Keeping tabs on the oil spill

Two GovLoop members provide a steady flow of information about efforts to contain the oil spill

Like a tree falling in the forest with nary a witness, will the oil spill be over when Anderson Cooper’s crew packs up its cameras and rushes to the next calamity?

Not if social media has anything to say about it.

“It’s day 77, and we as a whole are losing interest in the oil spill,” wrote Chris Bennett in a recent blog post on GovLoop. “The top two CNN.com headlines right now are about Bobby Fischer and the heat wave. And if you prefer numbers, Google search traffic for ‘oil spill’ is down 63 percent since late May.”

Firsthand Experience

Why is Bennett troubled by traditional media’s fading focus on the oil spill?

For starters, he was one of the first people to watch oil wash ashore in Louisiana. Bennett spent two weeks in early May documenting the deployment of dams by the Army National Guard shortly after the explosion. Then in mid-June, Bennett was tapped to manage a project in which several smaller boats are vacuuming oil that has pooled in waters too shallow for barges and massive skimmers. He has been chronicling these experiences via the "Chris Bennett Crisis Blog."

Bennett is not only offering a firsthand perspective on clean-up efforts but also sharing detailed answers to questions such as, "What impact will a hurricane have on the oil spill?” and “What is a relief well?” Moreover, he’s turned a spotlight on the heroic efforts of the 2,000-plus men and women of the National Guard and Coast Guard who have “dropped everything to work around-the-clock protecting our coast and wildlife from the threat of oil — sleeping in bunk trailers, working long days in the sand and hot sun, then getting up to do it all over again.”

In many ways, Bennett’s blog coverage cuts through the sensationalism we see on TV, tells the untold stories and helps us understand the full effect on Gulf Coast communities.

A Richness of Resources

Meanwhile, Sara Estes Cohen, who provides support to the Homeland Security Department’s First Responder Communities of Practice, has set up Gulf Coast oil spill forums on GovLoop and Facebook.

Rather than using the forums to berate BP or fume about failed attempts to stop the spill from spreading, members have compiled an impressive list of links to government agencies and organizations that are using social media to report on ongoing developments. By linking to sites that range from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s interactive Gulf Response map at GeoPlatform.gov to the use of Twitter by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to deliver timely messages and respond to people's concerns, members hope to apply lessons from this crisis to future events.

Moreover, they’ve been aggregating Really Simple Syndication feeds with spill-related news, analyzing BP’s crisis communications campaigns — and its early neglect of social media — and posting photos and videos from on-the-ground reporters, such as Bennett.

Even though the Cooper crew will soon set sail for new shores, Gulf Coast residents, concerned government employees and contractors will continue to share stories about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Of course, the real test of social media’s value will be its ability to help us capitalize on the lessons and mitigate future misfortunes.

 

Reader comments

Mon, Jul 26, 2010 Vince

I applaud people like Chris and Sara - we need to stay on top of the issues that affect us even when popular media and America as a whole loses interest. The Gulf well may be capped but problems will continue to flow for years to come. We need to be at the forefront of the challenge and not turn a blind eye when ratings tell us to cover ridiculous Hollywood gossip.

Mon, Jul 26, 2010 Chris Bennett St. Petersburg, FL

Thanks for the flattering column, Andy! In addition to writing about the spill on GovLoop, I run an online government news site named GovLive. Try it to track official oil spill releases: http://www.govlive.com/

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