3.06.2009

My thoughts are with Bozeman, MT

I often joke about how I felt incompatible with Montana living. I rarely talk about why I also love it.

Today I must share with you how much I enjoyed my college town. There's something really wonderful about how warm and friendly everyone is. It's a tight-knit community, and the people there are truly willing to help out one another. They care deeply about their neighbors, and the tragic events yesterday ended up highlighting the benefits of living in a smaller town.

Bozeman Explosion

The peaceful, beautiful quiet that occurs in Montana after a snowstorm was violently disrupted by an enormous explosion in the downtown area yesterday morning. The landscape of historic Main Street was forever altered when a gas explosion took out Boodles restaurant and bar and caused severe structural damage to nearby buildings. As the day progressed, several other businesses were completely lost or severely damaged by a fire that raged for approximately 15 hours as emergency crews tried valiantly to shut off the antiquated gas lines. Broken glass and debris littered the streets blocks away from the burning buildings.

Image taken shortly after the initial explosion from: Bozexplod

Businesses destroyed included Boodles, the American Legion, the Rocking R bar, the Montana Trails Art Gallery, Lily Lu's children's store and the Pickle Barrel, which is inside the Rocking R. "The Rocky Mountain Rug Gallery and Starky's Delicatessen were also significantly impacted by the explosion and subsequent fire."

Some of the businesses that sustained damage were Odyssey, Ro Sham Bo, The Root, Girls Outdoors, Earth’s Treasures, Barrel Mountaineering, Helly Hansen and Western Drug. Even City Hall, many blocks away, had a broken window.

I signed onto Gchat yesterday morning to initially discover the news via a good friend's "status." She confirmed that she was fine and my first instinct was to call my mother and check on the location of my little brother and family friends. Next I hopped online to see what information I could find.

At first, I found the news coverage on the local press websites to be lacking. Eventually, I ended up turning to one of my Facebook friends. He started this: Twitter Feed, Bozexplod.

Thanks to Twitter, I was able to get real time updates of all of the emergency efforts in Bozeman. Each of the dedicated individuals on the feed spent their time relaying important information on resources for those affected by the day's events - where to stay, how to find information on missing persons, how to help, etcetera.

Thanks to the constant stream of "tweets" I knew exactly when 11 people were missing. I found out that the number had been reduced to five. Then one. I knew which businesses had been effected. I knew which streets were closed and how emergency crews were working to minimize the impact the streaming gas and raging fires would have on the community. I knew how far away the smoke could be seen and I had galleries upon galleries of constantly updated photostreams documenting the damage and the progress of emergency workers. I knew the governor had flown in and the National Guard was on call.

I knew this all from my office in Los Angeles, California.

To me, this is the power of social media. It is immediate, it is fluid. It can bring together people and resources on a level that more traditional media never has. Of course there were some tasteless individuals that attempted to RickRoll the feed. A few contributed conjecture and/or incorrect information. They were quickly weeded out and quieted by the dedicated individuals that flooded the web with truly useful information - far before the major media outlets picked up on the news.

Surprisingly and thankfully, no injuries were reported. However, there is one woman confirmed missing and crews were unable to begin sorting through the rubble until today. My thoughts are with her family and friends.

*EDIT* P.S. For those of you in and around the Bozeman area, please support the hell out of the businesses downtown that are open. It's a vibrant, fantastic downtown and I know you'll band together to help make it even better than it was before. */EDIT*

*2nd EDIT*
From: Digg

*/2nd Edit*

2 comments:

manifest said...

Thanks for your blog post and for your support of Bozeman, MT. There's been a lot of attention garnered from our, and many other's, participation on Twitter and other social media platforms... And that's what it's about in essence.

There's no one channel for the distribution of breaking news anymore. No longer is anyone tied to what the newswires and major websites are releasing. Mobile news has expanded beyond radio and made it's appearance on smartphones, MP3 players and Blackberries. Up-to-the-minute news can be received and reported anywhere in the world that there is a network connection.

While there were a few exceptions to the "too litte, too-late" rule - particularly from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (@bozchron on Twitter) this may be the wake up call that more traditional print media needs. The era of the home-journalist is here, but we still need the credibility that major news outlets can provide.

Yesterday's events also showed the intense collaboration, restraint and self-organization that social communities are capable of. The Google map that we created was available in a matter of minutes, and business owners were quick to identify their locations and the damage sustained to their buildings as the word spread virally. Other internet users contributed routes to avoid traffic jams and allow EMS and firefighters to keep things moving at the scene of the explosion.

Had we as a company not been in the position to participate in the discussion with an active blog, Twitter memberships and Google accounts, our response time would have been much longer. The lesson? Social media tools give you the adaptability required to respond to your customers and community very quickly; in a personal, one-on-one way.

Here's the blog that continues to be updated with photos and videos from the Bozeman explosion.

joebergantine.com said...

What manifest said :) I've found twitter to be a most helpful resource over the last year. The sense of community is there and the community regulates itself as well. It's fairly obvious what is good information and what isn't but the first hand accounts either way really make it.