Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Social Media Impacted a Local Disaster

On Labor Day, 2010, many of us spent the day barbecuing, enjoying the great outdoors, or simply recovering from the long holiday weekend.  However for thousands living in and around Boulder, Colorado, Labor Day meant something very different.

As a fire ripped through Four Mile Canyon above Boulder, fear was the predominant emotion as families ran for their lives from a  forest fire that destroyed homes and changed lives forever. 

We've all seen how social media has emerged as a player in regional and national disasters.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and other platforms have been able to deliver information, photos, video and  details in the aftermath of earthquakes, tsunami's and mudslides across the world. 

But as the fire continued to grow and rampage on Monday and into Tuesday, social media became more than just a way for those living in an around the impacted area to report on what they were seeing or feeling.  It also became an invaluable tool for officials to help keep the media and the public informed, coordinate services and save lives in the process.

An illustration of this can be seen from a recent post on the lostremote website:
When the Boulder Sheriff’s emergency alert system failed, its emergency operations center asked that residents use Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word of mandatory evacuations, reports the Boulder Channel 1 Blog. The hashtag #boulderfire has become a lifeline of sorts for many looking for the latest information on the fire, as well as people and businesses offering to help evacuees.
Twitter played a huge role in this effort, as did Facebook and other social media platforms.  As the fire grew in intensity and size throughout Monday, thousands who lived in the area begain taking photos and reporting on what they were seeing and feeling.  Information was coming in from folks who were literally facing devastation as the fire crept towards their homes, from people who lived in Boulder and could see and feel the impact of the fire.  Friends and family of those directly impacted by the fire constantly updated their Twitter and Facebook feeds as they received information from loved ones.

I shot this photo from my mother's house about eight miles outside of Boulder.

Information was everywhere.  Newsrooms were using tweets and updates from those in the path of the fire to get up to the minute eye witness reports.  Emergency responders were updating the situation as they tried to hold back the flames and public officials used social media to coordinate services as you can see from these shots from a Boulder Emergency Services website and from the KCNC news website.

In total, social media came through it all with flying colors, proving once again, that it not only serves as a depository of fun and entertainment, but also as a valuable resource when it really matters.

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