November 23, 2014

The sign-in sheet just before Stage 6 began in downtown Golden. USA Pro Cycling Challenge Levi Leipheimer on stage in downtown Golden just before the starting gun. The Golden Fire Department's famed pancake breakfast during Buffalo Bill Days. Presenting at the White House in July 2011 (photo by J. Urdaneta/Urdaneta Photography). Happy bikers at the Golden Bike Cruise. Castle Rock and South Table Mountain. Looking down from the top of the GFD ladder. The Golden Valley and Clear Creek from the top of the ladder truck. Vern and his tractor at the Golden Farmer's Market. The grand opening of Golden's new mountain bike skills park. Second Cup at Mitchell Elementary. South Table Mountain. Riding with Golden's fantastic snowplow team. A rainbow over north Golden. One of Golden's newest open space purchase: the Bachman property.

Twelve Lessons About Social Media and Natural Disasters

One of Jeff Warner's many amazing photographs of Golden during the Indian Gulch Fire.

During the Indian Gulch Fire in Golden in 2011, Councilor Bill Fisher and I found that we were able to use our email lists, websites, and social media networks in ways that were pretty helpful to community members across Golden. After the fire, we put together a report describing what we had done, how well it worked, and the lessons we drew from the experience. In the months after the fire, we shared informal versions of the report with City Council, city staff, and the community, but Bill and I thought it would be worth sharing a slightly cleaner and slightly more polished version. It took a while, but we’ve got a slightly more formal version of the report we can share with anyone interested in learning from our experience.

Although the Indian Gulch Fire occurred a couple of years back, long and challenging fire seasons are probably here to stay (as Coloradans experienced yet again this summer), and the devastating floods of the past couple of weeks ago are a reminder that Colorado communities are susceptible to other crises, as well.

In reviewing and cleaning up the draft, we found that the observations and conclusions are still accurate and relevant. Because we had built strong email, web, and social media networks, because we weren’t part of the formal chain of command, and because we had earned trust and credibility from the community, we were able to fill a communication role that community members desperately wanted but which city and county officials couldn’t provide.

The short version of our lessons learned:

  1. Community members were hungry for information, and the official communication channels (while important) couldn’t move quickly enough to provide what the community wanted.
  2. Providing frequent updates, even if there wasn’t much new information to report, was extremely important to community members.
  3. Bill and I were effective in our ad-hoc communication/engagement/liaison role in part because we spent a lot of time on the ground talking with first responders, community members, and others.
  4. Doing a good job of gathering and sharing information was time-consuming.
  5. There can be some trade-offs between speed and accuracy, but local governments can’t rely exclusively on their traditional systems for aggregating and vetting information; people in the community are generating and sharing huge amounts of information and they aren’t waiting to see what the official channels are reporting.
  6. Because the emergency response was so strong – high quality teams that were well managed and coordinated – Bill and I didn’t have to expend any energy dealing with those types of operational issues. We were able to focus almost exclusively on communication and outreach with the community.
  7. Although community members collectively relied on a wide range of information sources, individuals tended to rely on only one or two. In other words, if we wanted to reach most community members, we had to rely on a range of communication tools.
  8. Facebook and Twitter were the most valuable tools for quick, frequent updates.
  9. Email newsletters played a central role as a less frequent but more thorough bedrock communication tool.
  10. Facebook and Twitter users can dramatically amplify the information they gather. If we provided frequent, high-quality information on these channels, that’s what spread quickly through these social networks. If we didn’t, then the quality of the information spreading through the networks was less reliable.
  11. It was important that we responded quickly to the questions and queries we received via email, our websites, and social media.
  12. Although it was unplanned, Bill and I were a good team for this role. We both had a lot of credibility in the community; by virtue of being on the city council and mayor, respectively, we were highly connected to the flow of information about the fire; we had both already built up strong email, web, and social media networks; and we were both highly sensitive to the risk of distributing inaccurate information. In addition, we had worked closely together for a long time, and trusted each other, so it was easy to share responsibilities throughout the entire crisis.

Feel free to download the full “Indian Gulch Fire – Lessons Learned” report if you’re interested. We welcome your thoughts on any of this, especially about where we go from here: how can the City of Golden (and other local governments around the country) – during natural disasters and perhaps at other times as well – be responsive to the growing use of social media and other internet-based tools for monitoring what’s happening in Golden and for engaging with the City and with each other as community challenges present themselves.

