Using Twitter to cover the Earthquake in Japan
In times of disaster, it can be incredibly difficult to establish a clear picture of what's happening and where. Traditional means of communication collapse. Telephone lines go down. Mobile signals are difficult. The lights go out.
When the 8.9 scale earthquake hit Japan at 5:46am (GMT) on Friday 11 March, it was impossible to judge the sheer scale of the disaster that would unfold over the coming days.
5 live Breakfast did their first hit within half an hour of going on air with the editor of the Japan Times. Details were still very sketchy - most of what we could find out came out of Tokyo, 250 miles away from the epicentre of the earthquake and it was very difficult to get any kind of clear picture of what was going on north of the capital.
By this stage, the tsunami warnings across the Pacific were in effect. The latest wires told us that the the bulk of the damage was in the north - in and around the town of Sendai. And people there turned to one of the few means of communication they had left to talk about what was happening. Sites like Twitter, that have a broadband connection, are a lifeline for many when mobile networks and landlines were useless.
For those of you who use Twitter, you'll know that when talking about a specific topic or issue the hashtag (#) is a useful signpost. It tells you what people are talking about. Very quickly on Friday #japan and #earthquake dominated Twitter. People wanted to know what was happening, whether friends and family were safe, who was affected, where they could go to be safe. The volume of tweets was impossible to keep up with.
A screenshot of some of 5 live's tweets
But Twitter is also incredibly useful in a catastrophe like this to open up a direct channel of communication with those people caught up in it. By narrowing it down to a geographic search - it's possible locate who is tweeting out of where and talk to them directly.
Over the last three days, I've been talking to around 15 different people on Twitter in Sendai and Fukushima. Some of those people we've spoken to on air. For others, Twitter has been their only means of communication.
Since Friday, the tweets have kept coming like the ones below:
@ImogenJC lots of fires now and they found 200-300 bodies washed up on shore. Unbelievable.
@ImogenJC Thank you! Still shaking with the aftershocks, and nervously watching what official reactor news is available. Surviving...
@ImogenJC I'm still in Fukushima. Have not been evacuated yet!..
@ImogenJC yes I'm in sendai. Just blackness and alot of people gathered in schools for safety. Faces of shock everywhere.
@ImogenJC we are staying put and praying for the best. Too many people to move and I don't want to leave anyone behind.
All of this was information we could use to give clear and accurate picture of what was happening in one of the worst affected areas of Japan. It was immediate and timely.
But Twitter is also a tool for us to communicate outward. We could pass on the latest FCO advice, flag the latest information and broadcast what was being said on-air those people following the what was happening online.
Others were doing the same. The US State Department used Twitter to send out emergency numbers. Other organisations used Twitter to post info for English speakers living in Japan about shelters for those left homeless by the quake. And over the weekend, Twitter posted a guide in Japan to help people get information and communicate as widely as possible with friends and family in the aftermath of the earthquake.
As we saw in Egypt and now in Japan the uses for social media are constantly evolving both for journalists and those caught up in events. We'll be monitoring what's happening in the Twitterverse as our coverage continues.
You can follow us on Twitter, @bbc5live.
Imogen Crump is a Senior Broadcast Journalist with 5 live.