Seeing how social media would cover breaking news in 2007!

In this post I tell the story of how KPBS and people in California coped with a huge fire back in 2007. Now it is commonplace to use social media to cover a breaking story and to mobilize help. This was the first really big effort to do this.

I follow on with a post dated October 31 2007 when we heard of the big Quake in China – when the first news came on Twitter!

f you live where I do 3,000 miles away from the fires, maybe pictures of the fires and interviews with people who have lost their homes might be interesting. BUT what if you live where the fires are? Surely then I would want to know in real time EXACTLY what was going on.

KPBS – a public TV Station is providing this service using Google Maps, Twitter & Flickr. They are also broadcasting on air and on the web! They have all the bases covered. I have suggested to some PBS/NPR stations that they should create an Emergency Plan – they have pushed back saying that they don’t do “News”. Here is a joint license showing that covering emergency well is surely one of the key “Public” tasks of such a station – showing also how by using social media – they can do this really well by accessing their community

Here is the Google Map – all the key detail is there – what is going on and where and when (875,000 views and counting this morning)

Here is the Twitter feed – note that the feed is operating on a minute by minute basis (Sorry all the images have been lost)

Here is the link to Flickr

They are using the Comments Section on a blog as a tool to allow people to make local reports – see how it works here

They have got the full suite all cleverly applied

Update – In this kind of emergency – Mobile Phones are now the main link – here is agreat post by Debi Jones on how this is playing out:

The disastrous fires burning in San Diego have initiated a service used by the city and county government to inform and update residents. Mandatory evacuation orders have been communicated via reverse 911 on both landline phones and mobile phones. The messages are prerecorded and as I’ve said, three messages have been received on my phone. The first was an evacuation order. The next message was a notice that San Diego schools are closed until further notice along with the instruction to keep children inside and restrict their activity levels (smoke and ash is so thick in the air that keeping it out of your house is impossible during large fires). The third message was information on evacuation centers that were still open as several are already full.

Regulation in the US for Enhanced 911 or emergency service which incorporates location data has resulted in a number of emergency related services that are unique to the US market when compared to other geographical regions like Western Europe or Asia. The reverse 911 system isn’t specifically a mobile service, but that it does include mobile phones is impressive and to see this system work in the case of a disaster saving time and lives is an important development. To this point, 262,000 households have received reverse 911 calls.

It is likely in a very bad situation that cell phone networks will get jammed – what we are learning though is that SMS tends to get through – so Twitter as a feed may be the core of a good plan

Advisories have been announced on CNN and local San Diego TV stations asking people to limit their mobile phone use as the networks are saturated. This is a common problem during emergencies as we’ve seen over and over. The one component that continued to provide communication during the London bombings, post Katrina flooding in New Orleans and now in San Diego is text messaging. Twice today my mobile calls have been rejected with the network reporting, “all circuits are busy”. And yet, I’ve continued to be able to send out SMS.

I think now that the point is made – Twitter is currently THE BEST TOOL for communicating widely in an emergency

(ParisLemon) Another day, another show of Twitter’s true power. Barely a week after the Southern California fires began and Twitter helped get out important messages to people, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake hits the Bay Area and info about is posted numerous times on Twitter before the ground is even done shaking. It’s barely been 30 minutes and already I have 4 solid pages of earthquake news and insight.

Ariel Waldman posted the first tweet about it (that I saw) and from there nearly ever blogger/tech geek/person in the entirity of the Bay Area has posted in on the quake – and many of the multiple times. I knew the exact location and magnitude before the story had even hit the news.

I say again, this is the power of Twitter.

Not only does it get your message out – but it uses very small amounts of the cell network and so can often get through when an overload crashes the system. Robert Scoble sent out a Twittergram to his list including Maryam his wife. With a Twittergram you can use voice. So you can in effect use the cell phone system without overloading it. I think that the ubiquity of cell phones means that any organization now can have a Twitter Emergency Strategy – you can of course link this to a complementing Facebook strategy too.

So imagine a fire in your office – or an epidemic in the school – or a shooter at your university – a flood in your region – with Twitter, you can reach most people affected and then you can keep them updated – all it requires is that you have a plan and get them following as a precaution. Not hard!


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