The current fire situation arose on Friday July 7. By Saturday, the rumour mill, amplified by social media, was in full swing and most people could no longer discern fact from fiction. It didn’t help that one media outlet reported that Quesnel was under an evacuation alert when we weren’t or that most media outlets were taking a “shock and awe” approach to reporting on all the fires. People were rightly beginning to panic.
It was that backdrop that caused me to try and provide people in the Quesnel area with a place to go for information and I started to post twice-daily updates on Facebook. Since the City of Quesnel did not need to activate its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) I was not in the same position as my counterparts to the south, who all had to immediately start making rapid-fire decisions to protect lives and homes based on the best information available to them at the time – which was initially sketchy at best.
It was fortunate that my Facebook updates were quickly accepted as being reputable and trustworthy, as they quickly became a place for people to get the information they needed. One result of meeting this need for accessible and easily digestible information was a precipitous drop in the rumour mongering on Facebook – which had an incredibly calming effect on people who were having a hard time discerning fact from fiction or who couldn’t pull the information they needed out of all the websites and news stories that began to overwhelm people with too much information.
As I noted last week, it took time to marshal all the resources needed to fight the fires created as a result of a less than an hour-long weather event. It takes even longer to establish the information and communications systems to inform the public about what is going on in a timely manner and to feed people’s appetite for meaningful information.
Those communications and information systems are now in place and people should now be able to go directly to source for the information they need. The key information sources are, of course, online -- that’s the age we live in. The BC Wildfire Branch, Drive BC, the Cariboo Regional District, Red Cross, and the City of Quesnel websites all now have regularly updated information related to the fire situation here and throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin. Weather and air quality information can also be easily found online too.
When sourcing any information (at any time) it is important to check the date of the report or story, ensure it is from a reputable source, and, as much as possible, get it from a “primary” source – that is, directly from the issuing authority (Wildfire Branch, CRD, etc.) not second hand. Facebook, generally, is neither reputable nor a primary source of information.
This week a new direct source of information on the Wildfire situation around Quesnel has been established at the new public washroom facility adjacent to the parking lot at Spirit Square where the BC Wildfire Branch has established a staffed information kiosk. We are also posting the printed daily updates of the wildfire situation on all of the community bulletin boards around the City.
Every agency is now doing what it can to provide timely and trustworthy information. It’s up to each of us to seek out that information rather than relying on less reputable sources.
By the way: only about three hundred people have registered for the City of Quesnel’s news releases and updates, yet this is the easiest way to get direct information on this fire situation as soon as it is posted, subscribe here.
Editor's Note -- Bob Simpson is the Mayor of Quesnel. He can be reached via email here