July 29, 2014

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.

Protecting Golden’s “Red Zone”

Firefighters staging in the Mountain Ridge neighborhood during the Indian Gulch Fire.

We often don’t think of Golden as being very vulnerable to wildfire. It’s a largely urbanized area on the outskirts of Denver protected by a top-notch fire department. But last year’s Indian Gulch Fire reminded everyone that because we have so many boundaries adjacent to open space, many of our homes – in particular those that abut or are otherwise really near our open space – really are in the “red zone.”

One critical risk factor for homes in the red zone (sometimes called the Wildland Urban Interface) is the amount of fuel in the area immediately surrounding the structure (the “defensible space“). If you’ve got a lot of brush and trees in your yard right next to your house, that can make it really easy for an approaching wildfire to ignite your home. Last year during the Indian Gulch Fire, for instance, some Mountain Ridge folks discovered that a ditch behind their home was filled with woody debris, exactly the sort of fuel that can help a fire jump across the lawns and destroy homes.

The risk is even more complicated now because of the way the fire season is no longer limited to the hot, summer months. We’ve seen significant wildfires here on the Front Range in recent years during just about every time of year, and the Indian Gulch Fire took place in March last year, which isn’t really part of the traditional wildfire season.

After the Indian Gulch Fire, the city stepped up its education efforts around Golden to help residents understand the risks and take appropriate steps to protect their homes and neighborhoods. I don’t know how successful those efforts were, however, nor how much of an effort the city is planning this spring, so I sent a note to the mayor and my City Councilors asking them two questions:

  1. How much progress did we make last year encouraging homeowners to clear our their defensible spaces?
  2. Is the city planning to ramp up its efforts again this year to educate and help homeowners who want to reduce the wildfire risk to their homes.

This would be good information for the city to include on the website (I searched but didn’t find anything, although they do have some more general tips about fire safety), and it’s a great opportunity for the fire department to reach out directly to the most vulnerable residents and HOAs to help them assess risk and take steps to protect their homes. I know many Council members have been out of town, so it may take them a little while to respond, but I’m looking forward to the answers and I’ll share them here when I get them.

Indian Gulch Fire: A very short survey on how you got news and information!

Councilor Bill Fisher and I, with help from city staff, put together a short (just nine questions!) survey about the Indian Gulch Fire. We are hoping to learn how folks got news and information during the fire, what sources were most useful, and how the city can improve its communication during an emergency like this. We’d be grateful if you could take a few minutes to fill it out.

Take the “Indian Gulch Fire” survey.

Thanks!

Communication During a Crisis: Lessons from Golden’s Indian Gulch Fire

The Indian Gulch Fire just west of Golden wasn’t the first time that a local community relied on social media tools during a natural disaster, and it won’t be the last, but it was the first time here in Golden that the internet played such a key role in our communication and outreach efforts during a natural disaster. The fire, which started the morning of March 20, quickly grew into the most significant fire in the country, pulling in hundreds of firefighters, drawing a federal Type 1 Incident Management Team, and threatening hundreds of homes.

The Emergency Plan
The city had the benefit of a regularly updated emergency operations plan (and that had just been updated two months earlier), and a number of Jefferson County agencies, including Golden, had engaged in a large-scale multi-agency emergency operations exercise just one month prior. The plan, which was quickly pulled off the shelf and deployed as the circumstances of the fire became clear, relied primarily on a traditional communications model: the emergency operations team would compile and verify information about the fire, and they would provide it to our public information officer so that she could periodically brief the news media (with formal briefings and by posting written briefings on the city’s web site). The city would then rely largely on the media to then broadcast that information via television, radio, and print media (as well as the web sites associated with all of those). Because the fire was actually burning in unincorporated Jefferson County, outside the city limits, the county’s PIO ended up being the point person but the basic system was the same. Both Jeffco and Golden also added tweets to their outgoing communications toolbox, as well.

Expanding Our Reach
Councilor Bill Fisher and I then expanded that communications and outreach net. We started by posting much more frequent updates to our individual Facebook and Twitter accounts. We supplemented that information with periodic email updates to our newsletter lists. In my case, that was usually once a day late in the evening, which afforded me a chance to summarize the key information of the day for folks who hadn’t been able to keep up through other means and to offer some more background and detail. Bill and I independently (and then sometimes together) also traveled around town, stopping by the Golden Gate Canyon roadblock, the various staging areas, some of the areas that residents were congregating, and the Emergency Operations Center. We were able to learn more about what was happening on the ground, to hear what residents had learned and what they were concerned about, and to share information with all of those folks. We were posting periodically to our web sites as well.

