The station also has 588 people signed up to receive Twitter broadcasts, where the updates are pushed to recipients' BlackBerry devices and cell phones.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

October 23, 2007

3 Min Read

The KPBS public broadcasting station in San Diego has created a mashup of fire information with Google Maps, telling residents in areas affected by fire which neighborhoods are to be evacuated, which roads are closed, and the location of the nearest evacuation center.

The information, essential to those threatened by fire, is updated frequently with details from police, sheriff's office, and firefighting authorities.

An index of the information available has been built on the left-hand side of the map. Clicking on an item prompts a window to open on the map, pointing to the area where the information applies. The device is a Web 2.0 way of connecting text bulletins to locations, critical information for those in neighborhoods not yet affected by the fires but in their potential path.

For example, when evacuation orders are given, they're posted on the map, pointing to the neighborhoods affected. Sometime after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Chula Vista Police began using a reverse 911 calling system to notify residents to evacuate immediately. At 9:54 a.m., the KBPS fire map posted the evacuation order, saying residents of Bella Lago, Paseo los Gatos, and Paseo Vera Cruz were affected.

"The fire has jumped Procter Valley Road and is threatening the Bella Lago community in the northeast of the city. The neighborhood is north of Proctor Valley Road and bordered by Aqua Vista Drive on the west," the evacuation notice said.

Something that both residents and firefighters fear is when two out-of-control fires merge and become a much bigger conflagration. That happened Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. as the biggest blaze, the Witch fire, merged into the Poomacha fire outside Ramona. Residents know that if the fires have combined, the result will be harder for firefighters to contain and they must get out of its path.

Another pressing issue has been where people could take their horses, ponies, and other large animals for temporary quarters if they needed to be evacuated from their home fields. The map told Del Mar, Calif., residents that the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the previously designated large animal gathering place, was full. But space was available at the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds at nearby Highway 67 and Mapleview Street. No more volunteers were needed at Del Mar Fairgrounds, it added, but the site "could use more hay."

Many of the evacuation centers fill up quickly. The map gained an item at 9:40 p.m. Monday saying the Steele Canyon High School near La Mesa and El Cajon couldn't take any more people fleeing the fire. At 12:51 p.m. Tuesday, however, notice was posted that Carlsbad High School in Carlsbad was open for evacuees.

KPBS lost its ability to broadcast information over its usual 89.5 FM radio channel as the fires overtook its broadcast facilities on Mount San Miguel. But it switched to another channel, 94.9 FM, and continued broadcasting.

Leng Caloh, managing online editor of KPBS, was too busy to come to the phone to explain how the station mounted the site so quickly. But she wrote in a hurried e-mail message that it had been up since 4 or 5 p.m. Sunday. The station has 588 people signed up to receive Twitter broadcasts, where the updates are pushed to recipients' BlackBerry devices and cell phones as soon as they become available.

She had no count of traffic to the site but said "tens of thousands" are viewing information on the Google Maps site and KPBS home site. The KPBS/Google Maps site can be viewed here.

The National Interagency Fire Center, a national wildfire summary site, shows how many acres have burned on a daily basis at its site.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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