Rands Facts not opinions

On Making Hard Decisions

Wildfires threatened the Rands home this last week. We’re fine, but there were a couple of sketchy days where we had the go-bag packed and the keepsakes identified.

Natural disasters bring folks together rapidly. I’m on a Messages group with a bunch of mountain folk. As word of the fire spread, this message group exploded. There were three broad categories of texts:

Category 1. “I am anxious about this development, and I want to share this worry.” I get it. I was anxious, as well. It is essential therapy to share your feelings with trusted others. A lot of first messages fell into this category.

Category 2. “I have heard or observed this development, I am sharing it, and I am speculating what it means.” Again, thanks for sharing the thing. Your speculation may or may not be valid, but it’s good to see how things are developing in a rapidly changing situation.

Category 3. “I am responding to a Category 1 or Category 2 messages with my opinion.” As the trickle of new Messages turned into a flood, there were increasing these opinion messages.

Pretty dull and clinical categorization, right? Just folks sharing random thoughts on a Messages thread. Wrong. Early in the fire, there is a distinct lack of information. Firefighters are rightly focused on getting a handle on the fire and not sharing information with the public. And what’s the rule? In the absence of information, humans make up the worst version of the story.

When you’re trying to figure out whether to evacuate your home, you don’t need opinions. You need facts. Our lovely collective set of social media tools have given the unsourced single opinion a broad platform, and that’s fine until you are trying to make an informed decision.

Frustrated and most certainly as a coping mechanism, I moved into sourced fact acquisition mode:

  • Where are the fire lines? Here.
  • Which parts of the country are evacuated? Here.
  • Where is the wind coming from? It’s coming from here.
  • What is the weather going to do? It’s going to do this.
  • Lighting is coming again. Where are the strikes? They are here.
  • What are the humans on the front lines and with the most information say? This.

I had none of the above links when the fire started. I surfed a lot of social media chatter categories to find bits of information, and then I sourced that information. Once sourced, I posted it to my Messages group. When I had an opinion, I stated it as such.

Families well outside of the evacuated areas chose to evacuate early. They were justifiably scared. The air quality by itself was often horrific. We didn’t. We defined three criteria which would cause us to evacuate:

  1. Obvious signs of a nearby fire.
  2. The fire closed a major nearby highway. (It never did. Correction: it hasn’t, yet.)
  3. We were ordered to do so.

Even with significantly constrained resources, our firefighters held the fire north of Santa Cruz, and it never significantly crossed Highway 9, protecting tens of thousands of homes. Hundreds were lost, but it could have been much worse.

A quick update from me which is most certainly therapy from stressful days. With our nearby wildfires coming under control (19% contained as of this AM!), I look forward to worrying about global pandemics and the future of democracy. I will continue to do so with an eye on the facts because sourced facts are what you use for making the hard decisions.

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4 Responses

  1. I read “Our lovely collective set of social media tools have given the unsourced single opinion a broad platform, and that’s fine until you are trying to make an informed decision.” and thought, wow – that’s a whole bunch of today’s divisiveness and misinformation in a nutshell, with most social media having a material incentive to *increase* the volume, not decrease it or not do that have any responsibility for accuracy. The incentive system is effectively paying social media tooling to be our own worst enemies.

    I’m glad you’re OK – and that you didn’t have to evacuate.

  2. This is what the media should be doing. Identifying the best sources and curating the flow of information.

    Someone fluent with the current generation of tools should be able to build a dashboard with your 6 sources. Hell, go old school and just use frames to build a 3×2 grid of those sites so people can see them all at once. I’ve done that myself with a local frameset.

  3. Doris 3 weeks ago

    https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/
    One stop for up to date info on any large fire incident in the US.