In order to understand this idea, let me explain
In short (or it started out short) here is my story:
My name is Bill Snyder. During the summer of 2012, I flew to Colorado to visit relatives and also planned on driving to one of the areas close to their house that was hit by a massive wildfire. I (along with many others) took video camera gear to document the event and get some footage and interviews with people that lost their homes and livelihood.
My intent was to do a short video documentary for public distribution. Send it to public television as a potential outlet. To make people aware of what really happened and how people dealt with the fires.
I was amazed that we could drive for miles and see nothing but burnt mountains, hillsides and foundations without homes.
The local residents were so thankful for their lives and what little they still had. You could not drive down any road without seeing signs that said “THANK YOU TO ALL THE FIREFIGHTERS AND FIRST RESPONDERS”, FIREFIGHTERS, WE LOVE YOU” , “A SALUTE TO THE FIRST RESPONDERS, FIREFIGHTERS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, AND VOLUNTEERS FOR SERVICE DURING THE HIGH PARK FIRE” and so on.
But here is the big problem that they all faced and were still facing. Some had family or relatives that they could go stay with, some stayed in shelters and some had no idea where they were going stay. Many weeks later when the fire was finally contained, people saw on the news, for the first time, that they no longer had a home. Shelters were not going to last forever so everyone had to find a new place to live with friends or wherever.
Red Cross, Salvation Army along with other helping authorities were doing what they could, but people did not have a real sense of what had happened or where to get critical information to determine what to do with their lives. Many firefighters even lost their homes while fighting to save others.
One couple I interviewed told me their story: On June 9 (a Saturday) they drove to their grandparents’ home to install new shingles on the roof. It was not raining but soon after they started they saw lightning strike behind a home about a mile away. The trees started burning and the wind was picking up. Soon the smoke ran them out and they figured that they would come back the next day to continue the roofing job, not knowing they would never return to their home. That night they heard on the radio that the roads to their house were closed due to smoke and to allow fire fighters access to contain the fire.
The next day, June 10, Evacuation Orders were issued for the area. Radio and communications were shutdown. Media was restricted and people quickly lost touch with what was going on. On June 11 the fire was upgraded to federal authorities.
The fire continued for weeks and was finally contained on July 1st taking out 87,250 acres and 257 homes. But the disaster was not over yet. People were finally allowed to return to their property but rain soon set in causing flooding and road closures. Mountain and hillsides no longer had anything to keep them from eroding onto roads and buildings. The mountain streams were full of thick black ash. Eventually the rain stopped and people returned.
I continued to interview the couple who lost their grandparents home. They were holding sifting trays that the community built. The same type of screened sifting tray with a wooden frame you would have used when panning for gold. They were sifting through ashes for any remains that were sitting on the concrete basement floor from the burnt structure. The only thing not burnt and next to the house were the pallets of shingles that they brought in on June 9th.
They never did the shingles since the house was burnt to the ground.
This couple had been informed that their home was actually saved but later a wind moved the fire out of the woods so fast that the firefighters had to run to stay alive. This was their grandparents’ retirement home and they said they would probably not rebuild or return to the area. Many other people were also unsure if they would rebuild either.
This couple, along with many others, was very appreciative of all the work done to save lives and what houses they did save. But they explained that they were very disappointed in the communications between the authorities and the general public before, during and after the event.
This was only one of the smaller wildfires fires that took lives and land during 2012. According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center for 2012, a total of 55,505 fires were reported with a total of 9,156,278 acres were burned and a total of 2,125 homes consumed. Over a billion dollars in losses.
Then there was Hurricane Isaac costing over 1 billion and then hurricane Sandy costing even more and took the lives of 123 people.
Many people experienced a life changing moment in 2012 and are now starting their live over. But during these events the public is told to go to their local media for information. This only supplies limited and often edited information to the public and potential victims.
There are many agencies and authorities’ setup to help the public before, during and after a disaster, but not a single one focuses primarily on communication. There are not enough good things you can say about the services they perform and all the heroic acts they do to make this a safe country.
I have spent many years with the media from television to radio to special live productions in both national and international markets. I know as a fact that each media outlet, print, cable, live radio or TV, etc is in competition with each other. So stories and news may be different from each outlet and you only see what they show.
Each government agency has a PR person or group to inform the media outlets but press releases and communication is not the agency’s primary function.
Here are a few examples:
Why do all government authorities tell the public and/or victims to tune in to local stations for information during an emergency? They should be able to reach the public directly.
Why do federal agencies use Youtube and FaceBook to send messages to the public?
Why do people involved in a disaster always ask, “Where do we get help?” and have to work hard to find an answer?
Why can you offer to help in a recovery with donations and you can’t find anyone to tell you how?
BECAUSE the critical point, the hub of communications during an emergency between everyone does not exist and therefore all communication is scattered and hard to find. By the way, YouTube and FaceBook are typically banned (blacklisted) to most companies, which means that federal agencies are NOT reaching many people at work.
So, here we go, 2013 is here and we are creating the goal to develop a new communication hub.
The organization is FEMAC.
FEMAC is the “Federal Emergency Media Activity Center” and it used by
“Connecting People during Emergencies”
There is no way to fully prepare for a disaster, but we can do our best to provide the most advanced technology possible to communicate between everyone.
Founder of FEMAC