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In the shadow of the San Diego wildfires

“The biggest evacuation since Hurricane Katrina.”

That’s what they’re calling the massive evaluations here in San Diego county as a result of the wildfires raging across the county and the lower portion of the state.

I write this from a hotel room where my wife, pets, and I are spending at least a couple days after our neighborhood was put on the optional evacuation list, just south of a mandatory evacuation region of 100 square miles.

Odds are our home will be safe – many in our community will not be so lucky. Today is a dicey day and will determine what happens next.

My office is in Rancho Bernardo which is one of the most heavily impacted populated areas. I’m told that a condo complex burned about a block or two away from my office.

Still, many in this community have lost everything they own.

It has been interesting to see and hear how radio, TV, and the Internet locally have handled this emergency. The thing I’m most struck by is that if you live in this area you need some very specific information and you need it updated constantly. You need to know where the fire is, where it’s headed, what areas are on the evacuation list, how close you are to those areas, where to go if you have to leave, and when you need to go. You need to assess your odds and your actions. And you need the media to help you.

I listened to a little radio during this time, but quite frankly as long as I have power and a TV and live Internet connection I find that there’s more critical information provided there (especially online) than on radio.

I am not interested in calls from folks who are telling their personal tale of evacuation. What is the relevance of that for me?

I am not interested in reporters, jocks, or anchors vamping. The fact that they have time to fill is not my concern.

I’m not interested in opinions. When my family and my home are at stake I care only about the facts – what is coming, what I need to do, and when – and the more up-to-date the better.

At least, I’m not interested in any of this unless my fundamental interests have been served first.

KPBS (TV/Radio) here in San Diego offers this amazing Google map which mashes up-to-date fire info with a map. Amazing.

Then I cruise over to San Diego’s “News and Talk Station,” KOGO. Not only don’t I find this map, I find that the most updated story on the blaze is six hours old! With plenty of advice to listen to the radio station for truly up to date information. No, I am not kidding you. Are they out of their f***ing minds? It seems to me that in a time of crisis your job as a radio station is to fulfill your mission to your community, not to attempt to drive audience. What this serves to prove is that KOGO is serious neither about their mission nor about their web effort.

KPBS, meanwhile, has considerably more updated information here. Plus they have a twitter link which allows you to stay in touch with critical headlines as they arise.

Hello KOGO, anybody home?

Because several hundred thousand of us are not.

By far, the source that has been most useful to me is the blog set up by the local newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune. It’s full of facts, constantly updated, just the meat – no filler.

Any radio station could do this, of course, but if they did I don’t know about it.

In the future, the radio industry will have to come to terms with the fact that local emergencies should be where they shine – and that shine should not depend on a loss of power which strikes dead all other alternatives.

Grow up, radio.

In the meantime, if you’d like to help those in need in this area, here are some great local charitable organizations:

Father Joe’s VillagesThe San Diego FoundationThe American Red CrossSan Diego Humane Society and SPCA

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