Photo from druzifer.livejournal.com. Druzifer's Journal
This weekend was another turning point for Social Media.
In Texas, months of drought set them up for wildfires throughout the central part of the state. In the end a few lives were lost, hundreds of homes were lost, and we don’t know yet how many pets and livestock perished or were lost.
It was hard to find information yesterday, chaotic earlier today, and now, things seem to be settling into a routine to manage news, evacuations, animals and begin figuring out where to go from here.
Television was worthless. I knew more about what was going on than friends who are social media illiterates in the areas threatened by the wildfires. They were glued to television, and I live in Milwaukee Wisconsin.
A few gals I know (Ruth, Bonnie and Betsy) in Texas kept the posts flowing on Facebook until pages could get organized to coordinate news of evacuations and the large animal folks could get organized. Others were also posting, re-posting and tweeting to connect information to folks who needed/wanted to know what was going on. I stayed glued to the screen for the last two days.
Hopefully the local authorities were doing a great job on the ground and every person got the information they needed to evacuate or not.
I’m just a rubber-necker, eavesdropping on the crisis, but it seemed obvious that the large animals were overlooked in planning for such an emergency. The wildfires charred acres of ranch land where 70% of the horses in the US live, central Texas. However, evacuation of livestock wasn’t part of the game plan for the strapped emergency responders.
The evacuation of horses and large animals required some innovation which turned out to be self-organized on Facebook and Twitter. It was fascinating to watch, and should be lessons learned for every business uncertain whether they should be on social media and anyone who might be faced with a crisis that requires timely information in order to react appropriately.
What started out as limited options, slowly became organized evacuation.
Traditionally, horses are let loose to fend for themselves in a wildfire. It’s a nasty option. You are uncertain you’ll ever see your horse again, and certain the sensitive creatures will never be the same again. But getting horses into a trailer takes time you can’t afford. And they can out-run cars and trucks, so traditionally it has been the only possible option when fire was headed your direction.
One friend was out of town when her husband got the call to evacuate. He had no choice and let the horses out to fend for themselves. Luckily, by 2AM he got an opportunity for another run home, and he had the chance to catch and trailer out his wife’s favorite horse. By morning, he got another chance to return and corral and trailer out the others.
However, there were at least 12 hours of no options for folks with livestock in the path of the wildfires. But by the end of just 12 hours, folks with ranch land, water, food or trailers were organizing to fetch horses and other livestock in harm’s way. Everything took place in plain view on Facebook and Twitter.
A zoo was evacuated in just a few hours when things started to look dicey.
The right (or maybe “good enough”) equipment arrived and new safe havens were arranged so exotic animals could be moved. Cell phones were helpful, but overwhelmed as the emergency spread. However, a single call was amplified when posted to Facebook looking for “enclosed heavy metal trailers of at least X’ x X’ and able to travel at least XX miles to deliver drugged lion and two drugged tigers. Three additional enclosed trailers able to carry at least XXXX lbs. each for transport of exotic animals in heavy cages.etc. ” (paraphrased from my own memory of the post)
Veterinarians running low on supplies put out the word for replenishment so they could stay in place while volunteers picked up and delivered.
When the wind shifted, a safe haven for 43 evacuated horses faced fires coming their way. In less than 3 hours the horses were on their way again. If you’ve ever watched horses being loaded to trailers in a calm setting, you know loading this many horses in an emergency is a miracle.
I especially loved seeing University of California at Davis Veterinary School piping in. They offered suggestions. “If you must release horses into the wild when evacuation can’t be arranged spray paint your phone number on their side.” I sent this suggestion along to one of my social media illiterates with my insistence that they sign up for Facebook immediately since this ain’t the last of the wildfires in Texas this season.
There were a few moments of levity. Everyone tuned in to one of the several sites serving up radar with fire postings. By using radar, they showed the smoke plumes so folks with respiratory problems could plan their response. Around dusk on Monday, a new large plume showed up on the radar. For a few minutes panicky posts came over asking whether this new area was yet evacuated. Turns out the colonies of free-tail bats come out in swarms each evening. They mass so tightly and in such great numbers, that radar picks them up and they look like a smoke cloud.
Don’t let the lesson be lost. Make sure your company hears about how Social Media got information flowing so people didn’t have to panic, working without enough information. How might this be used by your clients/firm?