Etiquette for Wildfire Posts

Jason Brooks (Old Canyon)By Jason Brooks (Old Canyon)      July 9, 2021

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Nextdoor and other social networking platforms can be valuable tools for maintaining situational awareness during the wildfire emergencies that have become a regular part of our lives in Topanga. But using them in suboptimal ways can sometimes create confusion or unnecessary panic and at worst, obscure critical information from widespread consumption. Here are some tips for helping make the most of these sites in times of emergency: • It should go without saying, but if you’re a witness to an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you see a new fire, every minute counts with respect to the time it takes for authorities to be made aware and move onto the scene. Fiddling with a social network site shouldn’t delay contacting the police or fire department. • Make sure your Nextdoor feed preferences are set to “recent activity” or “recent posts” (from a desktop/laptop: click “home” in the top left, then select “recent activity”; from the mobile app: click “more”, then “settings”, then “feed preference” and select “recent activity” under “sort feed”). It is not obvious, but Nextdoor (as well as Twitter) defaults to showing you “top posts” (e.g., that awesome owl video that has been getting tons of comments and likes recently) and this default resets every 60 days. This means that brand new posts or comments are unlikely to be seen in your feed, which may give you the wrong impression of what has already been reported. • Check to see if anyone else has posted about what you are about to post. If there is a post already covering your situation, add to the conversation and/or “like” the post (which will give you notifications anytime someone adds to it). During emergencies, it is important to have as condensed a stream of information as possible--otherwise it becomes too easy to miss important information or create confusion around what is happening. • If you do post, whether it is a new post or a comment to an existing post, note the location you are reporting from, the location of what you are observing, and the date and time you are observing it. “Smoke reported from Canon View Trail,” for example, is likely to cause more confusion/panic than good because it is A) unclear whether the observer of the smoke is at Canon View Trail or whether the smoke is being observed as rising from Canon View Trail and B) the lack of time makes it difficult to immediately determine whether this is a critical piece of news to know NOW vs. a more dated report. “Smoke reported at Canon View Trail, observed from Entrada & TC Blvd, 5/15/21 @ 5:15pm” is an example of an immediately helpful post. • If you are reporting on a fire that has already been given an “official” incident name by the fire department (e.g., “PalisadesFire”), include that name with hashtag so that it can easily be searched by others (e.g., “Airplanes dumping on #PalisadesFire, seen from Entrada, 5/25/21 @ 5:15pm”). If you use Twitter and follow @LAFD and @LACoFDPio, you can see how they are referring to the incident and then use that hashtag reference to search through various social media feeds on the latest information pertaining to that incident. • If relaying information from another source, copy/paste the quote directly if possible, rather than summarizing or going from memory. In an emergency, when emotions are running high and information is spreading rapidly, it is easy for the “telephone game” effect to distort information. You can help reduce that effect as much as possible by relaying facts directly as you’ve encountered them. Even the innocent addition or subtraction of a single word can make all the difference in how a particular fact is understood, and that can make a big difference when it spreads further (e.g., “Fire department is tweeting that it’s arson” vs. “From @LAFD @ 5:15pm on 5/15/21: ‘Possible arson suspect sighted’”). • Save the political commentary for another thread and another time. During an emergency, all that matters is having situational awareness and getting critical information at the critical time. Criticizing opinions, arguments and debates may be helpful or necessary in the longer run, but not in the moment when it means they’ll clog and disrupt critical information flows. If you really must vent, do it on a separate post that is distinct from the critical information posts. If we all took into consideration these suggestions, I think it would help make the experience during these stressful times a little less stressful for all of us and make these social networking tools more helpful and less confusion-causing during emergencies when these tools really do provide a useful public service. Thanks for your consideration. Stay vigilant and stay safe.
Jason Brooks (Old Canyon)
      July 9, 2021

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