Communications, Policy-Making, and Humanitarian Crises
Fred H. Cate
NEWS OF THE devastating Los Angeles earthquake reached President Clinton forty minutes after the first shock waves on the morning of January 17, 1994. The president was informed not by officials from the White House, the National Security Council, or even the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Instead, the call came from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, who was in the CBS television studios in Washington. After calling his brother in Los Angeles, the president turned for information to the television. "I was able to watch it unfold on television. It was really something."1
One year later, the world learned of the devastation in Kobe, Japan, not only through television and other mass media, but through the global network of information networks, the Internet. "The ground was still shaking," John Moran wrote in the Hartford Courant, "when university students began firing up their computers to spread word of the disaster."2 Through electronic mail, messages posted to on-line discussion groups, and the pictures and documents available through the World Wide Web, vital information poured out to government and private relief officials, the news media, worried relatives, and the public at large. In the days that followed the earthquake, although phone service to much of Kobe remained in shambles, the Internet carried requests for supplies, maps, and photographs of the affected area, the names of survivors, and grisly details about the dead and the injured.