Journal

Perth Bushfires – The social media response

Please noteThis is an opinion piece. I have disabled the comments section for this post (prior to uploading it in its first publication) for one reason and it’s NOT that your opinion isn’t important. There are reasons why things have been handled the way they have by these agencies and media outlets and whilst I don’t agree with all of them, this isn’t the place to openly name names or have a public slanging match. I’m merely expressing my opinion and telling you what has happened in my own experience. If you would like to voice your concern at how things have been handled by those in charge, please contact the place you are upset with or post on your own outlet. Thankyou.


Over here in the West there is a common reluctant and almost defiant response to any cries of “But the Eastern States do it xyz way!’ or when trying to make any changes to the ‘status quo’. Remember the daylight saving division and the long standing battle to get late night shopping? The general vibe seems to be: That’s just not how we do things in Perth. If you don’t like it leave.

But what if that defiance puts lives and homes at risk?

There are a number of out of control bushfires currently burning here in Perth, Western Australia. The first one that I heard about (at 12.30am Sunday morning) started at 9.15pm Saturday in Red Hill, a little to Perth’s North East. Some online news sites didn’t have updates until after 6am Sunday.

More fires started up in Perth’s eastern hills (Roleystone/Kelmscott) around lunchtime on Sunday. There was also a fire in suburban Perth (Ferndale), not far from the Bunnings store in Cannington. Other fires have been burning even further North of Perth and also around the Jarrahdale area in the last 36+ hours.

Many are asking why hasn’t it been on the tv and radio more? We had complete coverage of the Black Saturday, Queensland Floods and Cyclone Yasi disasters. More than we had of our own floods here in the WA area of Carnarvon even. Why? Yesterday on one station they didn’t show the news until after 7pm because of their live sports coverage. Is that really more important?

Whilst there were official updates via the FESA website and through some radio channels, the overwhelming response from people out there in Perth is that not enough information is getting out and the power and fast delivery of social media is being grossly under-utilised. To my knowledge, offers to assist the relevant agencies set up their social media channels have been declined at this stage. I do understand some of the reasoning behind this, but I’m still disappointed.

In response to the small amount of information, the Perth community has taken it amongst themselves to spread the word via social media. To try and get the information where it’s needed.

During Sunday afternoon and evening, some people commented on twitter that they were having trouble accessing FESA’s official site. It seemed to be one of the only sources for official information. Worried that the site might not cope with the increased traffic, I found a way to copy and post the entire updates to Twitter (via Tweetdeck) so that people could read them without directly accessing the FESA site.

From what I hear it helped. I didn’t do it for reward or recognition. I’m not in a bushfire area. I did it because I had no other way I could help. All I had available was my time. I’m not the only one. There are heaps of us out there trying to help, gather and distribute information for those that can’t get it any other way.

What of the chain of thought that says if you can access social media you can access the web? Not necessarily. I can get free access to social media as part of my mobile coverage. Trying to access the internet is slower, more expensive and harder to read in a hurry. Yesterday there were hundreds of people (possibly themselves from the affected areas) at the Big Day Out. They weren’t all going to be checking internet browsers all day, yet their phones may have been set up to easily alert them to social media updates from friends.

For want of a better way to explain it, social media spreads like wildfire, and in this instance of actual wildfire it’s been the quickest way to stay up to date.

I have worked for both public and private agencies and I understand the amount of funding, testing, research, policy writing etc that goes into getting a project idea off the ground. Having said that though, it’s been two years today since the devastating Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. That’s two years we’ve had to hone our own response systems and social media policies for WA emergencies. Volunteers will always want to volunteer, but it’s a damn shame that like so many other things here in Western Australia we’ve been so determined yet again to do things our own way, regardless of if a little change of thinking could help us all out.

If you do need updates on the fires, please use the Twitter search term #perthfires. You don’t even need to sign up if all you want to do is read other updates…you can just go to http://www.twitter.com and type in the searchbar to see what’s happening.

My heart goes out to those that are suffering here in WA tonight, those that have lost their homes or face uncertainty. You’re in my thoughts, as are those that have been affected by the cyclones, floods and other disasters we’ve seen in the last six-seven weeks. You are stronger than you know and you are very inspiring. Much love.

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