On the whole it seemed to work really well. A very large number of folks expressed their gratitude for the communication efforts, often specifically referring to the email newsletter, Facebook, or Twitter. Similarly, all of the data I had on my Facebook posts, Tweets, my web site, and my email updates showed substantial visitor and reader increases, and I think the same was true for Bill as well. But we learned a lot along the way, and there are some things we would do differently next time.

Our Question to You
I’ve got some extended reflections below, but if you don’t have time to read all of that, you might still consider responding to this question: In terms of communication and outreach, what went well and what could we improve on next time? We are putting together a more formal survey so we can learn more about what information sources were most valuable and how folks used each of them, but in the meantime we’d welcome your thoughts.

Here are some of my more specific reflections and lessons learned:

  • I spent about half my time driving around and talking to folks and the other half at my computer. That’s not how I would have imagined spending my time during a fire, but it actually worked quite well. One key point: it really did take a lot of time to keep up on the computer, between tweets and Twitter messages, Facebook posts and responding to Facebook queries, blog posts, my newsletter, and responding other email. It also took a lot of time to gather information. If I had limited myself to just the formal news releases as information sources I would have saved a lot of time, but the information I was able to distribute would have been less useful.
  • Physically getting out and making the circuit ended up being critical. I learned a ton about what was actually happening on the ground by doing so, and talking face-to-face with constituents meant I was able to answer their questions and hear what they were most concerned about. Interestingly, the many emergency personnel I talked with every time we made the rounds were really grateful for the information as well. They were all extremely knowledgeable about their immediate tactical assignments, but they appreciated learning more about what was happening elsewhere, so it ended up being beneficial for everyone. In short, while most of the information flow was vertical (up and down the command hierarchies), Bill and I were essentially cutting across horizontally, which seemed to add a lot of value. It also meant we were able to spot some things that hadn’t been noticed. One example: the lack of a clear process for removing the evacuation alert. They would have realized they needed to lift it, but we caught it sooner precisely because we were traveling and communicating across silos.
  • Because the city staff (plus Jeffco and the feds when they showed up) was doing such a great job dealing with the fire itself, it meant that Bill and I could focus more on communication and on the needs of our community members. This enabled us to communicate with staff about issues that needed more attention or about information gaps that might not have been as important from the “protect people and homes” perspective but helped reduce the uncertainty among residents.
  • The conventional means of staying tuned in – TV, radio, and print media plus their web sites – were useful and helpful, and for some people they seemed to work well. But many people were really hungry for information (especially those whose homes were at risk), and the conventional channels were too infrequent and incomplete enough to meet their needs.
  • Many folks seemed primarily plugged in to just one or two information sources (e.g., Twitter and TV news). Most didn’t seem to be plugged into multiple social media channels. Pushing information out using all of those sources was time-consuming but I think it made a big difference in how many community members were able to stay plugged in. One lesson here for the city and for members of City Council is about how much effort is required to do this effectively.
  • Facebook and Twitter were the main tools for quick, frequent updates, and they both seemed to work really well. I noticed that a bunch of folks signed up for my tweets during the fire that were new to Twitter (or maybe had signed up but hadn’t used it before), which implied that they started using it because of the fire. Another reason both were useful: they were both very transparent, meaning that everyone could see what questions were asked and see the answers. That made them both a lot more efficient than email, where only the recipient of my email will see what I wrote to them. In addition, this made it much easier for Bill and I to listen to what community members were saying and asking, and that made it easier to figure out where the anxieties and information gaps were. These social media tools turned out to be great for both pushing information out and for hearing what was going on among residents.
  • Despite how useful Facebook and Twitter were, my email newsletter was a key supplement because many people in Golden aren’t using those social media tools. While they were probably getting some information through the conventional news media, I received a lot of favorable feedback about my more detailed email updates even though they were only once a day.
  • There was a huge amount of information flowing on Twitter, Facebook, and the web independent of the official news releases: reporters and especially just people who had information and stories they wanted to share. On the one hand, we needed to stay plugged in to catch any inaccurate information and to notice what rumors or fears were beginning to pick up steam so we could address them. On the other hand, it meant that key information about the fire, evacuation alerts, and so on was really amplified across the community. I know that Bill and I (as well as our city staff and Jeffco folks) were able to get important information to a lot of people, but the fact that everyone else was sharing and spreading meant that it got to even more people. Communicating really was a shared, community effort.
  • Bill and I occupied an interesting space. We weren’t official voices of the City of Golden, but we had enough credibility that our information was taken seriously. We were both diligent about checking our facts before hitting ‘send,’ and we always tried to make sure the info we posted was accurate. Nonetheless, for any future emergencies we’ll need to think about how to keep the accuracy level high without slowing things down. Ironically enough, the only error I’m aware of was the result of an error on one of the official news releases.
  • It took me a little while to figure out what Twitter hash tag people were using, although I think that was more about my not knowing Twitter all that well. Once I figured that out, Twitter worked great.
  • Although it wasn’t by design, Bill and I were generally able to tag team the effort, so at least one of us was able to push information out most of the time (plus the city and Jeffco ramped up their nontraditional efforts as well, which made a difference). In the future we may want to have a more specific strategy on this.

