Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office Reached Thousands via Social Media During Flooding in Colorado

The agency used social media and drone technology as floodwaters threatened Beulah Valley after a quick-hitting rain and hailstorm.

by Anthony A. Mestas, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo. / May 22, 2017

(TNS) — Dissemination of information and communication are among the top priorities for emergency responders in a disaster situation.

An eye in the sky can also help.

The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office took full advantage of the digital age of social media and drone technology last week as floodwaters threatened Beulah Valley after a quick-hitting rain and hailstorm.

“We used social media extensively during the floods to pass along safety messages, road closures and where we set up an evacuation reception center at the Beulah School,” Gayle Perez, public information officer for the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office, said Friday.

“It provided situational awareness so they had an idea of where things were happening as it was happening.”

Mark Mears, the sheriff’s Emergency Services bureau chief, said Pueblo County School District 70 allowed emergency responders to use a drone to get a better look at flooding.

Mears said he needed someone to fly along North Creek to help assess the damage during the Beulah Flood.

“It was very effective for us. It was good to be able to get overviews from above the flooded areas. We got great pictures of culverts that were washed out, as well as damage from undercut roads,” Mears said.

“Having that different view is important to show the damage and what really happened to the roads.”

This is the first time a drone has been used in this way by the sheriff’s office.

Mears said the sheriff’s office is looking into a state homeland security grant to purchase a drone program of its own.

“We believe that this would be very effective in search and rescue applications, hazmat incidences and anything where you can get above an accident scene,” Mears said.

Perez said that on May 10, the first day of the flood, the office’s Facebook posts reached 18,416 people. The total audience reached, including sharing, was 19,148 people.

The office reached 25,860 people the next day through its direct post and an additional 742 through sharing.

Facebook activity about the flooding tapered down May 13, with 12,607 people reached including shares. The sheriff’s office’s average reach in nonemergency situations is between 5,000 and 7,000.

“That shows us that folks are turning to social media during events like this,” Perez said.

The activity during the flood on the sheriff’s office’s Twitter account was similar.

Perez said on the first night, one of the nine tweets sent that night reached 6,036 people.

The sheriff’s office posted 17 tweets the next day, with the highest reach being 20,000 people.

Perez said 10 tweets on May 13 reached 3,200 people.

The sheriff’s office averages three to six tweets a day, reaching 500 to 1,000 people.

The sheriff’s office mainly used Facebook and Twitter during the flood, but also posted information on its website, puebloemergency.info.

“Social media allows for our messages to get out there more quickly to those affected by the emergency or crisis, and also for their friends and family near and far to be able to check on what is happening,” Perez said.

The sheriff’s office also posted pictures and maps of the flooding to give people a closer look at the situation.

Perez said the fact that social media is a source of information 24 hours a day seven days a week is critical in situations such as the flood.

“Other agencies can also pick up and share our information so that a larger audience can be informed,” Perez said.

Perez said the sheriff’s office will also explore other forms of social media, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

The sheriff’s office used social media extensively during last year’s Junkins Fire and Beulah Hill Fire.

“Based on that experience, we gained a lot of followers who now turn to our social media pages during an emergency or crisis situation pretty regularly,” Perez said.

“It was a natural for us to again use it for the flooding in Beulah.”

©2017 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.). Visit The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.) at www.chieftain.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.