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I live in Richmond Virginia so as far as Americans go it would be hard for me to be more geographically separated from what is going on right now in California. Over the past few days though I have been tracking the fires through all sorts of means. I can go to NASA’s site and view satellite images that are updated daily. They have heat maps, infrared, 3D topographical maps, and (as seen below) satellite photos of the actual files themselves.
For more detailed info I can go to http://www.calfires.com/ and they have maps showing where there are places that are safe to return to, places where mandatory evacuations are in effect, places where you can go for shelter and food, and even places where I can take my animals for shelter and food. I can get numbers to call for local fire or emergency services and I can even watch video clips of governor Schwarzenegger’s public addresses.
I can also go to YouTube and watch literally hundreds of videos from everything from local affiliates to citizen journalists capturing the fires up close. This is a huge deal, but even more so is that fact that I can go to CNN, MSNBC, or FOX News and watch video from citizen journalists covering the fire. And not just one or two clips, but dozens of clips. People are more connected than ever, and I believe that the revolution has just begun.
But as for me, I am no citizen journalist. I don’t even own a video camera. I am just a consumer of this information for several reasons. A large part of it is just general concern for those that are suffering through this. It is the same feeling that most Americans felt during Katrina, September 11th, etc… We don’t want to see anything like this happen to a fellow citizen. Another part of it is the natural curiosity that comes from being a programmer. That innate sense to just feel like you have to have all the information on any situation. But the important part is not the fact that I am tracking this, it is how I am tracking this. The mere fact that I am 2000 miles away and yet I have access to all of the same information that someone in San Diego has, is absolutely amazing. Sometimes when you are writing business software, like I do, it is nice to see reminders that technology can help people in important and real ways.
Update: You can go to http://www.google.com/checkout/wildfires.html in order donate and help victims of the fires.
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