before it was reported in the United States.


Then there was another beep on Zack’s phone..

“Dad, Kane says to tell you he’s alright—again. There was another explosion.”

The evil and efficient minds of most terrorists know they maximize death, destruction and psychological impact if there are two blastsone to attract attention, then another one, usually bigger and several minutes later, to kill the emergency responders. Emergency respondersthe brave-hearted people who respond to dangerous situations all over the world every day.

Long story short, the hotel staff was great, took care of the boys, and they were on a plane out of the country two tense days later.


My youngest son Zack is now overseas teaching English.

He’s been there two years.

Zack Kayser (If you can't guess.. he's the red Samurai)

In Handa (半田市, Handa-shi) in the 愛知県, Aichi-ken prefecture, Japan, which is south of Tokyo.

About 6 a.m. on March 11, a  Friday morning, I started getting beeps, pings, e-mails, Facebook messages and Tweets about an 8.9-magnitude Japanese earthquake. It startled me awake.

“Had I heard from Zack? Was he okay?”

I hadn’teither about the earthquake or from Zack.

I tried to call, but couldn’t get through. The phone system didn’t work. The underseas communications cables had been cut by the tsunami and the telecommunications network had been severely damaged. I e-mailed him. Nothing.  No response. Nothing to do but wait.This went on for hours.

No response to anything.

Silence.  Then …


I get a Facebook message from Zack.

He’d been on the train to work. It shook severely and was scary, but he was okay. He said there were fires, quakes and tsunami warningsthings you don’t experience every day in Cincinnati.

Zack went on, through Facebook instant message, to describe what was happening, including the aftershocks every 20 minutes that were between magnitudes 4.0 to 5.0. Yesterday (Sunday) he’d had a 6.3 aftershock that picked his bed up, so he fled to the uncertain safety of the bathtub to ride it out. The bathtub is now his best non-human friend. Not so much as a kid though, if memory and olfactory senses recall correctly.

Then last night, Sunday (Monday morning for him), we video-Skyped. I saw his face, his smile, heard his voicecould almost reach out and touch him and I knew he really was alright.

When nothing else worked, social media and social-media networks did. How? I don’t know. Don’t care either. It just did.

Do yourself, your family, friends and loved ones a big favor. Connect them to a social-media network.

Use Facebook. Facebook has a Disaster Relief page.

Use Twitter. Twitter has been especially proactive during the Japan earthquake, posting a page of  tools and tips on how to use Twitter to get information and to communicate broadly to family, friends and others.

Use Skype.

Use Google, though not a social network per se, it has a great  Crisis Response Page with tools and critical information. It also displays real-time updates from Twitter via their real-time search function.

Use any social network you can that will help you stay connected during emergencies. It really is …


In disasters and terrorist attacks, I have learned this lesson twice: When nothing else works, social media does.

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