Tied by the Disaster Posts

It started without any pretense or clear definition on Friday, March 11th, with this post:

Chris Doran created the group

A week later, Friday, March 18th, 2 a.m., and the group now has 654 posts. It also has a name: “SENDAI EARTHQUAKE FRIENDS & FAMILY LINK

and a description:

Euan Millar THIS GROUP WAS SET UP TO LINK PEOPLE TO MISSING PEOPLE. It is run by English teachers who work, or used to work, in Sendai and Miyagi. ALL MEMBERS please check locations of missing and provide as much information as you can. First names, Last names, Location (address if possible), link to an image uploaded to your Facebook photos of the missing person. We will do our best with what we have, but the more info you offer, the better.


For the first few days, the posts generally adhered to the mission set out above: determining the whereabouts of English teachers, their loved ones, friends, host families, and Japanese colleagues throughout the afflicted areas: in Sendai city proper, but also along the coast–particularly Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, Matsushima, and Shiogama. As information came in, statuses were updated on this Google doc.

By yesterday, as night gave way to morning, one post captured the success of these efforts by summarizing the remaining uncertainties: five missing from Ishinomaki, three from Kesennuma, four from Minami Sendai, six from Matsushima, five from Shiogama, one from Izumi, two from Wakabayashi, five from Sendai, eight from “Elsewhere” and three designated as “location unknown”.

Calls for assistance have come in the form of YouTube embeds:

as well as names and photographs:

Evidence of a community, seeking closure; hoping to locate every last name on the list; desperately hoping that all are well.


But the community is not only an exemplar of utility. It also is a study of spontaneous, engineered community under conditions of crisis. For technologists and sociologists, it is also a case of adaptation and perfectability on the fly. For instance, in early posts, the community struggled to work through the kinks. For instance, according to one post:

Joshua MS Yeah I’ve been having problems with this page too. Looks like Facebook group pages aren’t designed to have this much activity. Getting a lot of “script errors” which feel like ajaxy server overload since there are so many of us updating at …once.

In time, Joshua recommended starting a Wiki (and, in fact, this one was quickly created by someone in Seattle, and proved to be exceptionally helpful), as well as a Twitter project, which was quickly explained in a subsequent post by Iain Campbell:

The Twitter Project:

If you want to help us from abroad I have a task for you!

Twitter can be an effective way to get up-to-date information on this crisis, but in order to organize it we need to organize some key word hash tags.

As far as I understand it, if we organize key hash tags, people will be able to scour twitter more effectively for their loved ones and for updated information.

After this, Campbell identified a set of potential hashes and then asked people to create hashmarks after picking plots off a grid downloadable from a dropbox account that had been established.

Such efforts underscoring the degree to which social media and web-based tools could prove instrumental in facilitating group action on the ground.


Beyond the narrow mission of search and determine, the FB group has served to advance other forms of collective action. This includes:

  1. identifying contacts in an area:

    Chris Doran: Kesennuma Contacts: Paul Fales, Milt Moise, Joe Raveslot, Dan Ross. Who has LINKS in the area of Kesennuma. We need contacts to help locate Jessica Besecker and Edward Clemons…pass it on…

  2. offers to assist:

    Canon Purdy: Hi everyone! I am currently in Rifu with internet access and electricy and will probably be for a couple more days. If anyone hears about reports needed a translator in the Miyagi area, Im very happy to help! Ill do my best here to help find our friends. Thank you everyone for working so hard!

  3. calls for assistance:

    Megan Regard Walsh: No answer after 5 days from family friends Akazaki family of ichinoseki.Toshie lives w her daughters miori and Yuna and her elderly parents just north of Sendai: 6-3 minami-machi Ichinoseki-shi Iwate-ken Japan 021-0863 Phone 81-19123-9505
    Is this too far away for the bike crew? Can someone in country get through to that number? The Davidson/Dawson/Purdy family would like to confirm their status. Thank you!

  4. requests (and information on how) to make donations:

    Carlos Gonzales: There is an easy way to raise money for Japan…by using your Cell phone’s txt messaging. Just text REDCROSS to 90999 using your cell phone and $10 is debted/credited to your cell phone donated to the Red Cross. Please Donate, I’ve done it…it only takes a few minutes of your time.

  5. passing along shopping information:

    Edward Robledo: SENDAI PEEPS: I saw on the news that from today till March 21 a market will be open on the Sun Mall from 1pm – 5pm. Also, if you have an UJIE Market nearby, there’s a good chance they’ll be selling some bare essentials. Get there quick. Anybody in the Nagamachi-minami area?

    Anyone with any other info on shops open?

    Angel F Kawcuniak: Ground Report: Donkihote Store in Bansui-dori St. in #Sendai planning to open at 12pm Wed 16th. Schedule may change.

    Edward Robledo: Daiei open. Just heard from Adam J. that Daiei has been open everyday. The Daiei on Aoba-dori

  6. and other kinds of constructive information:

    Toshiko Doi: @Ishinomaki, it seems the phone connection is gradually recovering, and some people started reporting that they got emails or phone calls from their family/friends in there.


As a unity, these posts suggest that, while far from normalized, with each passing hour a certain stability and order is settling in. That normalization is due, in no small part, to the multi-pronged efforts of this impromptu group.

The group members–generally foreigners, many who have only a tenuous understanding of the greater language community and larger events enveloping them–have effectively marshaled their energy, pooled their resources, and taken advantage of available tools to connect, communicate, cooperate and better their difficult, often dire, conditions.

If nothing else, this experience underscores one of the few truths I have learned about humans: character is measured and proven in response to crisis. And while the crisis is far from over; it is reassuring to know that the courageous, cooperative character of those afflicted shows no sign of abating.