Good communication is a key in any emergency situation. The ultimate goal is always to protect lives and property. Part of achieving that goal is keeping all audiences informed during an incident. FEMA’s Basic Guidance for Public Information Officers states that “During an incident or planned event, coordinated and timely communication is critical to effectively help the community. Effective and accurate communication can save lives and property, and helps ensure credibility and public trust.” In the Incident Command System, this job lies with the Public Information Officer (PIO). Some of a PIO’s main duties include gathering, verifying, coordinating, and disseminating pertinent information.
Social Media Prevalence
As keen observers in recent years, RedZone has seen the wildfire information delivery portion become more complex than ever before. Our ever-growing age of information, aided by the prevalence of smart phones and social media, has increased interest in unfolding events. Since the Guidance was created in 2007, new tools for connecting with the long list of potentially-interested parties have been utilized. Instead of relying on local and national media, most fire agencies and emergency management departments have taken to the major social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to update and inform on their own. CALFIRE and each of their units are some of the leaders in this department, regularly tweeting updates, which is especially helpful for small and medium fires.
A Ventura County Fire PIO updates on the Solimar Fire near Rincon Beach
Live Streaming a Useful Tool
As we heavily rely on timely information from the PIO in much of our daily work, we are excited about an emerging trend from 2016: The used of live video streaming platforms such as Facebook Live and Periscope. Ventura County Fire has used Facebook live (video above) to share information from staging areas as fires unfold. Two of San Bernardino County’s 2016 fires were featured on Periscope as videographer Tod Sudmeier with EPN564 shot continuous live video, showing active flames, aerial operations, and answered questions from the over 150,000 viewers who tuned into the app. During both the Bluecut and the Pilot fires this summer, Tod, a fire and weather photographer gained over 30,000 followers ‘scoping’ the incidents from safe areas in the thick of the action.
Pilot Fire – https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ypJdPBzdoyJW – 5,300 viewers
Bluecut Fire – https://www.periscope.tv/w/1OdKrbDePDzKX – 179,000 viewers
We expect these live videos to remain really just complimentary to the helicopter footage, press conferences, incident blogs and information pages, and media coverage that we information consumers are used to. But there’s something exciting and fun watching a situation unfold candidly. We’ll be watching for more from EPN564 and other live video streamers next season as we fully expect the trend to continue.