The punch line: communicating across such a wide range of tools required a great deal more effort than simply relying on the traditional news release-driven approaches, but my sense is that the effort was worthwhile. I certainly hope we don’t face anything like this again anytime soon, but no doubt Golden will periodically face crises like this and I believe we’ll want to use a wide range of strategies for communicating and listening. We’ll need to remain adaptable – who knows how long Facebook and Twitter will be the important tools – but I’m guessing that the basic idea of using a diverse toolbox will be important for a long time to come.

Bill and I welcome your thoughts and observations.

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 Indian Gulch Fire: Protecting Golden’s Water


Golden’s streets crew are the folks that do such a good job of keeping our streets free of snow, keeping them clean, and doing the maintaining and repairing in town. It turns out they also know to protect Golden’s water after a fire. In addition to the many City of Golden firefighters and other city crews focused on the fire itself last week, we also had crews focused on the fire’s longer-term threats to Golden. One critical concern is protecting our water supply, and even during the fire last week we had some of our public works focused on that. Among the strategies: construction of a water quality settling pond in the Indian Creek basin to trap sediment before it gets into Clear Creek.

Golden Fire Update: March 24, 2011

Firefighters putting away the hose line they had established as a contingency defense for the Mountain Ridge neighborhood.

Today’s short version: 1,500 acres [Ed. Note: last night's media advisory mistakenly indicated 1,700], 77% contained, no injuries, no homes lost, life returning to normal in Golden.

Status of the Fire
The big news of the evening: 77% containment on the fire, a very high level of confidence that we’ve got this thing licked, and the evacuation alert for Mountain Ridge is over. There is still some more containment to achieve, some hot spots to hit, and a lot of mop up, but today we clearly transitioned into a wrapping-up mode. What a relief. You may still see some activity but it’ll be much less than we’ve had the past several days. In fact, a lot of the crews that came in to help are on their way home or on to the next major wildlife (including a growing fire near Castle Rock), and the federal Type 1 Incident Management Team that has been running this operation for a couple of days will start transitioning out and leave town by the end of the week.

Community Fire Information Meeting
You can watch tonight’s Community Fire Information Meeting online on the city’s web site. The presentations lasted about 25 minutes and then we had another 25 minutes or so of Q & A.

Road Closures
We expect Golden Gate Canyon Road to open at midnight tonight and remain open. Clear Creek Canyon will remain closed however, until fire officials and CDOT can either eliminate the danger or rock slides or figure out how best to manage the issue. Stay tuned.

Fire Ban
Fire bans remain in effect in Golden and unincorporated Jefferson County. Please don’t use any open flames outside and please be careful with cigarettes.

Fire Investigation
Now that the threat posed by the fire is largely gone, officials are ramping up the investigation into the cause. They’ve identified the point of origin (Indian Gulch north of U.S. 6 in Clear Creek Canyon) and there is a very strong belief that the fire was human-caused. If you have any information that might help investigators figure out what happened, please call the tip line: 303-271-5612.

