Technology companies traditionally develop their communication strategies around the benefits of their innovation for companies or end users. An ERP can develop business efficiencies for companies or an app increasing quality of life to all of its users. Overall, the common message we have been helping our clients communicate is how technology enhances all aspects of life. But if the technology we commonly use every day saves lives, is it worth communicating it?
As part of my regional role for Latin America, I continuously travel to our markets to meet with clients and colleagues. I was visiting our Mexico City office when, at 1:14pm on Tuesday, September 19, a 7.1 Richter earthquake struck the city and several neighboring states, instantly destroying more than 40 buildings with people trapped inside and changing the lives of millions of Mexicans forever. As a proud Mexican and survivor of previous earthquakes in this city, I certainly noted some differences between previous shocks – most importantly in how technology played a critical role in communication.
As phone lines died, the Internet surprisingly stood strong. While I was still shaking (literally), Twitter was my main source of information – to learn the quake’s magnitude, understand what buildings collapsed, and get official information from local authorities. Suddenly, Twitter became a critical tool to disseminate information related to the earthquake. Prior to the digital age, we had to wait until TV or radio provided some data on seismic activities and the aftermath, but Twitter allows us to have access to information in real time. Mobile providers did an outstanding job to keep its Internet network running. At the same time that phone lines were down, Whatsapp became the ultimate communication tool – either through written messages or through VOIP calls. Personally, in the midst of chaos and anxiety, I was only able to communicate with my family through Whatsapp and learn they were shocked but fine.
32 years ago, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico, killing up to 10,000 people with most of them trapped in the rubble. Today, although the magnitude was lower, most of the people trapped inside the collapsed buildings were holding mobile phones. Imagine this: The place where you work suddenly collapses. You are among rocks and rubble and the only reachable thing is your mobile phone. What do you do? Exactly. Many people used their activated GPS tool on their mobile phones, and by sending the precise location inside the building, rescuers and volunteers were able to reach them after titanic efforts of removing debris and heavy concrete rocks. Technology saved the day. A modern day miracle. How could technology have helped back in 1985, if only a few devices would have had GPS tools available? How many lives could have been saved?
Anxiety sparks fear and fear sparks uncertainty. Just as Twitter and social media helped to understand the tragedy in real time, it also fueled false news and collective psychosis related to the earthquake – information was heavily shared about how the UN predicted a terrible aftershock that would wipe out Mexico City, or how buildings were about to collapse when they only had windows broken. In the midst of the mayhem provoked by social media, several millennials – who were particularly active in rescue labors throughout the city – decided to use a hashtag, #Verified, that was included only in information double checked with official sources. Thus, this group of tech-savvy volunteers could quickly provide certainty of the current situation, allowing people to understand what was real news or fake news. This amazing effort allowed people to know what buildings were safe, what donations were urgently required and where authorities needed them, where emergency teams should go, and how to protect affected people living in the streets.
Perhaps the most outstanding thing that I learned by living through this experience alongside my fellow Mexicans, has been the solidarity and unwavering support given by all people through technology. Army and Navy soldiers holding complex heat scanners to identify bodies buried within collapsed buildings, companies like Uber, Cabify and Airbnb allowing a free usage of their services to support rides and accommodation to people who lost their homes, Google Maps’ platform developing ad-hoc maps to identify dangerous zones or available shelters for affected people, and most important of all, Mexico City has developed a seismic alarm system that is triggered when an earthquake is detected. When the alarm goes off on the city’s outdoor speakers platform, people have exactly 1 minute to evacuate their building and leave behind whatever they are doing – some sort of earthquake prediction that has certainly saved some lives so far.
Credit: David de La Paz | Xinhua News Agency
Still, Mexico City and the whole country is in a recovery stage. Hundreds of lives were lost, and there is still much to be done to help rebuild. This is just the beginning. Conan O’Brien recently hosted my fellow countryman Diego Luna who explained the dreadful experience of living the Mexico City big earthquake. All of it is true. I lived it. If you are interested in donating and helping Mexico, I will be forever thankful. The people of Mexico need us.
Here’s to technology. It made our lives easier, made our world more pleasant, and now, it has actually saved our lives.
Rodrigo Castro | Practice Chair Director