When wildfires force nearby residents to evacuate their homes relying on the Internet for accurate information can sometimes be an exercise in frustration. Photo Image: Contributed

When wildfires force nearby residents to evacuate their homes relying on the Internet for accurate information can sometimes be an exercise in frustration. Photo Image: Contributed

Staying informed during an evacuation

Ashcroft journalist sees value and limitations of relying on the Internet

As I listened to people speak at last week’s Community Update meeting in Ashcroft, my heart went out to folks here who were concerned, and even frightened, as they went without basic services for days during the local wildfires, unable to access the information they needed to feel safe.

I was suddenly evacuated from my home on July 7, and experienced some of the same feelings in my hotel room northeast of Kamloops.

Journalists think a lot about information and communication. I guess that’s part of the reason why we become journalists.

My husband (also known as Tool Man!) and I had been in Kamloops all day and knew nothing of the fire until we arrived home. Two hours later, we were heading back to Kamloops with our cats, looking for accommodations.

Waking up in a strange place gives you a feeling of isolation. You weren’t expecting to be there. You know no one there, you didn’t have plans to be there. However, there you are.

What’s going through your head is: “This is an evacuation. This is serious s#!t and is my town still there?”

So the first thing you do is turn on the TV. Out of two dozen stations, only one had information about the wildfire. The reporter was located far outside the fire zone (of course!) and the report was generic—focusing on the most horrific aspects and ignoring everything else. Which is to say, not the information that we were looking for.

After several hours, I picked up my cell phone—which I’d never really had a use for—and clicked on Facebook—which I’d never really had a use for. I wanted to see if anyone else I knew had information.

Wow! Yes they did!

Yes, there is a lot of bad information on Facebook. However, there is also a lot of good information. You have to know where to look and what to look for.

I read first-hand accounts of the fire from the first responders and other people who stayed behind. I read accounts from TNRD and BC Wildfire.

I read news articles from local media. And of course, I talked to my friends and neighbours who I met regularly at the registration centers in Kamloops, and we updated each other.

For the first time in my life, I actually spent time on Facebook, looking for and passing on information. I would wake up at 2 a.m., unable to get back to sleep until I had checked the latest news to make sure that my town was alright.

I understand the panic and fear of not knowing.

As I ‘shared’ the latest information from Cache Creek and Loon Lake and Clinton and even Williams Lake, some of my ‘friends’ would take that information and pass it on, forming a larger network for all of our combined ‘friends.’ That is social media at its absolute best!

Gradually, we discovered other displaced Cache Creek people staying at the same hotel and we shared our information in the good old fashioned way—face to face.

But this is modern times, and good old fashioned ways are changing. I’m old enough that I still remember telephone “party lines” when one area would have the same phone number.

All of the telephones in the area would ring, but would ring differently for the household to whom the call was directed.

Telephones evolved from rotary to touch, with a few more features. Then computers came along and email (not to mention chat rooms) became popular.

I’ve told folks in the past that if they want to keep up with what’s happening, they need to move on to Internet. Just like at one time the telephone was the big information distributor, now it’s the Internet. Get a computer.

And with Internet, the communications world just exploded! There was information everywhere. Some of it good, some of it bad. Some of it very, very bad.

Everyone had an opinion or something to sell and the internet provided a worldwide audience.

It’s no secret that newspapers are becoming relegated to the broom closets along with typewriters and the printing press, but they are still your best source of news because journalists are formally trained to know the difference between opinion, fact and self-interest.

Still, journalists also base their news on first-hand accounts of the event (or project/plan—what have you), so you look at as many accounts as you can from the actual source—because everyone has a different viewpoint—and you come to your own educated viewpoint, based on what you know up to that point.

And that is how I stayed informed about what was happening in my neighbourhood.

From what I found out while I was on evacuation, you can bet that I have nothing but praise for the first responders, town officials and all of the people who gave daily updates of their activities during the wildfires. It made me feel safe, even sitting in a hotel room far away from Cache Creek.

The more dire the emergency, the more important it is to have up-to-date information. To be without current information for so long, as many folks in Ashcroft experienced during the wildfire, is an emergency in itself.

We are small, but that makes us closer to our neighbours. They are your support, your network. If our community leaders aren’t present, turn to the neighbours who you respect, either face to face or on social media.

Some of the information may go in one ear and out the other, but usually we can count on our neighbourhood— or other community members—to provide the information that best suits our needs.

I was walking down the street towards my hotel room on July 17 when it was announced that the evacuation order was being lifted the next day.

As I approached the hotel, I was stopped by a displaced Cache Creek friend who was driving by and given the good news. It was great news! And even better coming from someone that I knew and respected.

That’s the way news should be delivered.