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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Dramatic Propane Factory Explosion In Toronto Underscores Potential Benefits, Dangers For Press, Government & Public Of Twitter, New Media In Emergencies

August 12th, 2008 · 1 Comment

The blog “Web Strategy by Jeremiah” does an interesting, multi-media analysis of the role of the social messaging service Twitter (as well as other civilian media coverage) in reporting a propane gas explosion in Toronto early Sunday morning. In the post, titled “Crises Tracking on Twitter: The Benefits -and Dangers- of New Media,” Jeremiah (Jeremiah Owyang, a Senior Research Analyst at Forrester Research), offers a helpful narrative of how citizen ‘tweets’, photos and videos reported the story:

“Yesterday morning, on a slow Sunday, I was witness to yet another disaster being reported from first hand sources on Twitter. This has reoccured for the small explosion at Times Square last year, Earthquake in China, Bombings in India, Fires in L.A., and now a propane factory exploding in Toronto.

Credit: Photo Junkie

When I tweeted that “BREAKING: @photojunkie citizen journalist has pics and video of Toronto explosion, BEFORE press story” I was acting like an amplifier. Some reporters follow me and it quickly was swept into the LATimes blog, and I was contacted in email by a Canadian newspaper, who I sent to Photojunkie, a real source, as I was not.

Of course, this leads to some risks: 1) Sources may panic, and over or under state the situation. 2) Determining who is a credible source is a challenge, 3) Echos from the online network may over pump or mis state very important facts that could impact people’s safety. How did I know that Photojunkie wasn’t lying? I don’t. I did however first review his site, his history on Twitter, and saw his pictures and videos before pointing to them.

Since the civilian videos of the explosion are dramatic and include some profanity, I will not put them on my site. But if you would like to see them, the link is here. The explosion and fire, which killed a firefighter, forced the evacuation of more than 12,000 people from a North Toronto neighborhood. Reflecting on the day, Jeremiah offers “Key Takeaways” for the press, government authorities and the public on the growth and convergence of all the new citizen media:

*The new News Wire is now Twitter, the “Twire”?
*News continues to break from first hand sources, in the past, the press would break the stories.
*The jobs of the press are both easier and harder: They’ve improved access to sources in real time, but the level of noise has increased.
*Press and Media must monitor Twitter: we’ve never seen information break as fast as this.
*Press still have a very important role: vetting out what’s true and false to the best of their ability.*
*The community (myself included) must be mindful of what’s real and what’s not, over hyping or* spreading false information could impact lives.
Emergency response teams and local municipalities should monitor the online chatter, just as they do emergency short wave channels.

Thanks to Cross Blog’s Robin Parker for bringing Jeremiah’s post to my attention.

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Tags: Preparedness 2.0

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