This Is How The Chinese Tech World Is Reacting To The Jiuzhaigou Earthquake

摘要: According to local government in Sichuan province, by far, the death toll caused by an earthquake at a magnitude of 7.0 has risen to 20 with 493 injured.

(Chinese Version)

On August 8th 23:00 pm, Sichuan Earthquake Administration held the first press conference after the quake struck. At the conference, two important reports were announced. First, around 100 tourists are trapped in Jiuzhaigou’s Ganhaizi scenic spot. Second, experts at the administration analyzed that the epicenter is at the interception of Minjiang fault zone and East Kunlun’s fault zone in the east.

According to Fire Bureau of Sichuan Province, the InterContinental Resort Jiuzhai Paradise’s hotel hall had collapsed, trapping around 2,800 people in it. However, the trapped crowd has been safely rescued and evacuated to a safe ground. Some were buried by the debris in Qianguqing Performance Center’s staff passage. The Chinese armed police force has successfully extracted a buried individual from the debris. Unfortunately, the rescued person has already been killed by the earthquake.

As the earthquake struck, the whole country has also been shake up, including China’s tech world. Some are giving everything in their power to provide help, some on the other hand are utilizing this opportunity for their own gain. But, without a doubt, technology’s role in predicting disasters, relief response and after-relief recovery process, is becoming more prominent. TMTPost’s editor has recorded the tech world’ actions in this fight against this terrifying disaster.

Most Chinese people were notified about the earthquake by news apps’ bulletin or learned about it through WeChat Moment.

During the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, netizens showed their worries in QQ chat groups. And during 2013 Ya’an Earthquake, people were posting notices of missing person on Weibo. These natural disasters also witnessed the communication transition in this Internet age.

 “Several minutes after the tremor was felt, we already started to see people posting about the epicenter on WeChat Moment,” Guo Qianqian, who lives in Chengdu told TMTPost.

18 minutes after the earthquake struck, CEIC posted official assessment data on its official WeChat page: “According to CEIC’s assessment, at 21:19 pm, August 8th, an earthquake at the magnitude of 7.0 hit Jiuzhaigou county, Aba prefecture, Sichuan province, at a depth of 20 km. The epicenter is located at 33.20°N, 103.82°E.”

But perhaps only very few people noticed the statement in the very end: “The content above was written by machine automatically at 21:37 pm, August 8th, 2017. The process took 25 seconds.”

Four years ago, the main information communication platform had been Sina Weibo, which is seemed by many as the Chinese Twitter. At present, it’s still influencing the information world. At the very night that the quake hit, @ChinaAbaPrefecturePressRelease, @WeiJiuZhai, and @SichuanPressRelease etc., had immediately posted information and updates on the rescue process, search for missing person, and resource support etc. At present, Data Robot, which works faster than Weibo, has also been applied in broadcasting information on the earthquake.

As a matter of fact, just five minutes after the earthquake took place, CENC updated a bulletin on its Weibo page saying that Jiuzhaigou was hit by an earthquake at a magnitude of 6.5 according to automatic assessment. About 13 minutes later, the magnitude was officially changed to 7.0.

The sudden earthquake’s tremor could be even felt by people in Chengdu, Tianshui, Guangyuan, Mianyang, Xi’an, and Lanzhou etc. When feel threatened, people will go into self-protection mode, but they also need to know what exactly has happened to ease their worries and the avoid the panic attacks that might plagued them.

In this sense, tech companies, especially Internet companies are becoming more powerful in crisis like this as they distribute information.

This is where technology comes in.

The disaster could happen in any minute, or second. And the relief work that follows is a massive and complicated project. Whether it’s in locating a certain person through GPS system, aerial photography, or precise transportation optimization, tech companies in China are doing everything they can to support to rescue and relief work that’s watched by the whole country.

CENC and TouTiao’s first-hand and timely reports

Starting from 21:37 pm at the night when the earthquake struck, CENC had been pushing over ten updates on the earthquake that took place in Aba prefecture’s Jiuzhaigou county. The updates were published several minutes after the earthquake and aftershock occurred.  These timely and precise updates were contributed by the Earthquake Information Broadcasting Robot.