Indian Gulch Fire Statistics
Date Started: March 20, 2011, 10:15 am
Acreage: 1,700
Structures Threatened: 287
Air Resources: 1 Type 1 Helicopter, 1 Type 2 Helicopter, 1 Type 3 Helicopter, 2 Single Engine Air Tankers, 1 Fixed Wing Heavy Tanker.
Closures: Golden Gate Canyon Drive (to be lifted later tonight), US Highway 6
Containment: 77%

Wildfire Mitigation
The City of Golden adopted a Wildfire Mitigation Plan in 2007, but a lot of the potential actions described in that plan depend on property owners to proactively clear out a defensible space and take other steps to protect their homes. Over the next few months, we’ll start to look at that plan again, identify any appropriate refinements or updates, and step up education efforts about the things individual homeowners can do. We’ll be happy to work with HOAs or neighborhoods who want to get something going. Our new neighborhood matching grant program may be useful to neighborhoods that want to undertake mitigation or protection efforts.

Golden Fire Update: March 23, 2011

A sign on a lawn in the Mountain Ridge neighborhood.

In short, the situation is improving.

The longer version:

Status of the Fire
The fire spread a little today – up to about 1,500 acres – but firefighters seem increasingly confident about controlling it. It remains about 25% contained, but the main threat now is to the north. Because the weather cooperated and because of the resources available, they were able to attack it hard today, including the use of two helicopeters, three fixed-wing aircraft, and nearly 300 firefighters from close to 40 agencies. Unfortunately, the evacuation alert remains in effect for homes that are north of Highway 58 and west of Highway 93, including Mountain Ridge. My sense is that the firefighters don’t think there is a major risk of the fire now doubling back all the way to the Mountain Ridge neighborhood, but they may not end the evacuation alert until the threat is much lower or gone entirely. A new Indian Gulch fire map went up today showing the approximate extent of the fire. As with the previous one, please treat it as a general indication of the fire (it may not be very precise, and it may even be inaccurate in places).

Community Fire Information Meeting
We’ve scheduled a short community briefing tomorrow (Thursday) evening at Golden City Hall starting at 7pm. You can also watch on Comcast Ch. 8 and online. The briefing will be geared toward Mountain Ridge folks, but of course everyone is welcome. Officials from the federal Incident Management Team and from the city will provide short briefings on various aspects of the fire and the firefighting effort, and then we’ll all be available to take questions.

Road Closures
Earlier this afternoon, U.S. 6 closed through Clear Creek Canyon because of the risk of rock slides (especially from the water drops). No word on how long the closure will last. Golden Gate Canyon has been generally closed except to residents, although it’s been somewhat variable depending on the fire and fire crew operations.

Water Quality in Clear Creek
In addition to our emergency services crews, many other members of the city staff have been helping manage the fire situation and plan for post-fire issues. For example, there is some risk of increased erosion and organic load in Clear Creek upstream from our water intake, and our water folks have been preparing for whatever contingencies may emerge. We’ll report on this tomorrow night, and as we shift from the emergency to the post-emergency we’ll be able to report more on the threats and how we are tackling them.

Tonight’s update is shorter than my updates of the last couple of days, and this is a good sign: the threat to Golden posed by the fire is decreasing and there is less to report. It’s not clear that we are out of the woods yet, but the situation is clearly improving. As always, reach out anytime you have questions.

Community Fire Information Meeting: Tomorrow at 7pm

Community Fire Information Meeting: Golden City Hall, 7pm, Thursday March 24

The view from Highway 58 to the west looking into Golden at about 1:30pm today.

We just scheduled a short community briefing for tomorrow evening at 7pm at City Hall. It will be geared primarily toward Mountain Ridge folks but of course everyone is invited. Representatives from the National Incident Management Team and officials with the City of Golden will update everyone on the status of the fire, firefighting efforts, and evacuation plans. No doubt the fire marshal will be there, and it could be crowded . . . two other options are to watch on Comcast channel 8 (if you live in Golden) and to watch online.

Councilor Fisher posted some more info on his blog as well.

If you have any questions, you are always welcome to reach out by email, tweets or Twitter direct message, Facebook, phone, pigeon, or Pony Express. I’m having the easiest time keeping up with my email but I will get back to you however you reach out.

Golden Fire Update: March 22, 2011

The news is slowly starting to get better . . .

The Fire
Today seemed to go well. Although crews contended with high winds for much of the day, the fire apparently didn’t grow so crews were able to attack more aggressively and get about 20% containment. I believe that the extent of the fire remains at about 1,200 acres. The air efforts – which lasted for some hours this morning – presumably helped as well. There is still some risk that the fire will start growing again, but that risk seems to be diminishing and the general mood seems to be one of cautious optimism. That said, we still ended up with a bunch of smoke in the valley this afternoon and evening. I posted a video I shot at about 6pm from just north of town (on Golden Gate Canyon Road) showing smoke pouring off one of the ridges right into Golden, and that was happening (still is, as far as I can tell) along a number of ridges just west of town. Also, in case you are interested, we’ve got a map showing the approximate extent of the fire. Don’t take it too literally but it should give you a sense.

