How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of Twitter yet, using a hashtag (#) before a word is a way of creating a topic in Twitter. By putting a topic like #boulderfire into a tweet, you are actively joining the conversation. Twitter users can filter on that word and see every tweet about that topic.

I initially joined Twitter because that’s what all the cool entrepreneurs in town were doing. Most people I met were die-hard “tweeters.” While I saw its usefulness, Twitter was never a necessity for me. However, that changed on Labor Day when a forest fire started in the hills above Boulder. By checking Twitter, I was able to identify the source of the smoke above my house. As the fire spread, my close-knit community literally came alive on Twitter, with everyone joining in the conversation using the tag #boulderfire. People tweeted important information about evacuation orders and offered assistance with food, housing, and legal advice for those already displaced. One person even tweeted the contents of the police scanner so people were up to date. There is no other communication medium that can enable this sort of community support network.

Even the emergency management system relied on Twitter. When the reverse 911 system—which is intended to alert residents to evacuate their homes—failed, the police department requested that people use Twitter to alert those in the affected areas! Seriously, Twitter just saved some lives. I hope an app I’m involved with will one day do that.

These last few days, I’ve thought a lot about the firefighters risking their lives and the adversity our community is facing. And perhaps it seems strange, but the last few days have also opened my eyes to the true value of Twitter. Twitter isn’t just for self-proclaimed internet marketing experts and Justin Bieber fans, Twitter can literally help a community organize, communicate, and respond effectively and rapidly to a natural disaster. Normal citizens can provide invaluable information, resources, and support to those in need (or to those who are just plain curious). We, as a community, wouldn’t be able to do that as quickly or as easily without Twitter.

How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter

5 thoughts on “How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter

  1. Joe says:

    I would love to say that Twitter did in fact help save lives in the Four Mile fire, but the cold hard truth is that the Boulder Channel 1 is not a credible site, and their claims have no sources, and are dead ends. There are absolutely no facts behind the request made by the Police Department to use Twitter to aid in evacuation of people. Even look at their site, it resembles something (and probably is) something a bunch of teens can make in 3 minutes flat. I have been monitoring the scanners, and yes, the reverse 911 system did fail, there’s no doubt about this. The Police and Sheriff’s Department went door-to-door, no one at any time on the radio went “Can you put out a request for all people with a Twitter account to ask for evacuations.” If you have been monitoring the actual posts made by this Twitter account/website, he is constantly posting “Channel 1 EXCLUSIVE” news. Last I checked, most of the time, the news gets out to the actual news networks like NBC, ABC, FOX, and many others, and not just exclusively reaching one small time network. The news post made by this person is to get his reputation up, and to get views and followers.

    I can however say Twitter IS keeping people informed, and actually brings out a lot of news as it happens before even the news networks can. It may not be getting public evacuations orders out, but it is helping society in a way.

  2. I read a tweet on Labor Day, the day the fire broke out, from a guy who lives up in burn area. He said something like this:

    Reverse 911 failed to alert me and I confirmed via Twitter that I had to evacuate my home.

    I tried to search for the original tweet to reference here but I don’t remember who it was and the number of #boulderfire tweets are too innumerable to sift through. A day later, that guy tweeted that he lost his home to the flame.

    I have heard that Boulder Channel 1 is an unreliable source. Whether the police asked social media to help spread the word or not doesn’t really matter. The word is spreading. If the use of Twitter helped saved one life or one home or one pet, then the people as a whole are using it right. Free, open communication is powerful.

  3. Nice post Joel. Yes, the true value of Twitter comes in when we merge online connections with offline meetups and show up as a community for each other. I wrote a post about this when Australia had it’s worst brushfire in history last year. I had no idea I would be writing another one for my own community on HuffPo

    And here we are commenting on your blog post looking at pictures of friends we know from Twitter and meetups. 🙂

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