Some people still think of Twitter as a tool for sending out 140-character messages about trivia such as what you ate for lunch, but during Flagstaff’s wildfire crisis, Twitter turned out to be one of the best sources for up-to-date information on the Hardy Fire (282 acres with 95% containment as I write this) and the Schultz Fire (currently 14,800 acres with 40% containment) as well as the Eagle Rock fire near Williams. Anyone could use the Twitter hashtags #flagstafffire, #hardyfire, #schultzfire, #schultz, #wildfires, or #flagstaff to find or tag information about the rapidly unfolding drama in our mountain town. Hashtags are short text identifiers preceded by the # character to indicate the topic of a message. Twitter messages are often called tweets.
One person in our department who was following Twitter was able to notify another about an impending neighborhood evacuation even before county officials had knocked on the evacuee’s door. Flagstaff’s mayor, Sara Presler, or @sarapresler in Twitter notation, used Twitter effectively to send out information about the status of the fires and to inform citizens about upcoming press conferences and public meetings related to the fires. Tweets from government organizations, individuals, and various groups got information out much more quickly and frequently than conventional media could. Of course the local newspaper and radio and television stations also used Twitter, and their tweets fleshed out the picture of the fire situation in advance of their regularly scheduled publications or broadcasts. Speaking of pictures, many Twitter users posted photos of the fires from their vantage points, which was an incredibly effective way to calm (or terrify) loved ones from afar. Tweets about the fires generated so much traffic on Twitter that the story was picked up by Mashable, a popular technology-oriented social media site.
If your impression of Twitter is that it’s only an endless stream of inane chatter, think again. If you judiciously choose the people and groups to follow, Twitter can serve as your up-to-the minute personal newsfeed. Of course you need to view some tweets with a critical eye. Not everyone who who uses Twitter follows the journalistic standards and ethics we’ve come to expect from mainstream media, but many regular folks do a fine job of reporting the situation.
Here are some of the Twitter users who provided valuable information during the fires. Click the links to see their Twitter pages.
- @ArizonaDOT (Arizona Department of Transportation)
- @azds (Arizona Daily Sun newspaper)
- @AzEIN (Arizona Emergency Info Network)
- @AZFireInfo (Arizona Fire Info)
- @AZPubRadio (KNAU radio)
- @coconinocounty (Coconino County official information)
- @CoconinoNF (Coconino National Forest official information)
- @dsoltesz (Deborah Lee Soltesz, Flagstaff resident)
- @ENeitzel (Eric Neitzel, national public information officer from Show Low Fire Dept.)
- @inciweb (national incident information system)
- @FLAGscanner (live scanner feeds from police, fire, and EMS groups in Flagstaff)
- @naztoday (students at NAU’s School of Communication)
- @sarapresler (Flagstaff’s mayor)
Let us know in the comments about other good sources of information on Twitter.
If you’d like to learn more about how to use Twitter, either as a newsfeed or an educational tool, contact the e-Learning Center. Or follow us on Twitter (@nauelearning) or Facebook. In the meantime, hug a firefighter. They’ve worked hard to save our town and our forests.