Reflections post fire event & Twitter

Posted by  admin —February 12, 2009
Filed in How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Just observations

It appears that the recent loss of life, home and community by devastating fires in Victoria has resonated around the world’s media. The images are horrific and the stories of loss and grief are almost unbearable. One person on talkback radio said … “This is the sort of thing you only see happening on the other side of the world, and usually in developing countries”.

I am only 1 step removed from many people who have lost everything. My love and support goes to all of them. One such person rang radio today and said, “please don’t label us as victims … we will re build our lives and our communities”.

My own community was just plain ‘lucky’ last Saturday. If a fire has started to our West or North, I doubt many buildings would be standing today in the communities of Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven and Moggs Creek. The speed of the fires would have seen Anglesea, Belbrae, Bells Beach and Torquay under serious threat.

Communicating the Threat Message As with every disaster, the key challenge is communication of messages. Local ABC broadcasts like 774 have combined with government agencies to provide a relatively up to date channel of news and threat messages for the community. ABC’s efforts as ‘the emergency services broadcaster’ over the past couple of years have been amazing and their presence makes everyone in bush fire prone areas feel much safer and informed.

However, the messages that ABC communicate are still not instantaneous … and nor should we expect them to be. On the weekend, it was clear that a 5 or 10 minute delay in communicating an urgent threat message meant the difference between life and death for some. So what’s the solution?

Like all ‘complex’ scenarios, we need lots of little solutions. We cannot expect everyone to be listening to the 1 message from the 1 source. I believe that 1 of these little solutions is Twitter …

Here’s a Livewire article by titled ‘Join The Twitterati’ and an example of when online microblogging applications like Twitter can get messages out to millions before the mainstream media …

“Some news organisations believe it’s the fastest way of gleaning news. The first anyone heard of US Airways Flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River was when Janis Krums, on one of the nearby ships, took a picture on an iPhone and posted it on Twitpics. “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy” went the “tweet”.”

Why does a quirky little online thing like Twitter work in complex and unpredictable circumstances? Because it’s ‘lightweight’ and nimble. It doesn’t rely on an institution (or many institutions) to bring you the news. In fact, we the consumer, bring the news to each other. Twitter is also ‘self organising’ and no one tries to manage it (which is precisely why we should lobby our Federal government to NOT censor or block anything on the internet).

Tweets directly from the CFA (the institution)

I was blown away when I learned, via fellow twitterer Michael Specht, that the CFA (Country Fire Authority) had it’s very own Twitter feed. “Wow!” A conservative government organisation is actually posting Tweets! Here’s the link to their Twitter page.

What do you notice about their account details? ONLY 512 followers!! That’s up from under 100 last weekend when the fires were raging. Australia lags behind in the uptake of tools like Twitter (and I know … they are not for everyone!). Here another quote from the LiveWire article …

“Australian twitterers lag behind in adoption. At the time of writing only Tourism Queensland had scraped together 1000 followers. Sky News was the largest media organisation with fewer than 500 followers, while The Age was the largest newspaper at 250. KevinRuddPM has a presence with almost 6000 followers, but updates are posted by an aide rather than the man himself.

Many businesses will try to block it, as with other social networking sites, but there are few better ways of keeping in touch with customers, colleagues and clients. The absence of pictures and videos (and the newness of the whole thing) will hopefully let it slip under the radar of anxious network administrators.

Things will doubtless change as popularity grows, and it’s a given that many will choose to abuse its power by spamming and selling products. While existing Twitter aficionados might disagree about its future, Twitter is still at the ground floor and about to grow into something massive.”

Tweets from people on the ground (the Crowd)

Adoption of Twitter in Australia will grow. With the explosion of web enabled handsets/mobiles, access to these types of communications are becoming easier and easier. I can’t answer the question about ‘reliability’ of access before or during a fire event, however, I know that I’d prefer to receive an urgent threat message for my community directly from the source and not via a string of steps between the source, advisers, editors and news channels. In bushfire situations, a threat message on Twitter may come directly from the community … like a farmer whose hay bails have ignited and caused a fire to run into an adjoining National Park. His Tweet may not be 100% accurate, but I’d rather know about the ‘potential threat’ at 11.45am than the ‘confirmed threat’ 45 minutes later.

Keep up the great work ABC and all the agencies like CFA and DSE.


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