The robot can generate an update on earthquake in three to five seconds automatically. For instance, it only took the robot six seconds to write a news report of 560 Chinese characters on the 4.3-magnitude earthquake that shook Mianyang on May 29th last year. The generated content covers earthquake data, earthquake history, briefing on the villages and towns around the affected area, and a brief introduction of the affected county etc. The entire process was conducted by a machine, fully automated, without any human intervention.

According to CENC’s director Pan Huaiwen, the platform’s robot can generate accurate news update and distribute it fast. After the news update is made, it can reach the mass audience in seconds, winning valuable time for the crowd to evacuate.

There is in fact organization that’s faster than that. For instance, Chengdu-based Institute of Care-Life, founded by Dr. Wang Tun after the Wenchuan Earthquake, was able to issue an alert to Chengdu 71 seconds before the earthquake hit Jiuzhaigou. This makes China the third country that’s able to predict earthquake following Mexico and Japan.

Chengdu-based Institute of Care-Life, founded by Dr. Wang Tun was able to issue an alert to Chengdu 71 seconds before the earthquake hit Jiuzhaigou.

Chengdu-based Institute of Care-Life, founded by Dr. Wang Tun was able to issue an alert to Chengdu 71 seconds before the earthquake hit Jiuzhaigou.

After the alert period, finding missing person and telling the public one is safe became another field that requires fast speed.

In the 2015 Paris Terrorist Attack, Facebook’s Social Good & Goodwill department initiated a safety confirmation function right after the attack hit. French users could confirm that they were in a safe environment by logging into their Facebook and notify all their friends.

Similar action is being made by TouTiao this time in Jiuzhaigou. On the night that the earthquake hit, TouTiao’s app and its page on WeChat launched a Html5 link that redirects to a Missing Person Search Service. With the communication power of WeChat and its own massive user base, TouTiao launched Missing Person Search and Safety Confirmation service. On the night these two functions came online, they were used by 1,272 people.

TouTiao immediately launched missing person search service on the night the earthquake hit

TouTiao immediately launched missing person search service on the night the earthquake hit

Similar to Facebook, TouTiao’s missing person search service was in fact launched once in February last year. It’s adopted in daily missing person search and missing kid search, regularly pushing notifications to targeted regions. It only takes six minutes for the missing person search information to be issued, confirmed, and pushed to targeted regions, TouTiao claimed, citing its estimate.

Other supporters also made their contributions via their Internet apps. For instance, Alibaba Charity announced on its Weibo page that Taobao Mobile and Alipay had launched a page specially designed for the relief process to gather social support. Tencent Charity also updated a Jiuzhaigou Earthquake Online channel on WeChat Wallet to raise money for the affected areas’ relief and rescue work.

Travel platforms and transportation service platforms initiated their emergency response to support tourist attractions around the epicenter

The epicenter of the earthquake is only 39km away from the renowned and popular tourist attraction Jiuzhaigou. On August 8th, the day the quake struck, the Jiuzhaigou tourist attraction was receiving around 40,000 tourists, which is 5,483 more year-on-year, a 16.46% growth. There were 18,158 tourists that were traveling with a group while there were 20,641 independent tourists.

After the quake shook Jiuzhaigou, major traveling companies started their emergency response.

 “At present, the guests here at Jiuzhaigou Hotel are safe. The traveling company is comforting the guests and providing necessary support,” a local tour guide from Lvmama said. Lvmama, a Chinese travel site, is confirming the safety of the tourists in the area. By 22:40 August 8th, there hadn’t been any news on injured tourist from Lvmama. The travel website has promised a full refund to all unfulfilled orders.

Ctrip has also initiated a Major Natural Disaster Crisis Response Mechanism and Travel Guarantee Plan. The Internet travel company stated in an announcement that customers who have purchased a group of independent travel packages scheduled in the upcoming three days on Ctrip can apply to have a full refund. Relevant loss would be handled by Ctrip. Customers who cancel their trips due to the earthquake can also contact Ctrip to have a refund.

