April 28, 2017

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.

Radio Golden #6 – May 18, 2012: bronze statues, off-leash dogs, State Senator Cheri Jahn, and more

Episode 6 of Radio Golden is online! Some of the ground we cover:

  • a proposed new bronze statue in Golden of bike racer Levi Leipheimer
  • the policy on and fines for off-leash dogs
  • high-speed police chases
  • special guest State Senator Cheri Jahn on the 2012 legislative session
  • and more …

The City Manager’s State of the City: 2012

City Manager Mike Bestor presented his annual “State of the City” address last week to the Chamber of Commerce. The short version of Mike’s talk: the city is in great shape.

He spent some time highlighting city efforts from last year that he was particularly proud of, including the Golden Police Department’s role in breaking open a very difficult multi-state serial rapist case (the rapist was recently sentenced to 327 1/2 years, an outcome for which GPD gets a lot of credit). His highlights included the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (40,000 visitors in Golden!), wrapping up the Golden Vision 2030 project, and the national recognition earned by multiple city departments (including the Parks and Recreation Department’s “Gold Medal” award).

He mentioned some issues that are likely to take some time later in the year, including medical marijuana, the beltway fight (“a legal rodeo that will go on most of this year”), and the Blue Ribbon Panel’s upcoming work on Golden’s economic future.

Nothing particularly controversial and no surprises.

The 14th Annual Golden Police National Night Out: Tuesday, August 2!

Anyone who’s participated in Golden’s National Night Out knows what a great time it is. The Golden Police Department hosts the event at Parfet Park (10th and Washington) from 5-8 this Tuesday (August 2), and the kid-oriented event is a terrific opportunity for kids to learn about internet safety, fire safety, crime scene investigations, the police K-9 unit, the Jefferson County Regional SWAT Team, and more. The AirLife helicopter usually pays a visit, which is very cool (but remember to hang on to your hat when it lands). And of course there’s entertainment and free food (including hot dogs and root beer floats).

Golden Fire Update: March 30, 2011

"Thank You Firefighters" The photo is a little awkward but the sentiment isn't. Golden firefighters were very excited to see this written in chalk on a street in Mountain Ridge.

The Fire
We haven’t seen any sort of official notice that the fire is completely out – it might actually take a while – but for all intents and purposes the Indian Gulch Fire is done. Jefferson County crews spent the weekend getting a few hot spots and doing some mitigation work behind Mountain Ridge (where fire crews had dug fire line). There may be some more mop up on the fire, and there will be more mitigation work required as well, but the fire itself is over.

The fire wrap-up: It burned a total of 1,570 acres. No homes were lost and there were no injuries. The city’s emergency response systems worked extremely well, and our staff is already analyzing what we did, where the few hiccups were, and how to do it even better next time (whenever it is that next time comes). Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink deserves a special mention: his department did a great job coordinating the response, managing the dozens of agencies that sent crews to help, and managing the handoff to the federal incident team when they arrived.

Kudos
As you all know, our firefighters did a fantastic job all the way through the fire and even afterward (we sent a crew down to Douglas County to help them with their own fire). I also want to call out the many other City of Golden staff that stepped up. Our water department focused on keeping the water pressure up, Parks & Recreation de-winterized the Splash in a matter of hours so that we could provide firefighters with hot showers and a place to stage, our police department worked hard to make sure our firefighters had the room and access they needed, the communications team was in overdrive, and so on. And the work continues even now, such as the work our streets crew is doing to protect our water supply.

Plenty of folks posted information, photos, and stories during the fire, but I want to call out two in particular:

Councilor Bill Fisher did something cool as well, pulling together news articles and other links. I’d love to know about any other web sites or blogs where folks posted their images, recollections, and other info. That was a week to remember, for sure.

Lessons
I learned a lot this past week, not the least of which was the power of Facebook and Twitter during a crisis for both sharing information and listening, and Council Fisher and I will gather our thoughts and share what we learned in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I also learned that the fire retardant slurry dropped by the air tankers also contains some fertilizer and seed to help with revegetation after the fire.

