Public media have often served as a lifeline during times of community or national crisis, offering audiences breaking updates, informed perspectives, and information about how to seek help in emergency conditions. But what can media-makers do when an unexpected disaster directly impacts their ability to reach the public? The San Diego fires have revealed the potential that Web 2.0 tools hold for disaster and crisis management. Through multi-media online tools, media-makers were able to provide the San Diego community with crucial information, uniting and empowering community members, and redefining the ways in which public media can help manage crisis and disaster situations in the future.
Blogger John Bracken writes about how the area’s public radio affiliate, San Diego State University-based KPBS, turned to Twitter (a free, text-based service using instant message and email updates to rapidly send breaking news to subscribers which, in this instance, numbered over 650 people) and other digital media tools to update the San Diego community after they were forced off the air because of the fires. The radio station revamped its own website, providing interactive maps and other multi-media tools, along with updated audio commentary from reporters and other community members in the field. This not only kept the community updated on developments related to the fires, but also served as an efficient way to direct volunteers to areas needing help and supplies.
The San Diego Union-Tribune’s SignOnSan Diego was another key online player during the fires, using blogs , online forums, and an online photo archive , as well as a people-finder feature to share news within the community while more traditional media outlets like radio, television and print news were impaired by the fires and the resulting road closures.
As tragic as the San Diego fires have been, it is encouraging to observe how quickly online tools pulled the San Diego community together in a time of chaos. Within a matter of hours, it became clear that the reach of Web 2.0 goes beyond Facebook or MySpace. Digital technologies will only increase in their effectiveness as online tools continue to evolve and communities learn more about how to harness these platforms to make truly public media.