In time of disaster, a time to tweet

You’re on the Amtrak train that careens off the track in Philadelphia. People are hurt. You don’t know the extent to the existing danger. What do you do?

If you’re former congressman Patrick Murphy, you pull out the smartphone and start tweeting. And helping.

We can only imagine what that first responder is saying in that last picture.

“It wobbled at first and then went off the tracks,” Murphy told MSNBC, where he’s a political panelist. “There were some pretty banged-up people. One guy next to me was passed out.”

Murphy said he helped passengers escape his car by kicking out the window in the top of the train car and helping get fellow passengers “promptly evacuate.” The doors of the train were inaccessible because the train car was on its side, Murphy said.

Murphy said emergency personnel arrived at the scene within eight to nine minutes after the derailment. A number of off-duty Philadelphia emergency personnel responded to the scene from their homes nearby, Murphy said.

We can quibble about whether it’s appropriate in the middle of a disaster to start snapping pictures, but the larger question is what right to privacy do the injured and trapped have at a time like this?

  • Veronica

    Hmm. Good question, but when this was happening last night, It seemed that this information was helpful for communicating the extent of some of the injuries.

    If a photojournalist from the NYT was on the train, would he or she have ethical guidelines that would have discouraged these pictures?

    • Yes, I think that’s the perfect question. I think one of the protections afforded people is there is a system of asking that question in the case of a photojournalist since there would be a photo editor involved.

      Although that’s no guarantee either. I notice in my hometown, there’s a debate this morning over whether the local paper should’ve posted video — from a neighbor — of a shooting victim getting CPR. He died and we all got to see his last moments.

  • Jack

    I was very disappointed in the coverage provided by Lawrence McDonnell on MSNBC last night when he was basically encouraging relatives to come get the passengers. Yes – I understand that people want to get home but it makes the job that much tougher for first responders as they attempt to account for everyone that was on the train.

    Just give us the facts, stop bashing Amtrak for the perceived lack of response, and let the first responders do their jobs without journalists interrupting them. It would be what I want if I was on the train. Not impressed by the journalism displayed by him last night. CNN was far better.

    As far as photos were concerned, you have raised a very good question. Veronica asks the question some of us have been wondering about.

    • Veronica

      Upon further reflection, there’s nothing wrong with an accident victim taking pictures right away and posting them on Twitter. Twitter is invaluable for getting out information in real time. And yes, sometimes there’s confusion in the moment, but it doesn’t matter if we are talking a train derailment, detaining journalists in MO, or the confusion after the Boston Marathon bombing, pictures and videos being so accessible as events unfold have led to more good than not.

  • jon

    I’m on a train, I snap some photo’s post them to twitter with the info for what train I’m on. Do the people have any expectation of privacy in that situation, when there is no train crash?

    5 minutes later the train derails, my photos are still online with faces of people on that train… There is no information of their status after the crash in those photos, but it is now public information who was on that train when it crashed, Should that photo be removed?

    Personally I’d say that there is no expectation of privacy in a public setting like that, and rotating the train off the tracks isn’t enough to make it a private setting.

  • John O.

    In this instance, he helped evacuate those who were mobile, according to the report. More often than not, stories about passengers being invited to get off the airplane come with at least one cellphone video. Few seem to question whether or not it is appropriate to take the video–especially if it becomes potential evidence at a later date.

  • BJ

    This is very different than when Cory Booker used twitter during a snowstorm in 2010.