Tomorrow
The federal Type 1 Incident Team arrived today and takes over tomorrow morning at 6am. This team brings the highest level of emergency management skills and a bunch of resources, so that should help. The National Weather Service expects heavy winds until later tonight but lighter winds (10-20 mph) through tomorrow, which should help a lot also.

Mountain Ridge
Our crews have been working hard in Mountain Ridge to make sure it is as protected as possible just in case the fire does double back. They cleaned out brush, laid fire line, and took other steps to prepare for what they call “structure defense” (i.e., protect homes). They will patrol and fight embers and anything else that might come over the ridge. They are using a set of “triggers” based on wind speed, fire location, and other factors to determine if an evacuation is necessary. If it is, residents will get a reverse 911 call and of course we’ll do everything else necessary to alert everyone. If this happens, fire crews may conduct back burns to actually burn out the grass and other remaining fuel just west of those homes to make it tougher for the fire to spread.

Evacuation
At this point, I believe everyone living north of Highway 58 and west of Highway 93 is in an evacuation alert zone (aside from those folks up Golden Gate Canyon who actually were evacuated). If an evacuation order is issued, folks will need to evacuate quickly, so – if you are in the alert zone – please remain ready to leave quickly with your medicine, valuables, pets, and the like. The Red Cross has some useful info about preparing for emergencies and evacuations.

Volunteer Needs
The simple answer is that right now I don’t think there are any. It’s just what you’d expect of Goldenites – a bunch of people offering to volunteer and help before any call goes out – but at this point everything is under control. The bigger issue is actually the opposite: keeping folks out of the way of the firefighters and other emergency crews. So thank you to everyone that’s offered but for now we seem to be all squared away. Similarly, thanks to everyone offering to provide supplies to the firefighters but that’s under control as well, and on this we’ve got the same concern as well: keeping folks out of the way of the crews so they can do their work.

Fire Bans
Fire bans are in effect in Golden and unincorporated Jefferson County. You can download the official news release if you’d like but the punch line is simple: please don’t use any open flames outside.

Air Quality and Heath
Quite a few folks have asked about health concerns related to the smoke. The simple answer is that the smoke isn’t healthy, so I encourage you to take whatever steps you can take to limit your exposure. Some suggestions: keep your windows closed and exercise indoors. Jeffco Public Health has a helpful “Health Threat From Wildfire” fact sheet if you want more information.

Miscellaneous Links

This part is a repeat from last night but I’m including it again as a resource. Your best bets for staying on top of the situation:

1) Reverse 911. If you have a landline and are in one of the areas that has been put on preliminary evacuation alert or has actually been evacuated, you should have received one or more reverse 911 calls. This seems to be working well. However, if you don’t have a landline, you need to register your cell phone or VOIP # on the system. The problem is that it can take a week for your info to get updated, so if you are a new subscriber you can’t rely on this in the short term.

2) Local television news. Our city staff is worked super hard to get the local news stations good, timely info, although sometimes it does get lost in translation.

3) Jefferson County’s news release web page. They aren’t super frequent, but I’ve found the info they post to be very useful.

4) My Facebook page. I use my “Mayor of Golden” Facebook page a lot and I’m posting relevant information as I get it. There may be other good Facebook page information sources as well.

5) Twitter. You’ll find a huge amount of information and conversation if you set up a search on the #goldenfire hashtag (i.e., set up a search for “#goldenfire”). It’s real-time, which is very helpful, but if you follow that search term the sheer volume now can makes it tough plus the source of any given piece of info isn’t always clear. An alternative is to track tweets by specific sources you trust. Some options include the City of Golden (@CityofGolden), mine (@jacobzsmith), and Councilor Fisher’s (@GoldenBilFish). A bunch of news outlets and reporters have feeds as well. Just a few examples: @MistyMontano, @KUSADESK, @DomGarciaCBS4, and @meganverlee. Either way you’ll find a lot of information there, and much of it seems to be accurate. If you aren’t using Twitter yet, you might find it useful now.