Wildfire World

On Technology and Emergency – October smoke heavy from my house, behind me, I write from a balcony in Capistrano beach, a refugee overlooking the sea. Lucky to have a room with my wife, dog and cat and a few moments to reflect on the Internet and media in emergency. It all began Sunday when my wife warned me of fires she read of on the Internet. Four years ago were the fires in Rancho Bernardo. Can’t happen again.

Even so, I failed to endorse her overconcern or notice how strongly the winds were blowing. Santa Ana winds ran steadily at 30-60 miles per hour. They howled through the night along with a few alarming Internet notices, one radio station warning, but no TV news interjection. The redness glowed with red flames visible from Escondido at 3am, my old neighborhood was on fire, yet networks did not break from infomercials and regular programming. Radio was far more responsive with good dj’s and callers-in. Exhausted asleep – big screen sound off, radio on, we awoke a few hours later with shabby repetitive news reports, bland political statements, and little idea of what was going on in the area. Newspaper web site blogs were valuable as the traditional news service could not perform its function. They cranked out PDF maps (arg) that were 4 hours old and I tell you – A Santa Ana – powered wild fire changes in five minutes.

Today’s media for emergency response reflects how poorly they function and how promising the Internet is. The old media is embalmed in commercialism and even when reporting, runs constant repetition of their one or two money shot crew camera stores. This is not news, it is olds. Do they know our houses might burn in the next 30 minute without proper knowledge? Even with the TV news desks running full bore, no director seemed to have any idea what their potential victim audience wants to know – How bad is it overall right now? What roads are open, what roads are closed? What is on fire around me right now? What are the evacuation plans and timing to leave for my location? Remind me what not to forget to do to my house (close all doors, turn off gas at main), what to bring (important papers, medicines, radio, flashlight, unreplaceables, bedding)? How is my neighborhood doing, where is the fire now, where might it be in one hour. All of this is important to cricital to public safety and emergency service. Even TV at its best must measure out footage in time, while an Internet site is designed to interact with you depending on your situation and location.When you are a remote refuge in a hotel, news needs becomes apparent. Here they only show local beach news irrelevant to me now, so we listen to radio. My wife grabbed the XM-Radio but ironically all we listen to is AM Radio 600 from San Diego. Although XM has a decent emergency channel, it cannot compare to local voices and views. So imagine if you could dial to an internet area media channel, but that is impossible, unless you have Slingblade running on your home TV. Another great reason for Slingblade – a personal media emergency beacon. Of course it forwards traditional media -better than nothing, once you become a refugee.The need is rising for a “public service emergency news internet service” capable of wildfire emergency action over the Internet. A central, easily typed URL ingesting and presenting realtime situationals. Made of well designed interactive web pages, blogs, reports, videos, podcasts, photos geocoded on a big search map. Tomorrow’s wildfire service must use the Internet as a base. It is the only media that can do the job and save lives in realtime. It may seem like a lot of data, but computers can handle it. Furhtermore a person dials into select information points.My recommendation is to have a real personality encourage quality callers (as in radio, perhaps Rocketboom) on the main stage. The site might offer many streams of local tv’s. The main service runs as a moderated realtime stream, but offers interactive web design to resolve specific needs. A moderated news blog is essential, perhaps geotagged to sort easier.(I will return, but I have to find a place to stay for tonight).Wed, 3pm – Too much has happened and I am back at the Escondido now. Happy to see the semi-blue sky and hard edge sun began. Television in emergency over time gets stories coming at them from 100 directions as they really were as the crisis began. The best of them devolve to a picture radio call-in show. Again, some intercasting system can do this much better. We checked the list of houses no longer standing, and the one next door to where we lived two years ago is no more. With all the heroism and bluster of a job well done, the truth is that this house among the 40-50 others in RB caught fire early Monday morning – with no media warning, only reverse 911 uncoordinated with broadcasters. All of this when my wife and I were piecing the disaster together on the Internet. It is a story worthy of 60 minutes (which coincidentally ran a super fires piece Sunday night).It shouldn’t be this way, but the urge is so strong, when a fire has burned through – is my house still among the standing. Only eyewitnesses who brave the policeline wil tell you. How about permitting unoffiicial press (because official press is busy elsewhere), to reconoiter and report.

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