San Bruno Fire Heats Up Twitter

Last Thursday’s natural gas-line explosion in San Bruno, Calif., proved once again that social media is not just for socializing but serious business. When the explosion that killed seven people and left dozens injured first occurred, it was Twitter that captured the first, raw reactions from people on the scene. Twitter has become increasingly important in key events, and we take a look at the San Bruno situation below.

When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, on a trade mission in Asia, wanted to speak out on the emergency in his state, he turned to Twitter.

“Got briefed on San Bruno emergency by LtGov @abelmaldonado. Glad I left the state in good hands,” Schwarzenegger wrote from his iPhone.

And when Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the company that owns the line, needed a tool for rapid response, it too turned to Twitter where it could quickly update residents and direct survivors to the Red Cross for assistance. The company also quickly posted an online response page with a live stream of its Twitter account.

The terms “#sanbrunofire” and “Bruno fire,” quickly rose to the top of the Twitter trends list just hours after the explosion sent an 80-foot fireball flying through the sky on Thursday evening.

“Because of the concern for safety, we are walking block-by-block, house-by-house, to re-establish service to those w/o power,” PG&E tweeted on Friday.

Twitter, better known for casual conversation, in 140 characters or less, than life-saving communication, first emerged as an online disaster response tool following the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12.

The overwhelming response pushed the American Red Cross to convene an “Emergency Social Data Summit,” a first for the agency, to discuss how best to capitalize on Twitter and other social media tools.

Twitter is particularly useful during emergencies because its geolocation capabilities allow responders to pinpoint the exact location of a person. And the only tool people on the scene need to tweet or send a picture is a cell phone.

Also getting in on the scene in this disaster was Google which used its Google Earth application to provide before and after photos showing the extent of the damage where the explosion occurred, ironically just two miles from the headquarters of another social media giant, YouTube.