Thursday, October 25, 2007

Burning Curiosity

Many thanks to Facebook friend Bill Tomlinson for launching what appears to be a useful website to help California's fire victims according to a recent university press release. With about twenty students Tomlinson created CalFireHelp to connect those who need shelter because of evacuations to those who would be willing to provide it.

Those of us here know that the fires have made teaching at UC Irvine extremely unpleasant all week. My own digital rhetoric class has been disrupted when students are paged to come home to help families evacaute or when they are stuck in traffic and unable to make it to class at all because of closed roads.

Many of my students said that existing fire information websites were almost useless and that they had been depending on blogs to keep them updated about where structures were standing and where they were destroyed. I learned about this problem from the experiences of my friend and fellow blogger Jenny Cool, who wrote about trying to gauge the proximity of another fire to her family's cabin in the Northern California woods in a posting called "Stories, Pictures, Everywhere, but Information, Please?"

Over at Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold also reports that the Red Cross is microblogging on the wild fires. As Raph Koster points out in Finally, A Use for Twitter, this is a case where constant updating makes sense.

Update: Vivian Folkenflik points out an interesting NPR story about how local radio stations knocked off the air were using their websites to disseminate information during the blaze. She also sent along this truly amazing news item about how FEMA held a press conference in which the federal disaster agency's spokesperson was actually asked questions by FEMA employees acting like friendly news reporters. The Virtualpolitik connection? In the NPR story media commentator David Folkenflik made the analogy between the FEMA simulation of a news conference and a "Q and A" page on a government website.

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