Last week, Berkeleyside let you know about Wildfire, a free mobile app that offers alerts on your cellphone about public safety news in Berkeley.
We at Berkeleyside are teaming up with Wildfire — a startup created by four recent UC Berkeley graduates — to push out our own news stories and other updates using the Wildfire app.
That means our readers can download the app to get cellphone push notifications from Berkeleyside about crime, fires and other public safety coverage.
(We’re also working on an email alert — for those who want breaking news and other time sensitive stories in their inbox — as well as a full site redesign that will prioritize the mobile experience).
Download the Wildfire app.
Nixle and the city’s emergency alert system, BENS, allow authorities to put out emergency broadcasts to the public by email, text and even phone. Those systems are critically important, and we encourage community members to sign up.
But they’re also one-way communications: There’s no way to respond or share information on the alerts that go out. And there are many public safety incidents that never prompt an official alert from authorities.
Wildfire offers a feed of crime news, a map of recent incidents, and a list of multiple cities users can follow. Out-of-area parents of students at UC Berkeley, for example, may want to keep an eye on public safety happenings in town. (Berkeleyside’s daily email briefing, as well as our Facebook and Twitter accounts, are more great ways to stay informed.)
Posts on Wildfire come from the Wildfire team itself, media partners such as Berkeleyside, and community members who want to share information. For those who may be familiar with the Waze traffic app, it’s a similar concept of community reports, but is focused on public safety.
The app also allows users to set emergency contacts who can receive alerts about nearby news: another nod to parents of college students, perhaps.
Users can comment on posts, which can contain photographs and links to additional information.
Crowdsourcing apps like Wildfire may be particularly useful in a city like Berkeley, in which the municipality has a minimal social media presence. Unlike other jurisdictions that regularly post public safety news, photographs and video online, Berkeley has taken a much more conservative approach.
The city has a social media policy, created by the city manager’s office, that requires any department that wants to post on sites like Twitter to submit a proposal containing months of pre-planned content in advance for approval. As it stands, there’s one central Twitter account for the city, and no official Facebook presence.
The Berkeley Police Department has been promising for years, and pledged to officials earlier this year, that it will get on social media “soon” to push out more information to the public. Word has it that the requisite content plan was submitted to the city manager’s office earlier this month, so it’s possible improvements could be coming.
In the meantime, however, tools like Wildfire can allow the community to share public safety news on their phones without waiting for word from officials, which may or may not come.
To be sure, it’s an experiment and is still building up its user base, but Berkeleyside is excited to participate and see how it grows.
We hope you’ll join us.
Download Wildfire on its website. Get it on the iTunes App Store or on Google Play. Have a question about a local public safety incident? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographs and videos are always appreciated.
Wildfire app aims to put safety alerts in public’s hands (08.23.16)
City of Berkeley (finally) goes live on Twitter (04.20.15)
Berkeley Police crime alert experiment underway (05.15.14)
Berkeley to launch Nixle crime alerts for phone, email (04.08.14)
Berkeley officials: Social media ‘critical’ for transparency (04.01.14)
Neighbors talk surveillance, robberies, code enforcement at crime watch meeting (03.07.14)
3 years on, city of Berkeley still stuck on social media (02.19.14)
Berkeley residents, police collaborate on safety (04.18.13)
Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page? (03.14.11)
A council member takes to Twitter, other officials lag (05.27.11)
Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.