Lack of communication fuels panic during riot

Those of you who follow the elections in Liberia have probably heard about the violent incident that took place in Monrovia last Monday. A local paper has an interesting article on how the simultaneous outage of one of Liberia’s two mobile phone networks affected people who were close to the riot.

The bottom line of the article is that people got even more scared and more worried because they were not able to reach family members and find out what was going on in other parts of the city.

This reminded me of an incident in a border town where I was a couple of months ago: there, all of a sudden people were running away from the market place in a panic. However, most people didn’t know why they were running. They were simply running because everybody else was and in the end there was no real danger and I doubt that people would have used mobile phones to find out what is going on in that small town even if they had a mobile phone network.

However, for bigger cities like Monrovia I can see how that kind of dynamic could very quickly turn a local incidence into mass panic and I’m sure that information/communication can play a major role in limiting how far the panic spreads. Governments should keep this in mind.