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Web 2.0 & The California Fire Crisis

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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Traditional media have been hopelessly outdated in their coverage.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.

36 Responses to “Web 2.0 & The California Fire Crisis”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  4. 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.

  5. Jack Coupal

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. I live downtown and, thankfully, I wasn’t impacted, but many friends and colleagues were. For everyone seeking info, I direct them to 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.

  10. 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.

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

    Our best wishes are with everyone in the affected areas.