On the other hand, Ctrip Chengdu’s director Lu Yang stated in an interview that Jiuzhaigou Huanglong airport wasn’t severely damaged as it’s 60km away from the epicenter, and that flight schedules aren’t disrupted. “So far no airline has changed their flight schedules. Planes are still coming in and taking off both today and tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Ctrip has made the accommodation resources available for free within the affected region in Jiuzhaigou. The company has accommodated some survivors and has made hotels’ contact public.

Tujia, Tongcheng, Tuniu, Feizhu, Meituan, Elong, China CYTS Tours, and Spring Airlines etc. have all made their actions right after the quake shook Jiuzhaigou to insure the safety of the travelers, prepare for emergent crisis, and cooperate with the government. Meanwhile, they also coordinate with incoming travels on matters like trip cancelation and refund.

Besides that, service platforms such as Flight Manager are also providing aftersales services for incoming travelers who might need to cancel their flight. Flight Manager has posted a Flight Cancelation and Refund Notice for Flights Related to Jiuzhaigou, which states: Users who had purchased flight tickets that involve going to and leaving from Jiuzhaigou between August 8th and August 15th 2017 before August 8th can have a full refund or change a flight for free.

Tech companies like Huawei, Shenzhou, Amap, and Huochebang etc. are repairing offline infrastructures

When the earthquake hit, it cut off the power and Internet access of the whole Jiuzhaigou county. To support the rescue team further, besides China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom, Internet companies are also helping to repair the affected areas’ communication infrastructures.

After the quake, Amap sounded the crisis response and relief mechanism. The map platform gives priority to information relevant to the affected regions and updates real-time road situations, alerting cars on the road to make way for rescue teams’ vehicles to go through.

Amap has launched an earthquake information alert feature that will notify users about the quakes around Jiuzhaigou county. It also updates roadblock and traffic control information to drivers on the fast lanes going towards the affected region.

AMap updated an earthquake alert and rescue information service for the affected regions around Jiuzhaigou county

AMap updated an earthquake alert and rescue information service for the affected regions around Jiuzhaigou county

Furthermore, Amap even put on a Amap livestream section for the earthquake rescue. Through the livestream section, information on the affected regions is updated in text and photos gathered from the authority and other official channels.

Cab-hailing platform Shenzhou stated that it would put all of its platform’s resources into the rescue, while promising to provide support for rescuing personnel or organizations that dial Shenzhou’s customer service hotline 10101111.

Public road logistics information platform Huochebang also responded to the earthquake quickly and founded a relief task group. The platform sets relief resources for Jiuzhaigou on top of its information bulletin. Subsequently, any relief resources would continue to be listed on the very front page and on top of the list once shipped out, so as to let more truckers to see the information.

Huochebang puts relief resources for Jiuzhaigou on its very front page to let more truckers to see them in time.

Huochebang puts relief resources for Jiuzhaigou on its very front page to let more truckers to see them in time.

By August 8th, Huochebng had mobilized 4,706 truckers within Jiuzhaigou county to help out logistics for the relief task force. Meanwhile, Huochebang also subsidizes truckers making efforts to support the relief work.

Zhihu, the Chinese Quora, spreads out useful information about earthquakes

These companies’ actions to help out the relief work showcase the power of technology. This time, the Chinese Quora, Zhihu, is also utilizing its influence in directing the public’s perception and spreading useful information.

False information on earthquake might lead to deadly consequences. And online communities are people’s main source of information now. Zhihu explained to the public through its Zhihu Daily that earthquake cloud is merely a myth and can’t be trusted.

When faced with catastrophic disasters like an earthquake, we humans still feel powerless. But the information we create and spread, is influencing the course of rescue process. Our technology is making the distribution of information and services more efficient. For Chinese tech companies, the best way to help earthquake-struck regions is to use technologies, and do what they are good at.

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The article is published with authorization from the author @Jonas, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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