Finding Information in the Information Age

I was awoken around 4:30 this morning with a strong smell of smoke from the Lilac Fire.  I thought it a good idea to find some information, but was amazed at how difficult that was – especially in the information age.  I first tried online sources, in particularly Cal Fire and San Diego County Emergency services.  Neither of them had updated anything since approximately 11:00 pm the night before.  To some degree I get that, as they are likely very busy.  However, while it seems that most emergency agencies have called in first responders, apparently those responsible for posting information and updates are not part of that group.  No updates seemed to be posted over night.

I then thought I’d check the TV news.  Most local stations have news crews deployed on the edges of the fire.  As I write this, it is about 7 am, and in the last 2 1/2 hours I’ve gotten literally no sense of what the current perimeter of the fire is, other than the last posted Cal Fire update from last night.  Instead, I’ve been treated to a fair amount of melodrama, repurposed stories about good deeds that people have done, and my personal favorite, one of the news crews showing us how they threw some water from a bottle on embers of the roof of a house.  Quite literally there has been no “news”, which by definition is “newly received or noteworthy information”.  With all of the news crews deployed, could not the producers put together a rough update on the current perimeter and post that?  Could not they update the overall direction of the fire?  In other words, could they not take some of the data they undoubtedly have access to and provide some information from it?  I now remember why I stopped watching TV news – because that’s largely what it isn’t.

Returning to Cal Fire and our county emergency service, they similarly seem unable to take some of the data they have and post at least rudimentary information.  Everyone is concerned about estimating acreage, but I ask, is that really relevant?  Can’t they at least update the perimeter, the direction, maybe even the rate of expansion?  After all, they know where the crews are and what’s going on at those locations, don’t they?

I hope my colleagues in both the news industry and with emergency services review this event and consider what opportunities there are to generate real information on a regular basis.  I feel that we can more quickly find out the latest outfit worn by the Kardashians than important information to help keep us safe.

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