The New EBS: Emergency Blogging System

Posted on May 3, 2011

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A home completely destroyed by local wildfires

When I was the News/Talk/Sports editor for Radio & Records I wrote numerous pieces about local radio stations responding to community disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires.

After seeing how stations and clusters stepped up to help their communities, I was left with absolutely no doubt that radio is the medium best equipped to help local residents in times of emergency.

There are a couple of traits that are unique to our medium that help radio stand out in these situations.

First there is immediacy. Radio is, generally speaking, prepared to go live and deliver information faster than any other medium. Television stations are just not staffed to deliver this type of information the way radio is.

Then there’s portability and power. Radios can run on batteries and easily be taken almost anywhere. Televisions need electricity. Cell phones and computers need connectivity.

Obviously providing information to people faced with emergency situations isn’t a contest but it is one thing that makes our service irreplaceable.

At least it used to.

Now an article in the New York Times illustrates how people who had to evacuate their homes in Texas due to wildfires turned to social media for information when local media and government didn’t provide what they needed.

One displaced resident had a connection to Google and was able to get the Google Earth satellites to scan and provide updated images of the area. If it wasn’t already, I’ll bet that’s becoming standard operating procedure for Google Earth.

Another started a blog about the wildfires. It began with the author posting complaints about not being able to get cellular service at a hotel where many of the displaced families were being housed.

Word of her posts filtered up to AT&T executives who dispatched a truck with a mobile cell tower to the area fixing the problem. Again, I’m willing to bet this will become a standard AT&T response.

Feeling empowered, the blogger set out to provide reliable, up-to-date information that many displaced residents felt they weren’t getting from governmental agencies or local media outlets. Within a week, page views jumped from 650 to 900,000.

Anita Foster, an American Red Cross representative, told The New York Times “It’s the first time in my experience in a domestic disaster where citizens are taking control of their information. We’re on the cusp of how we can use digital media to respond to these things. But it takes citizens to keep it together.”

But wait, that’s our job. We can compile all that information on our Web site AND broadcast updates on the station. But remember, it’s not a contest.

It is however a potent reminder that being a relevant resource to the communities we serve is the most important thing we can do; especially in times of trouble.

Otherwise, it’s entirely possible we could be replaced.

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