Jacob & Bill

P.S. Thanks to Golden photographer Jeff Warner for letting us use the photo.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future Presents its Final Report to Council

During last week’s study session, members of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future presented their final report to City Council.

I think the most important conclusion from the panel’s report is also the starkest: the cost of doing everything that we in Golden have identified as our vision for the future far exceeds the revenue we are likely to have available to pay for it. The city will presumably continue to find new efficiencies, and I’m sure we’ll continue finding clever ways to do more with less, such as the public-private partnerships that produced the Golden Community Garden and the Bike Skills Park. But the gap between what we want and what it will cost to provide all of that is in the tens of millions of dollars; there is no way to avoid the uncomfortable fact that in the coming years we will either have to scale back our ambitions, increase our revenues, or a combination of both.

Council’s direction to the group (I was one of the 11 members) was very explicit: brainstorm a wide range of ideas for reducing expenses, increasing revenues, and otherwise closing the gap between the cost of the community’s vision and the resources available to implement it. We were directed not to evaluate or prioritize those ideas, but instead just focus on creating a diverse list of potential options. The ideas range from modest to extreme, and from simple to very politically charged. The panel was pretty diverse in terms of politics and perspective, and we had some vigorous discussions about the challenges facing the city and some of the ways we might tackle those challenges, but in the end we agreed to present Council with an expansive list of ideas.

It’s important to emphasize that the panel isn’t endorsing any of the ideas we presented. In fact, our individual reaction to each of the ideas varied widely, and in many instances people felt they couldn’t evaluate specific ideas, anyway, without a great deal more information and analysis. City Council asked us to come up with a wide-ranging list of brainstormed ideas; that we did.

On August 16, City Council is scheduled to formally accept the panel’s report. The next steps are up to City Council, but expect they’ll take some time to digest it and then figure out a good way to kick off a bigger community conversation about these issues. Learn more about the panel and download the final report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future.

What’s Happening in Golden

August 9, City Council Business Meeting and Study Session City Hall at 7 p.m. The agenda includes appointment to the Golden Urban Renewal Authority, a resolution in support of funding measures for Jeffco schools, amendments to the Rooney Road Sports Complex and recycling center agreements with Jefferson County, a presentation to City Council by the [...]

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Radio Golden #10 – July 27, 2012: Jeffco school funding measures, Golden’s Blue Ribbon Committee, and more

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The Radio Golden crew hit a nice milestone on Friday, recording our tenth Radio Golden podcast. We spent some time talking about the upcoming final report of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Golden’s Economic Future (currently scheduled for the August 9 City Council meeting). We also had a couple of terrific guests, Lesley Dahlkemper and [...]

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Let the Legal Wrangling Begin: the Beltway Lawsuit Gets Underway

The beltway lawsuits is off to a colorful start ...

The first of the proceedings in the lawsuit challenging the beltway proposal kicked off last week with a hearing on the lawsuit schedule. Scheduling conferences are usually dull affairs, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made it interesting: he made a highly unusual (perhaps unprecedented) bid to address the court as part of the [...]

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Mayor Sloan’s Comments on the Aurora Shooting

Mayor Sloan published a thoughtful piece on her blog and newsletter yesterday; I thought I would just post it in full here: Last night, as council’s study session was ending, many local homes had at least one family member excitedly preparing for the premiere showing in Aurora of “The Dark Knight,” the new Batman movie. [...]

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Service Dog Memorial Unveiled at Foothills Animal Shelter

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Although I couldn’t attend the event, I’m very happy to be able to write about it … last month Foothills Animal Shelter unveiled a new sculpture celebrating the contributions that service dogs make in the community. Even cooler: the project was itself a service project by a local 15-year old as part of fulfilling the [...]

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Jefferson County Education Funding on the November Ballot

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The ballot in November will include a new education funding measure for Jefferson County schools, including a modest property tax increase and bonding. The estimates I’ve seen project an increase in property taxes of $1.23 per month per $100,000 of home market value. In the face of the recession and the ongoing state budget disaster, [...]

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Leadership Golden Accepting Applications Through August 1

I can’t say enough about the Leadership Golden program. Anyone who wants a crash course in how local government in Golden works and some of the other really important elements that make up our amazing community should check out the program. You’ll find Leadership Golden graduates all over town, serving in elected office, on boards [...]

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City Starts Tackling Clear Creek Challenges

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Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing, and we seem to be experiencing some of this problem along the Clear Creek Corridor this summer. One concern is related to bad behavior by some of the folks who are spending time along the Creek: bad language, drinking alcohol (which is illegal along [...]

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