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Summary:

I was in San Diego this week, and the wildfires there were extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of people — normal, suburban, it-can’t-happen-to-me people — were displaced, stuck on roadways and desperate for information. The nature of the emergency — multiple fires, moving quickly — meant information […]

I was in San Diego this week, and the wildfires there were extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of people — normal, suburban, it-can’t-happen-to-me people — were displaced, stuck on roadways and desperate for information. The nature of the emergency — multiple fires, moving quickly — meant information was often conflicting.

Traditional media have been hopelessly outdated in their coverage. We tracked the fires using the National Weather Service’s reflectivity index, which proved far more accurate. But the enterprising folks at the L.A. Fire Department found a better way: they’ve been issuing frequent updates using Twitter.

Google Maps mashups are being usd to provide a relatively current look at data. Some news sources, whose traditional web sites are flooded and broken, have resorted to Google Maps’ new And for homes without power, mobile handsets are making it possible for people to get details on where to go.

There are robust systems available for emergency rescue teams that distribute data reliably during emergencies. And we have the Emergency Alert System to warn us on radio.

But today’s end user demands more than just a radio broadcast. As Wired points out, Twitter subscribers can mimic this model with a cell phone to receive quick updates.

In this era of personalization and mobility, it’s great to see an online community putting the latest tools to work. This combination of portable devices, mashups, and real-time status updates gives us a warning system for the masses.

Related from NewTeeVee: California Fires: Tragic and very real reality show

Photo originally uploaded by Bernard-SD to Flickr.

  1. This is Rodger at Veeker. Last week, Liz Gannes (on NewTeeVee) reported about our relationship with NBC News to power citizen journalism via camera phones. Today, the power of this idea really was demonstrated, as viewers of NBC San Diego sent in over 1000 video and picture messages showing their experiences of the fire. They’re still coming in now.

    NBC has been posting these directly to their Website, and also putting some of them on air.

    http://www.nbcsandiego.com/isee/index.html

    If you want more details, I just made a post to the Veeker blog.

    Our best wishes are with everyone in the affected areas.

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  2. My heart reached out for people affected by this fire. God will help us sail through it.

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  3. Thanks to all the technologist making tools to inform and help. My heart goes out to everyone affected.

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  4. I think that’s the Twitter feed for the City, not the County, but it’s still cool.

    http://twitter.com/LAFD/statuses/352722432

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  5. I live downtown and, thankfully, I wasn’t impacted, but many friends and colleagues were. For everyone seeking info, I direct them to kpbs.org. I must say that their coverage on the web combined with their ceaseless radio coverage has been phenomenal. They have a constantly updated Google map mashup, Twitter feed, and even a Flickr group photo pool. I don’t think I ever watched network news on TV, which was a first for me during an emergency. Again, my hats off to KPBS! I’ll definitely be continuing to support the station with my donations.

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  6. [...] on mashups being used for this crisis at Google Maps Mania, GigaOm and [...]

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  7. I agree with you all – we should pray and hope everyone is well. I have way too many friends – some personal and some professional – who live down in San Diego. This tragedy makes me sick with worry. Many of them I have not been able to contact and that is not a good feeling. All we can do right now is simply pray.

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  8. [...] Having already cut the proverbial chord to old TV, I have followed the tragedy almost entirely on the web, via tools such as Twitter and Google Maps. (Related: Web 2.0 & The California Fires.) [...]

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  9. [...] blog GigaOm, though figures that thinks “traditional media have been hopelessly outdated in their coverage.” [...]

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  10. [...] Web 2.0 and the California Fire Crisis Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

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  11. [...] GigaOM has an interesting post up about the L.A. Fire Department using Twitter to keep people updated on the fire [...]

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  12. I’m very lucky because the fire came within 1 mile of my home in Irvine, then the wind changed directions and the fire didn’t come any closer. My heart goes out to all those affected, and to the firefighters risking their lives to save southland.

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  13. I hope those fires let go soon – horrible..

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  14. It is encouraging and reassuring to see how people have virtually (Web 2.0) and tangibly (the volunteers at Qualcomm Stadium) pulled together to help one another through this overwhelming challenge. After the saddening stories about what happened and didn’t happen in New Orleans, the stories from southern California will give motivational speakers great material for a long time.

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  15. The private sector has moved to the forefront in many cases where human needs are not being met.

