Afterglow: Effects of the Black Forest Fire
Like most others in the Pikes Peak Region, I’ve been following the Black Forest Fire closely. Many people are writing commentary regarding the causes, which is understandable, but maybe we should already begin spending more time looking at the effects of the disaster. At the writing of this article, the fire is under control at 75% containment, with 14,198 acres burnt and 483 homes declared a total loss. As the firefighters and responders continue to battle the fire and follow their plan of action, I want to take a moment to reflect on how social media helped turn this disaster into a community exercise in conversation, compassion, and togetherness.
Amid the devastation of natural disasters and human-made incidents alike, communities naturally band together. This increased community awareness occurred in Boston after the bombing, and it’s happening right now in the Colorado Springs area. Accordingly, sites like Twitter and Facebook are essential to community organizers during the disaster.
Despite aging governmental infrastructure, a tech-savvy generation found ways to communicate through many differing mediums. Instead of waiting for the news on TV, I followed the El Paso County Sheriff @EPCSheriff, the Colorado Springs Fire Department @CSFDPIO and the Gazette @csgazette, among others.
We’ve developed methods for communication, like Twitter, that can deliver information over almost any device, so anyone can receive news updates on the go, and I’ll be the first to admit that these three contacts are still keeping me updated and in the know. I am very impressed with their response time and continual updates. Furthermore, community members like Justin Blough, Seth Myers, and Josh Westerland posted useful information for the community on a Facebook Community page specifically for the Black Forest Fire, and their dedication allows community members to support each other in an organized fashion.
Social media has also allowed our government, officials, and news agencies to get important information out to a vast network of individuals, and it ultimately allows for user-controlled and user-propagated content. I customized my Twitter news feeds with little effort, and the small text allowed on tweets limit the writers to use concise wording. I received news without bias, and not once did I have to suffer through a newscast bemoaning our collective fates. Additionally, the Black Forest Fire Facebook page created a place where we all could ask for help or give it as needed.
At this moment, I can’t help but think of a video I watched a few days ago. Amanda Palmer, a musician and performer, is on the forefront of using social media technologies as an organizer to support her art. She discusses how we are recreating our communities by forging online connections on “The Art of Asking,” her YouTube video for the TEDTalks Channel. When asked how she made people pay for her music while other musicians struggle against piracy, she says, “I didn’t make them. I asked them, and through the very act of asking people, I connected with them. And when you connect with people, they want to help you.” Her willingness to ask for support allows her to continue creating music.
In Colorado Springs, the fire victims asked for assistance, community leaders requested grain and feed for animals they housed, and those offering donations only had to visit the Facebook Page to find a way to help. Through this process, the Colorado Springs area increased our own interconnection and bolstered our infrastructure using cyberspace and our natural instinct to congregate, support, and protect ourselves.
Because we have literally passed through fire once already, we learned how inept our aging infrastructure was when we struggled to battle the Waldo Canyon Fire last year. As the fires raged once more this summer, we linked together in cyberspace, and our community continues to grow closer, more organized, and increasingly supportive as a result.
Crisis can lead to panic, but few in the Springs panicked during this disaster, even though the fire caused more property damage than the Waldo Canyon Fire did last year. Instead, many took action, and a fire that could’ve potentially destroyed parts of the city has been largely contained.
Still, for all those who lost their homes, animals, or loved ones, I mourn with you because I know I could have easily lost family members in the fire. My sister was driving down Meridian when the fire jumped to the Eastonville Cemetery. Still, because of effective communication, and quick and effective organization, few of us ever lost hope. In the midst of a disaster that could have crippled us, we rose up strong and came together as a community, and hope kept many of us from despair.
As we rebuild, I wonder if we can keep our hope alive and our community ties this strong. I, for one, believe we can.