Web 2.0 & The California Fire Crisis

I was in San Diego this week, and the wildfires there were extraordinary. Hundreds of thousands of people — normal, suburban, it-can’t-happen-to-me people — were displaced, stuck on roadways and desperate for information. The nature of the emergency — multiple fires, moving quickly — meant information was often conflicting.

Traditional media have been hopelessly outdated in their coverage. We tracked the fires using the National Weather Service’s reflectivity index, which proved far more accurate. But the enterprising folks at the L.A. Fire Department found a better way: they’ve been issuing frequent updates using Twitter.

Google Maps mashups are being usd to provide a relatively current look at data. Some news sources, whose traditional web sites are flooded and broken, have resorted to Google Maps’ new And for homes without power, mobile handsets are making it possible for people to get details on where to go.

There are robust systems available for emergency rescue teams that distribute data reliably during emergencies. And we have the Emergency Alert System to warn us on radio.

But today’s end user demands more than just a radio broadcast. As Wired points out, Twitter subscribers can mimic this model with a cell phone to receive quick updates.

In this era of personalization and mobility, it’s great to see an online community putting the latest tools to work. This combination of portable devices, mashups, and real-time status updates gives us a warning system for the masses.

Related from NewTeeVee: California Fires: Tragic and very real reality show

Photo originally uploaded by Bernard-SD to Flickr.