Boulder County Finds the Right Social-Media Balance for Disaster Communication

The advent of social media has had an effect with the way we “do” government. Gone are the days when information was disseminated slowly. Today, that same information goes out via Twitter and Facebook at break-neck speeds. Residents across the nation expect immediate gratification when it comes to “being in the know.” This is even more true when it comes to disaster information.

Take Boulder, Colorado, for example. While many towns and cities around our country have been slow to adopt emerging media to keep their citizens informed, an increasing number of residents in Boulder have come to demand that they be kept in the loop, especially during disaster situations.

Take for example the January 2009 Olde Stage Fire that affected more than 3,000 acres. Someone in the county’s information technology department made the brilliant move to send out Tweets via Twitter every time a new fire update came up. This functionality ended up being very helpful and led to more subscribers to the city’s Twitter.

The Fourmile Fire the next year showed how far the City of Boulder had come in the intervening year. While the fire consumed a tragic 169 homes and 6,000 acres, social media facilitated a majority of the disaster update information to the public. Evacuees and onlookers alike turned to Boulder’s Office of Emergency Management Website, as well as to their Twitter and Facebook, for current updates.

One of the downsides of such social media sites is government culpability on what is put on those sites. And while some city governments turn off the ability to comment, the City of Boulder has opted to let its users make comments under the stipulation that they reserve the right to remove any inappropriate and objectionable material.

Even though they might approach social media differently, the fact that cities and towns like the City of Boulder are resorting to increasingly using Twitter shows that they are willing to engage in discourse with their constituents … which is not a bad thing.

For more information about how the City of Boulder effectively uses social media during disasters, visit: