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San Diego Firestorm and Communications

Posted by Becky Carroll on October 24, 2007

sd-fire-2.jpg (flickr photo: prgibbs)

We are in part of the area of San Diego that was evacuated this week.  We packed our cars on Monday night and got out!  Fortunately, winds in our area have died down significantly, and we were allowed to return home last night.  Thank you to those who have emailed me to see how we are doing (email has been my primary method of communication)!  Things are calm now, and there is no longer ash raining down on our house.  We are praying that things stay the way they are now.

Having been evacuated, I have been very frustrated with most of the traditional media.  I realize they are trying to do their best, but they are not really set up to give updated, detailed information.  The county’s websites were not up to date (or even up) a lot of the time.  The best information came from blogs, radio, and the county’s 211 service.

I did find some great citizen reporting that helped get me through when I was out of my home!  Blogs were set up fairly quickly as of Monday, and this was the only place I was really able to find detailed information about my neighborhood.  In fact, this fire blog from SignOnSanDiego, which is an online newspaper, has been fabulous!  Local people from my area were able to report in, and those of us moved out of the area, as well as those with loved ones in the area, were able to get much needed information.  Nearly 200 comments in the last day helped ease the lack of information from the news networks.  Here is a quote from one of the readers responding to another commenter who had (anonymously) plugged traditional media:

Nice plug for cbs news, anonymous. tell your employers that they don’t hold a candle to the people on this website who are armed with nothing more than an automobile and a laptop yet seem to know much more of what’s happening than your paid reporters.Also, you might want to tell your producers to put maps with highlighted areas on the screen when showing the fires raging so that the viewers knows what the hell they are looking at.

Of course, the reporters have been doing the job they were told to do, but it really didn’t help us local folk.  What I needed to have answered were these questions:

  • Where is the fire line now?
  • Where exactly are the evacuation areas?
  • When can I come home?

I received much more information from a mix of radio and social media.  KPBS.org is a great source, with links to Google fire maps with great overlays, as well as real-time updates which are actually Twitter updates!  Well done, KPBS!  What a great idea, as Twitter is a quick way to get the word out.  Another great radio station has been AM 600 KOGO in San Diego, where citizens have been calling in to share information about flames, roads, and evacuation centers.  Thanks, KOGO!  Another local citizen started a Facebook group, but I think it came a little late in the day so wasn’t really used.  Thanks, Heather.

Finally, the county’s 211 service was great.  This is a number for locals to call for non-emergency information about the fires.  Although close to 500,000 people were evacuated over the last two days, when I called 211, I was only on hold for about 3 minutes!  There were always estimated wait times given, and the person I spoke with was very friendly and ready to answer any questions I had (mine were about evacuation areas).    I felt like I had a personal assistant ready to look at fire information on my behalf.  The county was continuing to staff up this line and had added more volunteer personnel to take calls.  Great customer service!  Thanks, guys!

There are also lots of pictures on flickr, with a San Diego Fire Pool started.  They have mapped many of the photos so people know what is happening in their neighborhood.  Thanks to Vince for helping with this.

Overall, this fire is still not over.  There are many areas that are continuing to burn, and my sympathies go out to those still out of their homes. Hopefully, some of you can try the above resources.  The volunteer efforts here in San Diego county have been incredible.  What a fabulous group of people who have been generous with their time and donations!  Thank you mostly goes out to the many brave firefighters, military personnel, and other people who have been fighting this fire and trying to save our homes.  You are amazing.

New media is changing the way communication takes place, and it is especially effective in an emergency.  Traditional media, listen up.  Get with the program.  There is a better way!

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6 Responses to “San Diego Firestorm and Communications”

  1. danness said

    Glad to hear you’re safe, Becky!
    You’re so right about citizen journalism helping to dispel the confusion. There’s no replacement to feet on the street. The Flickr pool you mention has some stunning photos. They really show it like it is, including telling you where they were taken and when – critical when you’re trying to figure out if your or your friend’s house is in danger.
    I was impressed, too, by the government service. Yes, government service might be called an oxymoron by some comedians, but the local folks really pulled through. (It’s probably off-topic to go into all the lightweight self-congratulatory FEMA, Federal, Gubernatorial, and other wonky cameos that were in the press conferences through the traditional media)
    I had to rely on the web, too, during my evacuation. Many city websites were up-to-date with details about evacuation status.
    KPBS also did a great job at putting together and maintaining an up-to-the-minute map that’s understandable.
    Kudos to all those unsung (so far) heroes that have kept the damage to a minimum.

  2. Dan, good to hear you are safe, too! Feet on the street can do a lot, and there are only so many resources for a disaster of this magnitude. Amazing what citizen volunteers can do.

    And thanks for staying on topic. ;-) Have you started a blog yet??

  3. Becky, my friend, I’d forgotten you were in the area of the fires, but I am SO glad to hear you are ok. My aunt and uncle have/ had a home on Wildcat Canyon and were evacuated Sunday. We still don’t know if they have something to return to.

    SO relieved to know you and your family are ok.

    And yes, the traditional media has failed to step up. I applaud all of those who were smart and savvy enough to exploit the new media resources when they realized the “old way” wasn’t doing the job. Like you, I really comment KPBS. They have been great.

    My heart goes out to all impacted by the fires. What a great community we have, with so many people stepping in to help so quickly. It’s very moving.

  4. Thanks Becky. Good information about the fires and how you are getting the news you need.

  5. Yes, Becky, am glad to know that you’re A-OK, too. *hugz* My gosh this fire is evil! Hope it will be contained soon and that those people who have lost their homes and have been displaced will not lose their spirit to move on. God bless you all! :)

  6. Brent Applegate said

    Hey Becky! I echo your sentiments that Consumer Generated Media was much more helpful than the endless parade of talking heads who, though well-meaning, provided much more in the way of emotion and sentiment, and much less in the way of useful info. I was glued to the KPBS Google Firemap, too. Cheers and Blessings! – Brent

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