With devastating forest fires raging in communities across the state, Colorado residents turned to social media for the latest information.
As traditional media—newspapers and television—are doing their best to be a clearinghouse of information, social media has made it easier for people to get real-time information, without any filters or time delays, direct from sources.
Colorado had a dry run for this year’s fires last summer, when the state was again hit by blazes. At the time, law enforcement agencies had to change the way they communicated the news. The Jefferson County Sheriff's office used its blog
and Twitter to keep the public and the press updated about the Lower North Fork fire last March.
"The world has changed,” sheriff's spokesman Mark Techmeyer told the Denver Post
. "Traditionally, you had a press conference in the morning and the afternoon, but people won't settle for that now. Our protocol is to make the emergency blog live and then a tweet goes out to link back to the blog. The speed and accuracy cannot be matched with a written press release and a press conference in three hours—those days are gone."
Every local, state and federal agency is pushing out the latest news on their Twitter accounts. The most destructive fire, just north of Colorado Springs was tagged #BlackForestFire.
Some of the best sources for getting information about this fire and others across the state are:
• El Paso County Sheriff: @EPCSheriff
• Colorado Springs Police Department: @CSPDPIO
• Colorado Springs Fire Department: @CSFDPIO
• Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control: @COStateFire
• Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: @hickforco
• Pikes Peak Red Cross: @PPRedCross
• Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management: @COEmergency
A great example of the how the agencies are using social media are the quick updates by the Colorado Springs PD. On Sunday morning, it sent this out:
It details the punch-list of vital information, including a link to an accounting of all the homes destroyed in the blaze.
[RELATED: Master the can't-ignore social media tools after Mark Ragan's one-day social media boot camp.]
When it began to rain on Sunday in the area of the Black Forest fire, residents took to social media with comments and photos. Throughout the week, you could get an insider look at the firefighting efforts and the devastation through Instagram, using the #BlackForestFire
Social media also served as a complaint board for some residents affected by the fires. One family that lost its home called to cancel its DirecTV service; they were promptly informed they were still on the hook for the burned satellite dish and other equipment.
News got out and spread on Twitter and DirecTV’s Facebook page, and the next day DirecTV apologized, saying it was a mistake.
Donna Archuleta Volden
said, “Instead of all this you should be posting a retraction and stating publicly that you will not be taking advantage of the folks in the Black Forest area.”
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.