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Citizen Engagement, Public Infrastructure, Public Safety

Microblogging platform aids relief work in Beijing floods

After the torrential rains in Beijing last Saturday, both authorities and individuals have used Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, to help those stranded and organise relief efforts.

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The heaviest rainfall in 61 years killed at least 37 people and displaced more than 50,000.

The local authorities mobilised more 12,000 personnel from different departments to participate in the relief efforts, draining more than 1 million cubic metres of waters from the city’s streets.

Sina.com, the operator of the most popular Weibo service with more than 300 million registered users, recorded more than 8.8 million tweets about the floods during the 24 hours after the disaster started.

A school in the suburbs was strapped by foods, trapping more than 100 pupils as the phone line went defunct. A Weibo SOS message was sent out and forwarded to the Fire Bureau, which organised the rescue immediately. All the students were relocated to safe areas within one hour.

Similar messages from Weibo have given the authorities information which led to the rescue of more than 400 people in the same district.

The halt of bus and train services left more than 80,000 people stranded at the airport, and thousands more in different corners of the city. Weibo users started a campaign to organise volunteers who drive their own vehicles to pick up these stranded people for free. Hundreds of Weibo users participated in the movement, with many spending a whole night picking up and sending people. Sina.com recorded 520,000 tweets about the operation.

In addition, many companies and individuals opened up their offices and households as shelters for stranded individuals. As many car licence plates are flushed on the streets, some Weibo users organised themselves to pick these up, store them in a central location and publish information online for owners to retrieve their plates.

In addition to these efforts initiated by the citizens, the authorities have also used Weibo extensively to publish real-time information and monitor the situations. Beijing Fire Bureau published around 70 updates during the disaster and forwarded many messages from individual users to relevant departments. Departments such as Weather Bureau, Traffic Bureau and Water Authority also used their Weibo accounts to distribute message and interact with the public. While the government’s central Weibo account served as a hub for all the messages.

People’s Daily, the authoritative newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party of China, ran an editorial calling city administrators across the country to pay more attention to building effective drainage infrastructure, which has been overlooked during the rapid urban development across the country.

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