Staying safe, sending help: here’s the most helpful way to use social media during a bushfire emergency

A resident watches the fire approach Old Bar, NSW, Saturday, November 9, 2019. T Source: AAP

As catastrophic bushfire conditions worsen in NSW, lots of information is being shared online. Here’s how to use social media safely during the crisis.

New South Wales and parts of Queensland are currently facing catastrophic bushfire danger, with conditions set to worsen throughout the afternoon.

The NSW Rural Fire Service and other emergency services are sharing updates and information on social media and other channels. Here are some helpful ways you can use social media to stay safe (or if you're in an unaffected area, to help others) during a bushfire emergency.

Don't just rely on a single source of information about fires in your area

During a bushfire emergency, it's important to stay up to date on conditions in your area. In an emergency situation you may lose access to power or telephone services, so you need to be aware of a few ways to find information on fires near you.

The NSW RFS runs a free smartphone app called Fires Near Me, which you should download early in case you need it in an emergency.

The NSW RFS also publishes emergency warnings and updates to Facebook, Twitter and the NSW RFS website.

You can also call the Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 NSW RFS (1800 679 737), and find information on local ABC radio and TV.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) publishes updates to its website, Facebook and Twitter.

While today's fires are mainly based in NSW and Queensland, it's good for people in all states to be prepared. Visit your state's fire service website to find out where updates on fires in your area are shared.

If you're sharing information on social media, follow these guidelines

A NSW RFS spokesperson told The Feed that the organisation does monitor social media channels for intelligence on fires, but cautioned that people should not use social media to call for help.

If you need help, call 000 immediately.

If you're sharing photos or information about fires on social media, here's how to do it safely and effectively. First, do not go into dangerous areas to take photos or gather information, and always prioritise your own safety.

If you're sharing photos or information about bushfires observed from a safe distance, use the hashtag #NSWRFS or #NSWfires so it's easier for volunteers monitoring the fires to find. If you know the location, direction or timing of any photos or videos shared, include these in your post.

Only post first-hand accounts of fires, and do not spread hearsay.

Most importantly, make safety your first priority. "We don't want people going into dangerous areas themselves," the NSW RFS spokesperson said.

"We're not asking people to go out of their way to be fire-tracers or get some notoriety on social media."

And once again, do not assume that NSW RFS will see social media posts you make about fires and emergencies. If you or someone else is in danger and needs help, call 000.

Other ways you can help out online

Airbnb is currently running an open homes program where you can register to offer free emergency housing to people displaced by bushfires, emergency relief workers, and others impacted. If you have a spare room available, you can register your house as emergency accommodation here.

You can also find information on how to donate to the volunteer organisations involved in fighting today's fires here.

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