Geneva, 25 October 2007 (MovingNews): The global humanitarian sector has been hit by a ‘new media’ tsunami, causing widespread damage and massive confusion in Geneva.
Giant waves — carrying blogs, wikis, YouTube and other new media products — have simultaneously swept over several aid capitals of the world, including London, New York and Tokyo.
United Nations and many other international relief organisations are among the worst affected. These aid agencies, usually among the first to arrive at the scene of major disasters or crises, found their information and communication capacities severely depleted.
“This is entirely a man-made calamity, and we just didn’t see it coming,” the UN spokesperson in Geneva said in a brief message released using the old-fashioned Morse code. “Our risk registers, log frame analyses and satellite technologies gave us no advance warning.”
Eye witness reports said some agencies were completely marooned on old media islands, saddled with very large numbers of completely unreadable documents going back to decades.
First casualties included assorted spin doctors carrying out propaganda for UN agencies. One perished while trying to sanitise the Wikipedia entry about his agency head.
Meanwhile, several dozen injured or badly bruised public information officers have been treated at a language clinic. Some will undergo trauma counselling.
“We have never been exposed to this level of open and two-way communication,” a survivor from UN OCHA said. “We were so used to always being in control, always telling others what to do and how to do it. I still don’t know what hit us!”
In a major show of solidarity, the world’s computer, telecommunications and media industries are rushing emergency teams to provide relief and recovery support.
“For decades, the UN, red cross and other aid agencies have responded to many and varied emergencies. In their hour of need, we have decided to come to their help,” a joint tele-com-media industry statement said.
Other survivors are being given first aid in simple, jargon-free public speaking. Those who respond well will be treated with basic courses in participatory communication methods.
The emergency coordinators have ordered that any spin doctors found alive be quarantined to prevent the spread of the fatal infection known as MDG.
As the recover process continues, ICT activists plan to conduct more advanced exercises — such as how to produce PowerPoint presentations with less than 20 words per slide.
“But we have to take things one step at a time,” a relief worker said. “These people have just had their entire frame of reference collapse all around them. They are in deep shock and disbelief. It will be a gradual process.”
It has now been established that a few alert officials had anticipated the new media tsunami well ahead of its dramatic arrival. But their warnings were ignored, as it now turns out, to everyone’s peril.
In Washington DC, the United States has just designated veteran broadcasters Walter Cronkite , Bill Moyers and Oprah Winfrey as their New Media Tsunami Relief Ambassadors. In the coming weeks, they will tour the decimated UN, red cross and other humanitarian aid agencies, taking stock of the global disaster and sharing their collective wisdom on telling the truth to the public simply and well.
You, dear reader, are now invited to continue building this unfolding scenario:
How soon and how well will the humanitarian sector raise its head from the new media tsunami?
Will they learn lessons from this disaster, or might they soon return to business as usual?
What would happen to the massive outpouring of goodwill, voluntary help and aid?