This morning's 7.5-magnitude earthquake and the strong aftershocks that followed were a good reminder about how important communication is in a crisis. As soon as the swaying stopped, the first thing many of us did was grab our phones to find out what had happened and to contact loved ones.

Last night, we saw first-hand the role that social media can play in communicating public service announcements. A few websites that we checked had crashed, meaning that officials such as the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) started pointing people to Facebook and Twitter for information instead. Useful website links posted by other officials were slow to load or didn't work on mobile at all.

We found that Twitter was excellent for staying up-to-date. Photos, videos, news reports - everything was there within minutes of the 7.5 quake. We immediately followed @NZcivildefence and turned on notifications for that account,  so that we were alerted every time they tweeted. The NBR also tweeted a list of useful Twitter accounts to follow, such as NZ Civil Defence, Geonet, Weather Watch, NZ Police and NZ Get Through. Searching for trending hashtags like #eqnz or #nzearthquake meant you could follow what was happening in real time.

Facebook's Safety Check was another useful communication tool, which saved us a lot of time and our family and friends a lot of worry. As is the case in most natural disasters, phone lines went down and people were advised to text, not call. This is where Facebook's Safety Check came in handy. If you're on Facebook, you can 'mark' yourself as safe with a tap of a button. It then alerts your friends that you are safe. Once you have done that, you automatically get notified every time a friend is marked as safe. You can also mark friends as safe and ask friends if they are safe. It might save you having to answer dozens of messages about whether you're ok!

While on Twitter, we noticed a huge number of people praising Radio NZ's coverage of the quakes. You can live stream the station from your phone but if you don't have internet access or data, use a good old radio or even your car stereo.

And remember to keep your phone charged! Take care and look after each other.

AuthorKatarina Filipe