The Sentinel debriefs itself on its earthquake response

Northern Sentinel editor Cameron Orr explains how the paper handled reporting the earthquake and tsunami advisory.

As government agencies fill out their own paperwork on how earthquake response was handled in B.C. it suddenly occurred to me that, you know, part of our job here is spreading crucial knowledge as well.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to write up a short Northern Sentinel Earthquake Debrief for our readers, to explain how our coverage was handled and to look at its ups and downs.

We’ll start at the beginning. The Homewerk show was just about to begin in Mount Elizabeth Theatre when the ground started moving. Just as for everyone else, I’m sure, the time immediately following that was filled with a lot of confusion; was there damage? Anyone hurt? And, for me, concern over my six-month old who wasn’t with us at the time.

After getting some things at home in order, I came down to the Sentinel’s office in the Service Centre. With rumours spreading at the time, I couldn’t tell if I was going to be swept away in a tsunami for being down there, but the Fire Department could only fax their information to us so I had to be there to get the information.

Thankfully that update showed a very low rise in sea water in Alaska, a good sign things were going to be okay.

That being the case, I decided to work from my home. (Still in the Kildala area, so in the path of any potential flooding.)

The largest flaw in our coverage came from my unexpected inability to access our online publishing portal from home. In short, I didn’t anticipate I could not post stories to northernsentinel.com from my house. (A shortcoming I’ve since rectified.)

However the Northern Sentinel wasn’t down for the count; we have, as you may know, a Facebook page. We use it to gather community opinion, post short news clips, and sometimes to source information. The Facebook page is accessible through a link on our homepage’s right-hand side.

Our publisher Louisa was actually first to post an update to the page about what was happening. We posted links directly to the websites which provided primary data about the quakes; where they were, how large, etc.

We posted the Kitimat Fire Department’s bulletin they received from the National Weather Service about the low-impact tsunami in Alaska, minus all the technical jargon.

When I called the fire department later that evening to hear first hand what people should know (were there evacuations? Is everyone okay?) I posted exactly what I heard. I followed up with a call to the Haisla Fire Department to see how they were holding up. I was told people were being moved to higher ground but everything physically was okay in Kitamaat Village. I posted that immediately.

There were six updates posted to our Facebook timeline over the course of the evening, and when we were posting news we made sure it was accurate, straight from the people who would know what was happening. We wanted simple to read updates that were factual and non-sensational. There were enough rumours going around as it was.

Facebook also provided a forum for additional information. People were constantly posting information they know, asking questions and voicing their concerns. Not to mention our readers who were sending us private messages with the data they had seen, all of which was great.

According to our page’s readership information, we were reaching close to 2,000 people, higher than our print circulation.

So did we do a good job? I would say so, but with the caveat that it could always be better. Not everyone uses Facebook, so certainly I’ll take care to have access set up to our online system so I can publish news straight to northernsentinel.com from home for other emergency events like this in the future.

Northernsentinel.com is our home base online so we must, moving forward, have critical information there when it happens, such as on Oct. 27.

But Facebook proved to us an invaluable tool. The immediate posting of information, and the near instantaneous sharing of that information through our followers, meant that the accurate news we were posting was spread quickly to, as I say, nearly 2,000 people.

At the very least, I’m happy that we could alleviate some people’s fears that the Village and Kildala was going to be submerged underwater, a recurring comment I saw floating online from my own personal Facebook page.

As someone who lives in the path of that theoretical weekend tsunami, I was just as eager to know the news as you were. And I’m glad we could be there to provide the reliable information you needed, at least through that social media channel.

Cameron Orr is the editor of the Kitimat Northern Sentinel

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