Crisis in Riyadh: A wake-up call



Mohammed AlSaif

Published — Monday 5 November 2012

Last update 5 November 2012 5:48 am

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LAST THURSDAY, a rocking explosion interrupted the enticing cold morning breeze, awakening the people of Riyadh to one of the worst man-made accident they have ever witnessed.
The driver of a gas tanker was trying to avoid a road accident and ended up crashing against one of the pillars of the overpass bridge in the east side of the capital. The crash caused a great amount of gas leakage, which triggered a tremendous explosion that brought down an industrial building on the same road and set on fire all nearby vehicles that were unfortunate to be close to the area. Dozens of people were killed in the accident, and more than 111 seriously injured. The real tragedy is that there were many warnings previous to this horrible accident that could have prevented it if concerned officials had taken the safety threat seriously.
The gas company employees created a Twitter account @gascoKSA, prior to the accident indicating that gas tankers are critically missing necessary safety criteria needed for operation, making them a moving time bomb, and an accident that is waiting to happen. Riyadh inhabitants concerned about this matter had also complained about the junction where the accident happened. They have been demanding that truck drivers, who drive carelessly with no regard to safety, be stopped or be better controlled.
Interestingly, this tragic incident also revealed the weakness of traditional local media in providing prompt and live coverage of the accident, which in turn paved the way for the primacy of social media networks to give a quick delivery of instantaneous and mostly accurate news.
On Twitter people followed the hashtag #RiyadhExplosion to get the latest news and pictures of the accident, and Youtube rapidly filled up with users’ videos giving detailed stories on what truly happened on that disastrous morning.
People also had the chance to interact using social media to convey their shock, sadness and give condolences to those whose relatives were killed due to the accident. Some even provided good advice asking crowds of curious onlookers to stop gathering around the accident, since it may hinder and delay rescue workers from reaching the scene. Some also encouraged others to go donate blood to the injured.
Although there was a down side in the way the new media heroes displayed the accident, as inappropriately graphic photos of the victims were shared online, causing distress and heartbreak for the families of those victims. On the other hand, speedy delivery of news helped prevent the spread of rumors and speculations.
It is very clear that the roads of Riyadh are becoming more dangerous every day. How many bombs on wheels are driving round our streets? And why do we always need a tragedy such as this one to happen so officials would finally react and investigate the complaints that were submitted by concerned citizens? I hope we get answers before the next crisis.

A Tweet: “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the hero within us is revealed.”
Bob Riley

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