Philadelphia, PRSA and the California Wildfire communications

October 24, 2007

Writing here from the birthplace of the nation, Philadelphia where yesterday I presented at the PRSA international conference. I think I have spoken at four of these now and this was by far the best crowd, most informed, most engaged and most supportive audience I have had at these. A packed room and given that it was the last day of the conference that was great.

Things have definitely changed in the last few years and communicators are getting more and more in control of web-based communication which is a huge improvement. My sense was that the discussion about the changes in the news business, the opportunities to communicate directly to stakeholders, the focus of communicators on those people who matter most to the future of the organization–those were the things that were of most importance to this group of pretty sophisticated communicators. The other thing that struck me is how small our world is. I talked individually with a few before the session and with most there was some connection to users of our system, or other presentations or activities that we have been involved in.

As I write this, and as we talked about the new world of communication in Philly, it was very much in evidence in the big story of the day–the wildfires in California. Today’s issue of USA Today has a story titled “Technology’s Pipeline is Lifeline.” This confusing headline focused on the use of communication technology both by victims to connect to each other as well as officials to communicate with stakeholders. Universities in the region are using their new text and phone callout systems to inform their campus communities of closures. Public safety leaders are using their reverse 911 (phone-based emergency notification systems) to alert hundreds of thousands to evacuation information.  Bloggers are active and playing a role in the response. Social media sites like craigslist are providing means of communicating damage.

Interesting. It shows dramatically the shift of public communication to a variety of internet opportunities. But, how is such an effort coordinated? Given the fragmentation and shattering of traditional means of communicating, how do the responders participate and manage communication control? How can they speak with one voice–or is such a thing no longer possible and desired?

Much to think about here.

But, while in Philly I also want to spend time thinking about the meaning of this city and its artifacts to our history. Yesterday I visited Independence Hall for the first time. Sacred ground and I felt it in my soul. Having read a number of books recently about our revolutionary beginnings, only those who have stood in front of the tables where Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the rest sat and deliberated, debated and then signed those incredible documents can understand the sense of presence one feels here. Thank you Philadelphia.


2 Responses to “Philadelphia, PRSA and the California Wildfire communications”

  1. Jimmy Jazz Says:

    Glad to have you in the neighborhood, Gerald.

    I know what you mean about wandering around those historic sites. On quiet mornings you can almost hear the ghosts of the great building a country. It really is quite something.


  2. Kami Huyse Says:

    Gerald; I really enjoyed your presentation. The Red Cross is using Twitter to give out information about shelters and other fire info. Twitter is a SMS enabled system that people can use to keep up with friends or, in this case, important updates and information

    Join Twitter, then type 40404 in the address field, then type Follow Red Cross in the body of the SMS

    You can also do this online at

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