Celebrating
Finally, among the most amusing and heartwarming moments for me was hearing so many Mountain Ridge residents express their deepest gratitude to the firefighters and insist on throwing a party to thank them, while simultaneously hearing our firefighters express their deepest gratitude to the Mountain Ridge residents, and insist on throwing a party to thank them! Chief Bales mentioned the other day that you usually have to worry about your firefighters losing too much weight during a fire, and he joked that his firefighters were so well fed and cared for by the Mountain Ridge neighborhood that he was worried last week about the opposite. In any case, this seems like a win-win opportunity for everyone to throw a party, thank each other for stepping up as only Golden neighbors can do, and express our collective gratitude that we didn’t lose any homes or suffer any injuries. I’m under the impression that the Mountain Ridge folks actually want to plan something in the coming weeks, and the City, City Council, and I are all happy to help and support. Whoever has already started to plan this please let me know and we can make sure everyone is on the same page.

I can’t say enough about this community, and every hour of the fire I was reminded how blessed I am to get to live here. Neighbors looked out for each other, people came to help Golden and Jefferson County from all over the state, community organizations banded together to provide even more aid and support, and despite the number of moving parts and the potential for chaos we somehow all made it work. Even our use of email, Twitter, and Facebook – among the things that Councilor Fisher and I focused on – wouldn’t have worked so well if so many other folks didn’t repost, retweet, and forward. Even the communication efforts ended up being an incredible community collaboration.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone.

The Golden Police Department Shooting Range

I make a point of spending time with every city department, and over the past few weeks visited with the Golden Police Department twice, once while they were up at the driving track and a few days ago while they were at the shooting range. I was again impressed with how seriously they take the skills and the training and with how skilled they actually are. I enjoyed having a chance to fire some of the weapons the GPD uses, as well, and to get a better sense of this particular part of what it means to be a police officer in Golden. Golden residents who want the inside skinny on how the Golden Police Departments works have a great option: the Citizens Police Academy (the adult and the youth version). One other cool thing: the shooting range is the result of a really strong collaboration across a bunch of jurisdictions – it’s great to see agencies partnering and sharing resources like this.

Inside the Golden Police Department

Well, inside a Golden Police Department patrol car, anyway . . . several weeks back I had the chance to join members of the GPD at the driving track to watch them train and certify (which I think they do annually). Those folks are pretty amazing drivers. Their driving is super precise, knowing exactly where the edges of the cars are, weaving through tight spots, and high speed maneuvering in various circumstances. I shot a short video of one officer doing his qualifying run through the course. It’s pretty impressive (he knocks down only a couple of cones on the course, and the second time he went through the cone section he didn’t knock down any). Yes, he’s driving a slalom at 35 in reverse on a curve.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/13744413]

One of the very cool things about the City of Golden is how accessible virtually every city department is to anyone in the community that’s interested. You want to ride along with a snow plow driver (a lot more interesting than you might guess)? We can set that up. You want your kids to have a chance to play inside the fire station and the trucks? We schedule lots of opportunities during the year to do that. Want to tour the city’s water plant? We’ll make arrangements (or you can watch my short video). Want to ride along with a police officer? It’s a great way to learn what exactly our officers do when out on patrol. Want to get a taste of the full range of Golden Police Department activities (driving, the firing range, investigations, and the rest of it)? We offer a Citizens Academy (one for adults and another for youth) that covers all of that and more.

