Using Social Media in an Emergency- Google Mashups and Twitter

The fires in California once again remind us of a need for improved communication in the case of emergencies. So far, reverse 911 calls have been distributed via cell phones and landlines to notify residents of the impending fires and to warn of evacuations.

I must say – integrating cell phone communication shows a step in the right direction. But as I went to look for directions yesterday I noticed a small link that said, “Map of California wildfire updates from KPBS”.

What I found was a Google Mashup by the radio station KPBS that gave an updated map of the latest fires, evacuation centers, safe areas of return, road closings, and the latest advisories. Interesting information for me to view, but crucial information for those who are making decisions amidst a crisis.

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And in addition to the Google Map integration, I found the station is also using Twitter to send information via SMS – allowing residents to see pertinent information in real time and another step toward preventing evacuation center over-fill and traffic delays from road closings.

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This is a profound use of social media technologies. I must applaud KPBS for thinking past traditional media and crossing into these new technologies. I have a feeling this may change emergency communication entirely.

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