23 October 2007

Tracking San Diego Wildfires with Social Media

As we all pray for our friends and relatives in the San Diego area, a few sites are already cataloguing the social media tools people are using to track the fires. I think it's noteworthy that the San Diego Union Tribune started a blog quickly, simply using the blogger platform and not worrying about things like branding or ads.

Other than the blog and a couple of twitter feeds from local news outlets, I'm not seeing much in terms of social media working to help those directly affected by the fires, however. They could be using social network groups to help people know where they're going - for example, a "I'm one of the 10,000 people waiting this out at Qualcomm Stadium" group might be useful to both loved ones and the people there. At Virginia Tech, people used social media - specifically social network utilities - to help students communicate with each other and their loved ones quickly and effectively. A number of small fire stations and emergency response teams use twitter to send quick notes and links to sites to their teams. (Since you can protect updates you can create a reasonably secure channel.)

Part of the reason social media isn't being implemented in this way may be the request local authorities have made to residents - they're trying to restrict cellphone usage to free up "bandwidth" for emergency workers. While understandable, it's also unfortunate - you can't expect someone to be tethered to a laptop or desktop in this situation, and a decent mobile phone can be an incredibly useful tool, as we saw at VT. This request obviously isn't stopping everyone, but it's probably slowing the pace of communication. As crisis response evolves in America, particularly in big cities, providing cell phone capacity should be a high priority.

This also reminds me of the points we made at the crisis communications meeting for AAAE - the media will stop at nothing to get information and put any assets they have into the field, and consumers will go anywhere to get it. Now we might add a third rule - people will use all tools at their disposal to distribute it.

Stay safe, everyone.

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