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Terrorism and Trust

LONDON – As the world comes to terms with the wider implications and consequences of the terrorist atrocity in Paris, an important story risks being lost in the welter of coverage and analysis: The increasingly vital role that private companies play in planning for and responding to emergencies. And there’s more to the story than that.

As the wave of synchronized attacks unfolded, people around the world followed it in real time via Twitter, and Parisians reached out to those who found themselves stranded by posting offers of safe havens with the hashtags #PorteOuverte and #OpenDoor. Those who wanted to be assured of the safety of family and friends looked to Facebook’s new Safety Check feature. Google announced that calls to France were free of charge via Google Hangouts.

Governments around the world communicated with their citizens using social-media platforms: the United Kingdom’s embassy in France tweeted information for travelers, and the United States’ embassy there provided updates via Facebook.

But it wasn’t just technology companies that stepped up. Ride-sharing companies get a lot of press nowadays, but when people needed to make their way safely out of areas where attacks were taking place, it was Paris taxi drivers who responded to the emergency by making their services available for free, supplementing public transportation.