Facebook and the Tasmanian FiresJanuary 6th, 2013 at 14:14
So, many of you (especially those in Australia with access to the news reports) will probably know about the devastating bushfires that have swept through Tasmania over the last couple of days. I’ve had quite a few queries so wanted to stick my hand up and say yes, our family is okay, not anywhere near the various danger zones. We have friends who had close calls, though, and others whose loved ones have indeed lost their houses.
It’s probably not a surprise that social media has been pretty damned useful over the last few days. I’m used to following disaster information on Twitter but haven’t been actively on Facebook before when something like this happened, and it was really great to be able to click for recent updates on friends/acquaintances that I knew lived in areas close to the worst of the fires. I saw families and friends checking in with each other regularly, and also sharing personal observations of what was going on and when.
I’m not actually “Twitter friends” with that many Tasmanians, as it turned out, but a LOT of people I rarely interact with online are right there on Facebook when I want to find them!
On Friday (our horrendous 41+ degree day), even before the full extent of the disaster was known, a Hobart woman called Melanie Irons set up a Facebook page called Tassie Fires – We Can Help, which enabled people to co-ordinate many small scale rescue efforts, posting if they had available resources such as an extra pair of hands, a paddock with room for horses, housing for other evacuated pets, and also posting when something specific was needed. The site was used to track down missing persons, to check in, and to share information. It was pretty awesome.
Donations flooded into the Sorell hall where evacuees were staying temporarily, but it soon reached the point where there was too much stuff to store, and not necessarily the right stuff – second hand clothes were far less useful than new, for instance, while toiletries and particularly baby supplies such as formula and nappies were desperately needed. Again, social media was available to get the word out, so that people wanting to help could try to do so in a way that was actually helpful rather than merely making themselves feel better (hint: money is usually the most useful thing).
The Red Cross has set up a Bushfire appeal with donations going directly to the relief effort as well as the needs of evacuees.
St Vincent De Paul Tasmania is managing the organisation of donated items now for the evacuees from the Tasman Peninsula (the Dunalley and Forcett fires etc.), with a temporary warehouse at the Glenorchy showgrounds receiving items:
Vinnies Southern Regional office will be open today from 10 am until 3 pm (62 344 244) to answer any enquiries regarding donations. Your assistance is greatly needed. If you can help by donating blankets/bedding, toilet packs, essential new clothing, children’s or babies clothing or much needed monetary donations please call the above number or 6333 0822 during business hours or 0408 555 382 after hours or visit www.vinnies.org.au
I definitely recommend calling if you have something to donate which doesn’t fit the exact requests currently – we have a cot and baby bedding for instance that we wanted to make available, but a phone call let me know that they are not asking for big items like that for another week, once housing has been organised for evacuees.
1800 727077 Red Cross Number and the Red Cross Website for money donations – http://www.redcross.org.au/
A national phone number has been established to register details of people directly or indirectly affected by the Tasmanian bushfires. The number is 1800 727 077. Relatives should be able to use this number to register concerns about those they have not managed to get into contact with.
Some useful Twitter accounts I found include:
The Hobart Mercury Twitter account, disappointingly, has not updated since Thursday (SERIOUSLY, nothing worth tweeting on Friday? Nothing at all??).
Last time a serious fire made it near where I lived was a decade or more ago, and I remember how scary it was, figuring out the scale of what was happening, whether we needed to evacuate (the far side of our back fence got a bit charred) and who in our street needed help. Mobile phones felt like a lifesaver then, but I have to say, social media has our backs in a crisis. I was really touched and surprised to discover that Facebook is great way for those of us feeling helpless in the face of this kind of disaster to figure out how to make a useful contribution.
It’s still a bit evil MOST of the time, of course…