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Icelandic Volcano strands people, Twitter allows them to fix it

For the last two days a volcano in Iceland has been spewing ash and rock high into the atmosphere with little indication that it is going to stop any time soon.

The danger that the ash presents to aircraft (the particles are so fine and sharp they can destroy a jet engine) combined with the prevailing jet stream has meant that essentially then entire European air space has been shutdown. This has left hundreds of thousands of people stranded across Europe and further afield.

This has caught the governments of Europe and around the world on the hop. It’s going to take a few days for governments to put into place plans to even start bringing people home. However the people aren’t waiting for that long. Instead they’ve taken the tools they have in hand (twitter and co) and are starting to create their own movements to go home.

One of the hashtags people are using to start organising themselves is the #getmehome. Below is just a small sample of the type of calls for help people are making.

  • parents are stuck in New York.. need to get to Heathrow.. #getmehome #ashtag
  • People in Oslo, Norway! I have friends who need to get back to the UK. 1 of them is scheduled for operation this Tuesday!#getmehome #ashtag
  • Ash has trapped my dad in Abuja, Nigeria. Any tips on how to get him back into Europe? #ashtag #getmehome

And they’re getting answered. Others on the twitters are taking the time to organise cab share, bus trips, offer advice based on their knowledge of the transport situation in their region.

By the time that the Governments do get round to organising things, they might just find that the people have already started without them.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, James. This is an awesome example of the stuff Clay Shirky talks about in “Here Comes Everybody.” People will not wait for government to help them…they will help one another. This kind of thing happened after Hurricane Katrina, too.

Government can learn lessons from these impromptu methods and build upon citizen self-organizing. For instance, could TSA promote the #ashtag and #getmehome. Could they be monitoring for issues where they can help? Are there other agencies that could learn something about emergency management here like FEMA or the National Guard or local police and fire departments? Lots of possibilities.

James Purser

Yeah, people aren’t content to wait anymore, they’re more prepared to do things themselves. What government can do is facilitate this by rapid deployment of knowledge banks (easy to use public transport tools, car pooling resources), in essence becoming a facilitator where they’re not directly involved as emergency response people

Amanda Blount

Technology has given power to the people like nothing has ever done before. Most people are no longer sastisfied to sit around and wait for help…. they go look for the help they need. I am sure there are some sitting in the Airports saying, “Oh I am stuck. When will I be rescued?” Then there are the ones (in every situtation there are some) which look around and “McGyver” their way out of a jam… including if it means sending a twitter for help.

It is just like sending a message in a bottle, but when you send this message out, you know someone will be reading it.

@Andy – Yes, FEMA and other Emergency Agencies really need to get on the bandwagon with this. Some notification systems already use mass text to end information. The Emergency systems in Europe, and all over the world, could set up a website (within hours) and send out “personals”, add chat rooms, or set up a forum for people stranded all over the world.

I often think about how many people it took to build The Ppyramids, The Great Wall of China, and other great feats of humanity. I always feel very small when thinking of the power this great amount of people must have had. When huge numbers of humans organize, anything is possible.

(I am also sure there are plenty of Moms who are happy with technology, to show movies to bored children for these few days. )

James Purser

Hi Amanda,

This McGyver spirit is going to present a new challenge to those championing gov2.0 and open government.

It could be said that we’re already at the point where the people are starting to route around the government when it comes to finding the information that they need. If the govt isn’t careful they may find that the people have already moved on without them.

Sterling Whitehead


I don’t see the McGyver spirit as a threat to Gov2.0. Rather, it is an opportunity. If people can deliver services to themselves faster and better than governments can, then that’s a good thing.

That’s one of the great promises of new technology — reducing costs and letting governments focus their energy and money where it’s better spent.