Using Facebook for Lombok Earthquake Relief

I’ve written in a past column about how Facebook can be used in disasters or crises. Facebook has a reporting feature called Crisis Response, that allows people in areas affected by a crisis (natural disaster, extreme weather, shootings, terrorist attack, etc.) let friends and family know they’re safe, find or offer help and get the latest news and updates on the situation.

The Lombok Earthquake Relief page is a private, non-partisan effort to do the same thing. The administrative team running the page consists of 15 people, all based overseas, although one has a business in the Gili Islands. One team member is located in Italy, another in South Africa. They are not disaster experts: they are graphic designers, business owners and other professions. They all have a tie to Bali: several lived here for a time, one still has a business here, many have travelled to Bali as tourists. They ably demonstrate how people can use social media, even at a distance, to assist in a disaster. You don’t need to be on the ground to help.

The Lombok Relief Page is designed to allow people to list any events or fundraising which benefits Lombok, contact people on the ground, coordinate donations, find friends or family in the area who may be affected and ask for and receive help.

I recently spoke with several of the team admins and they filled me in on how the Facebook page began and where they see it heading in the future.

“We have no clue as to the relevance of the information coming in,’ one team member told me. ‘Like AirBnB, we are just the platform, we don’t control what people do with it,’ he said. But, he said, ‘we know we’re being used by organizations, so [the page] is making a difference.’ The focus, according to the Administrative team, is on getting information out there and getting it to people who can act on it.

‘People ask me everyday about where they should send money. My answer changes every day depending on what area of need seems the most urgent at the moment,’ said the team member. ‘We assess needs almost daily and focus on different areas, depending on where need is greatest at that time.’

Being a grassroots effort, he said, the team running the page doesn’t have a personal agenda; they just want to be a portal for people sharing information and connecting.

The team member said he wasn’t sure if the page has made a difference, (it has) but says the team will continue until there is better coordination available on social media. The page takes a lot of the team’s time, he told me, and no one is being compensated in any way. ‘We would like to back to our own lives, but at the moment, the team does feel it makes a difference. Its about being of service,’ he said. One of their best ideas was to set up a Google map where locations of people who still need help are highlighted.

The team tells me that while they cannot tell tourists and ex-pats to go and volunteer in Lombok – it’s illegal, for starters – they do ask people who are enquiring about volunteering to fill out a questionnaire with the skills they have to offer and their professional background or training. All the data from the questionnaires is stored on a Google sheet, which is made available to any NGOs or government agencies seeking volunteers or consultants. ‘If an NGO is seeking people with certain skills, they can have access to the sheet.’ The team trusts that NGO’s will operate in accordance with Indonesian regulations if or when they reach out to people who put themselves forward to volunteer, but the team don’t doesn’t get involved beyond passing on information.

One man on the team I spoke with said the work they are doing is more vital than ever, as Lombok has largely fallen out of international news and coverage of the relief efforts are not reaching outside the country. The scale of the problem is massive, he said, with hundreds of thousands of people still homeless. International media often contacts the team running the page: ‘We want to leverage this contact exposure to make a difference, we want to be a voice for the people of Lombok,’ he said.

The group meets weekly online, through conferencing apps, to discuss what is or is not working on the page and how to make improvements. Recently, the team set up an online support group, using Google conferencing technology, where anyone connected to the disaster needing emotional support or relief can talk about their experience. A professional psychotherapist sits in on the conference. Often people on the ground in Lombok, both aid workers and victims, ‘need a space to cry, to vent, for anything that comes up,’ said the team member I spoke with. ‘If their need is too great, ‘ he said, ‘ We take the person offline and support them with professional help.’

As to the future of the Lombok Relief page, one of the team told me that ‘the group will change and evolve as the needs [on the ground] change. The name Disaster Relief will change to Reconstruction down the track,’ he said. ‘The focus then will be on how to get tourists back, how to get the jobs back.’ For example, there are campaigns over on the social media photo platform, Instagram, under the hash tags #IAmInBaliNow and #IAmInLombokNow, which allow tourists, visitors and ex-pats to post photos to help reassure people outside the country that its safe to travel to Bali, the Gilis and parts of Lombok again.

I heard a story recently from a friend who works for IDEP (Indonesian Development Environment and Permaculture) that is working in Lombok to help victims of the disaster recover. She got into a conversation with a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) representative who was there to survey the damage. He told her that one of the things he was responsible for was generating a map of where relief efforts had reached, and where they were still needed. ‘Don’t bother reinventing the wheel,’ my friend told him, ‘The Lombok Relief Facebook groups has already created a Google Map with all the information you’re asking about. Get it from them.’



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