How To Find Someone During A Disaster

What to do, and what not to do, when trying to contact someone during an event like today's Boston Marathon bombing.

Multiple explosions were triggered at the finish line of the Boston Marathon today, with at the time of writing an estimated two dead and dozens injured. We know many are trying to get in touch with people who were running the race or nearby, but with cell service all but disabled and communication avenues totally chaotic, it can be difficult to do, or even exacerbate the communication problems for others. Here are some tips.

Avoid Phone Calls

The lines get jammed easily, and some have been shut down to better serve emergency response. Don’t bother. Instead rely on SMS texting or other text-based communications–Twitter is a bit chaotic right now, but tweeting directly at someone isn’t a bad way to get in touch. Email, iMessage, Facebook, BBM, GroupMe, and other app-based text communications would be a good solution as well.

If That Doesn’t Work

There are lots of ways to track Bostonians right now. Google has, for the past few years, set up a “person finder” service that’s sort of like a missed connections book during disasters. You can either inquire about someone specifically or list information you have about a person. It’s barebones but works well, assuming whoever you’re trying to find is tech-savvy enough to know to use it.

The Red Cross has a similar service, which you can find here, though the site isn’t working for us right now.

If the person you’re trying to find was a marathoner, it’d be a good idea to check the Boston Marathon’s site first. Marathoners are equipped with RFID tags, and when they cross the line their position is automatically notched on the site. The explosions went off at peak finishing time, but there are thousands of runners who finished before that.

A few spreadsheets of spots to stay have also popped up, for runners who need a place to go now that travelling within Boston is difficult and not recommended. Here’s one, and here’s another.