Berkeleyside: A vital news resource in emergencies

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For a few hours on Friday Oct. 3, Berkeley and the East Bay “disappeared’ for people in San Francisco due to a thick pall of smoke that blanketed the area. Berkeleyside reported on the incident and its potentially damaging effects first. Photo: David He

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Friday last week, people all over Berkeley suddenly caught the sharp scent of smoke in the air. Many opened their front doors and stepped outside to see if, perhaps, something in their neighborhood was burning.

Then, many turned to Berkeleyside. Our email inbox and Twitter feed began buzzing: ‘Where’s the fire? What’s that smoke?” people asked.

Senior reporter Emilie Raguso was already on the phone to Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong when the questions began to land. Within minutes she had posted the answer on Twitter and Facebook. At 2:30 p.m we published the story: “Solano County smoke blankets Berkeley with smoke.” A change in wind direction was causing pungent smoke from a large grass fire near state Highway 12 in the Suisun City area to settle over the East Bay. Instantly, more than 1,600 people were there, reading the article, and huge numbers of others followed.

We continued to update the story over the next several hours, bringing you news that a smoke advisory was about to be issued before it was, and providing details on what health precautions before the city sent out its emergency notification email.

Berkeleyside was the first and, for some time, the only readily available local media outlet reporting on the smoke and its risks.

Our reporting was facilitated by our excellent relationship with the Berkeley Fire Department, and by our hugely responsive readers, many of whom told us what they were experiencing and sent us photographs of the incident (like the one above, by Daniel He).

Once people felt reassured – this is, after all, a place where memories of the deadly 1991 Firestorm are still vivid — we were inundated with notes of gratitude.

Here are just some of the dozens of comments we received:

“Berkeleyside rocks! I couldn’t find anything on the internet but you have the latest info regarding the possible fire. You also had the best info regarding the berkeley Tuolumne camp fire. You are providing a great service to the community.” CMM

“Thanks so much for the quick reporting as you are so far the only source of info I can find on the alarming amount of smoke in our area. Thanks!!” Cathryn

I thought my apartment was on fire smoke was so bad (Univ and San Pablo area). Thank you so much! Berkeleyside is the best fastest report always!” Miscellaneous

“Just went outside and rushed right back in to check Berkeleyside. Thanks for staying on top of this one.” Berkeley Walker

“This is the best coverage I’ve found…Thank you, Berkeleyside, for clear explanation of Fairfield/Suisun City fire and its impact.” Janet White

Thank you for keeping us up to date. I was getting very worried.” C Echeverria

“Berkeleyside it’s like you know what I’m gonna ask before I even ask it. Thanks for the great work you do.” Nicole Freeling

At Berkeleyside, we pride ourselves on covering a wide range of topics, but, of course, public safety is one of the most important ones. Our reporting on the smoke and its potentially harmful effects is just one example of the type of reporting we provide to Berkeleyans every day.

On Sunday night we swiftly brought you details of the magnitude 3 earthquake that rattled the city at 9:26 p.m

Such reporting requires resources, and advertising revenues alone cannot sustain a news site. If you appreciate the articles you read for free on Berkeleyside, please consider supporting us by becoming a Berkeleyside Member (at $25, $10 or $5 a month level).

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Become a Berkeleyside member before Oct. 11 and you’ll be on the guest list for the annual Members’ Party @ Uncharted

There’s an added incentive! If you become a Member before the end of this week (Friday Oct. 11), you will be invited to the annual Berkeleyside Members’ Party which, this year, takes place at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive as part of Uncharted, The Berkeley Festival of Ideas (tickets for which can be bought here). There, you will be treated to fine wines, locally brewed beer, delicious appetizers, and live music from Cuban band Pellejo Seco in the museum’s gorgeous atrium and on its deck.

Visit Support Berkeleyside to become a Member now.

To those of you who already give us your support and help sustain independent local news — thank you!

Got your tickets to Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas yet? It’s on October 25-26. Register on the Uncharted website.

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  • PragmaticProgressive

    Congratulations. You really did own the story.

    Now as for this:

    We continued to update the story over the next several hours, bringing you news that a smoke advisory was about to be issued before it was, and providing details on what health precautions to take several hours before the city sent out its emergency notification email.

    The city sends emergency emails? To whom?

    Why are they so slow? Do they have performance targets and did they meet them? What’s the point of sending them so late?

    In a serious emergency affecting power, network infrastructure, and cell towers, emergency emails and, yes, Berkeleyside will not accessible. What are the alternatives and how’d they do in this instance?

  • kiharley

    @Berkeleyside — Your Twitter feed is the fastest way to find out what is going on in an emergency. It is always the first place I look. This is a really amazing service to the community. Thanks!

  • oceanview neighbor

    Do they have a “Dummies for Twitter”? If you sign up on Twitter, do you get everyone’s Tweets (like I mean all folks tweeting to Berkeleyside?)
    AND, btw I agree Berkeleyside rocks! I even signed up as a member because I really do appreciate the service they provide!!!

  • Ian Crew

    Proud to say I’ve been a subscriber for a year or so now. Great reporting is well worth supporting!

  • Mbfarrel

    The City operates an emergency radio station, 1610 AM. While I have been assured that it will provide timely information in emergencies, I have my doubts. I have heard it broadcasting information on the availability of sand bags for flood protection during August. It is the most boring and useless station on the air.
    It seems no one “owns” it; or cares about it. There is no reason to; no local events are announced, and with such a low profile in the Berkeley Community I doubt any will turn to it or even remember it in an emergency.

  • emraguso

    You can always check our twitter feed (at twitter.com/berkeleyside) even without an account. If you do have an account, then you see the tweets of just the people that you follow. It’s super easy!

  • emraguso

    You can read about Berkeley’s emergency notification system here:
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/BENS/

    That said, it has issues but I know the city is trying to sort them out.

  • Guest

    Tried to post this earlier, but it didn’t show up for some reason. Twitter has a good help section, with some good getting started tips, at https://support.twitter.com/groups/50-welcome-to-twitter. If you want to get more into twitter than just seeing Berkeleyside’s updates (see emraguso’s comment for how to do that), that’d be a good place to start