Online efforts of virtual volunteers critical in aftermath of UC - KPTV - FOX 12

Online efforts of virtual volunteers critical in aftermath of UCC shooting

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CLACKAMAS COUNTY, OR (KPTV) -

It was a tragedy that brought international attention to a small city. Just 22,000 people live in Roseburg where a gunman opened fire on the Umpqua Community College campus earlier this month.

The shooting drew millions of mentions on social media. Some were prayers. Some were threats. All were tracked by a virtual team.

It was an outpouring of emotion for the nine people killed and nine others injured, but it also provided information that would be crucial to emergency responders coordinating the aftermath of the UCC tragedy.

That’s when they called Cheryl Bledsoe to start looking and listening.

“You look for hashtags. You look for keywords. You do question mark searches,” Bledsoe said. “Social media creates a ton of noise.”

It’s noise that she monitors from her computer.

Bledsoe is a 911 tech manager in Clackamas, but she’s also a volunteer for Oregon VOST, which stands for Virtual Operations Support Team.

They are the people tasked by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management to watch social media during disasters like this summer’s wildfires and the UCC shooting.

“You can't aggregate all the comments by yourself, so having these folks on the virtual operations support team to really get what the sentiment is for the public that we're here to protect makes that go a little bit easier for us,” Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said.

A team of eleven people spent 287 hours at the keyboard.

The information they found helped emergency responders know where to be for vigils, funerals, donations and even a presidential visit.

“Trying to isolate out what is real and what is truth for the responders on the ground can be really important,” Bledsoe said. “We were looking for those types of what situations might happen in Roseburg that people might not be ready for.”

It’s a way to prevent an emergency from following an emergency. For the people on the ground, it’s invaluable information.

“VOST works. It's needed. It's an important tool for emergency managers,” Oregon Office of Emergency Management PIO Cory Grogan said.

VOST has teams all across the country and internationally. For more information on how to become a part of Oregon’s statewide team, visit OregonVOST.com.

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