    Remember, Wal-Mart provided drinkable water to New Orleans during Katrina, when performance by federal, state, and local governments flopped.

    The left-wing bias of national programs on PBS stations means many people like me ignore it as a listening choice. But, it is surprising that local reporting by PBS stations appears to be both accurate and timely in helping the public, as the California fires show.

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  16. In terms of citizen journalists, what is everyone’s take on this? I recently saw a clip on ABC news filmed by a citizen. It showed the fires close up.

    My reaction was “this person is way to close to danger”

    My next thought was won’t mainstream media face some responsibility when someone gets killed? Its only a matter of time. Same thing happened during the Virginia Tech shooting.

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  17. This post will be included in today’s edition of the Carnival of Hurricane Relief:

    http://www.cehwiedel.com/cohr/

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  18. Alistair et al,

    Thanks for your kind mention of the Los Angeles Fire Department, our Twitter Feed and other Web 2.0 projects.

    Like you, we’re thinking about how the technology before us can be used to help people best understand and respond to crisis.

    Keep an eye on the ‘LAFD Labs’, as we continue to be inspired by you to help people lead safer, healthier and more productive lives.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

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  19. Being that our office was shut down for the first half of the week due to the fires we decided to work remotely and create a mashup site to inform San Diego residents as to the status of the fire.

    The Mashup contains the interactive KPBS Google fire map, a constantly updating news stream and blog (from KPBS, the Los Angeles Times, and The Union Tribune), as well as up to the minute Flickr user photographs, and Youtube streaming videos of the fire.

    We hope it is of use the our fellow residents. Take good care San Diego.

    http://www.travature.com/fire

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  20. [...] Web 2.0 and the California Fire Crisis Twitter for PR Pros Twitter Makes Guy Kawasaki’s Website Better Chris Brogan Shares Twitter Advice The Los Angeles Fire Department Uses Twitter [...]

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  21. I just heard over the news that 2 or the 5 people in custody so far for starting these fires were illegal aliens.
    Furthermore, the Washington Times ran an article that starting fires is a favorite drug tactic among the Mexican drug runners.

    So what’s the problem here with pointing blame. I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t global warming. Every open-border advocate including the Administration many Democratic senators as well as a relatively few Republican Senators are at fault, that’s who.

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  22. [...] last week also provided an excellent example of where social media can excel in a crisis. GigaOM summarizes the use of Twitter to provide quick updates for the [...]

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  23. [...] Web 2.0 & The California Fire CrisisEmergency response finds a robust communications medium: Twitter! [...]

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  24. [...] on mashups being used for this crisis at Google Maps Mania, GigaOm and [...]

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  25. [...] Headlines: Thurs, Oct 25 Posted November 9, 2007 Web 2.0 & The California Fire Crisis I was in San Diego this week, and the wildfires there were extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of [...]

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  26. [...] has been used to report on the fires in Southern California, leading to its continued adoption by emergency services across the United [...]

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  27. [...] And you only get 140 characters to do it. At first glance, it hardly seemed useful. Its popularity, however, has encouraged us to take a closer look. Though still a Twitter novice, I did manage to [...]

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  28. [...] Twitter is a useful tool to help one get out of a dangerous situation (or two), a few less than honest companies/individuals may be trying to use the service to promote their [...]

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  29. [...] Web 2.0 & The California Fire Crisis [...]

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  30. [...] San Francisco-based company that started out as a way to group alert friends via SMS, but now has become a communications tool and microblogging service. Several feeder start-ups that rely on Twitter have formed, and some, [...]

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  31. [...] Earlier news outlets and citizens had used Twitter and YouTube to cover the fires in Southern California and provide updates when it was difficult for media outlets to provide updates.. [...]

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  32. [...] ability to effect change (through grassroots fund raising) and mass distribution of info (see California Firefighters) among them. But when I sent out a tweet minutes after my daughter Ella was born I received some [...]

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  33. [...] an emerging crisis. Twitter was used by firefighters of the recent California wildfire outbreak to coordinate services. It will be interesting to see how technologies we are using to facilitate our learning on a day to [...]

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  34. [...] 8:36 AM PT | 0 comments Increasingly, every time there is an unfortunate tragedy — be it a raging fire or a terrorist attack — we get a torrent of stories heralding the legitimacy of Twitter as a [...]

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  35. [...] earthquakes and other catastrophes occur, Twitter is one of the ways that critical information gets out to the world. During the Iranian [...]

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