2010 Budget Summary

The Citizens Budget Advisory Board and the city’s Finance Director do a great job putting together a summary of the city’s annual budget. It was in the May issue of the Golden Informer, but just in case you missed it or want a recap, here are some of the highlights:

  • Golden is a “full service” city, meaning that the city itself provides most of the services residents and businesses use. This includes police, fire, water, wastewater, storm drainage, and flood control. In many cities, those services are provided by separate districts.
  • The city’s total 2010 budget is about $47 million.
  • Of the city’s total projected revenues in 2010, sales and use tax make up 31%, property taxes are 11%, charges for services is 30%, and utilities charges amounts to 18%.
  • Our total projected sales and use tax revenue in 2010 is about $14.6 million, one-third of which has to be used for capital improvements. This is the reason that the city is always able to invest at least something in improving streets, sidewalks, and other capital projects even when revenues drop.
  • Only 14% of your property tax bill goes to the city. Most of the rest funds the Jefferson County School District and Jefferson County.
  • Because we have a largely volunteer fire department, our fire department budget is much smaller than it would be otherwise. We have four fire stations across town staffed by 11 paid staff and more than 80 volunteers.
  • Our police department has 42 sworn officers and 18 full-time staff. They responded to 64,689 calls in 2009.
  • Golden’s water system includes 108 miles of water mains, 834 hydrants, eight pump stations, nine treated water storage tanks, three raw water reservoirs, and one interbasin tunnel. The system provides nearly three million gallons of water to residents each day. Our wastewater system has 78 miles of sewage lines.
  • Our Parks and Recreation Department offers 253 acres of parkland, 20 miles of trails, 377 acres of open space, two indoor swimming pools, a water park, five tennis courts, two skate parks, an RV park, a highly rated public golf course, and a world-class kayaking course.
  • The city maintains a Moody’s rating of A-1 for our water bonds, a Standard & Poors rating of A for our sales and use tax bonds, and an AA- rating for our drainage utility bonds.

Golden's Citizen Patrol

Every now and again you may notice someone with a radar gun tracking vehicle speeds in a Golden neighborhood.  If it was a police officer, and you were traveling too much over the speed limit, you’ll probably see the flashing lights in your rearview.  Some of the folks with radar  guns aren’t officers but instead are part of Golden’s Citizen Patrol.

When they identify a vehicle traveling above the posted speed limit, they write down the license plate number and provide it to the Golden Police Department (with whom they work).  Dispatch then determines the registered owners of the vehicles and sends a letter from the GPD to the owner advising them of the date, time, location, and violation.  The Citizens Patrol folks don’t have any independent enforcement authority, so you won’t get a ticket this way, but the idea is to encourage people to watch their speed as they drive through neighborhoods.

By the way, if you are ever concerned about speeding in your neighborhood, you can borrow a radar gun from the GPD and determine what those speeds actually are.  You’ll have to do a short training, and there are pretty strict rules about how you use the radar gun, but I’ve known some folks to do this over the years to do this as a first step.  Sometimes you find out the speeds are slower than they appeared, and if you find the speeds are on the high side that helps staff know where to do the formal speed studies (which would be the next step).  If you are interested, call Jan Martynuska of the Golden Police Department (303-384-8106).

Golden’s Citizen Patrol

Every now and again you may notice someone with a radar gun tracking vehicle speeds in a Golden neighborhood.  If it was a police officer, and you were traveling too much over the speed limit, you’ll probably see the flashing lights in your rearview.  Some of the folks with radar  guns aren’t officers but instead are part of Golden’s Citizen Patrol.

When they identify a vehicle traveling above the posted speed limit, they write down the license plate number and provide it to the Golden Police Department (with whom they work).  Dispatch then determines the registered owners of the vehicles and sends a letter from the GPD to the owner advising them of the date, time, location, and violation.  The Citizens Patrol folks don’t have any independent enforcement authority, so you won’t get a ticket this way, but the idea is to encourage people to watch their speed as they drive through neighborhoods.

By the way, if you are ever concerned about speeding in your neighborhood, you can borrow a radar gun from the GPD and determine what those speeds actually are.  You’ll have to do a short training, and there are pretty strict rules about how you use the radar gun, but I’ve known some folks to do this over the years to do this as a first step.  Sometimes you find out the speeds are slower than they appeared, and if you find the speeds are on the high side that helps staff know where to do the formal speed studies (which would be the next step).  If you are interested, call Jan Martynuska of the Golden Police Department (303-384-8106).

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