Case Study

In September, 2006, the Day Fire threatened the small community of Ojai, consuming over 100,000 acres of national forest in the mountains that border the Ojai Valley.  Local and national media was slow to react, and providing immediately useful information to the community - actionable intelligence - was outside their core competency.

Meanwhile, deployed agencies, including the US Forest Service, Ventura County Sheriff Department, Ventura County Fire Department and over two dozen others, were slow to update websites with information, and aggregated information was limited to daily updates at best.  Inciweb was a valuable source of information - when it was available.  The website was down as much as 90% of the time during the peak fire threat due to heavy traffic.

Enter the community blog.  With over a dozen authors and an increasing local readership, The Ojai Post was at the nexus of an online community network of websites, including the local community calendar, job board, business directory and more.

Responding to the increasing fire threat, The Ojai Post began a multi-tiered communications approach, simultaneously aggregating agency updates and supplementing it with grass-roots eyewitness reports and user-submitted media, including maps and photos.  Already a regular online community destination, The Ojai Post received additional visibility from Inciweb, Accuweather, Ventura County Star, Senator Barbara Boxer's website, numerous local and regional blogs and word-of-mouth.  Traffic soared ten-fold, as The Ojai Post emerged as the primary source of actionable intelligence, providing reliable information to the community, updated as frequently as every five minutes.

The result of The Ojai Post's innovative approach to emergency management led to extensive local press coverage, the invitation to Ojai Post founder (and Emergencity CEO) Tyler Suchman to participate in county-level discussions on emergency management and a greatly-increased profile in the community for the website that was there for the community in a time of crisis and need.

"No matter what the disaster, people first need actionable disaster intelligence to respond. In a major disaster, we need more than human- interest stories and impressive disaster images from the media. We need help in finding community-specific information to help people make decisions. "Going tactical" is not just a military or police/fire thing; it's a citizen thing.

This can be done. During the recent Day fire, Tyler Suchman's Web site,, provided a simple and useful site for people in the Ojai Valley to quickly locate the fire's progress, the evacuation centers and roads that were closed. While most of us were forced to watch repeated fire footage and interviews with victims, Tyler was manually checking and assimilating information from about 40 sites to keep citizens informed. His blog proved a real-time public forum to give and receive information.

With roughly 10,000 homes in the area, Tyler's Web site was getting 8,000 unique hits a day. Ojai Valley citizens had a place to go to for the best collected information available, and they obviously used it.

In the absence of information, citizens are left with rumors and inaction. By using available technology to aggregate and automate the dissemination of highly time-sensitive information to cell phones, Web sites and the media, coordinated community action is possible. We must support our county agencies in providing such tools for our communities." - Ventura County Star, January 7, 2008

Should I stay or should I go now? That was the burning question for Upper Ojai residents as the big and nasty Day fire burned in the backcountry near their homes for days on end.

Public safety officials had recommended they evacuate as Santa Ana winds drove the flames closer to residential areas. But what sane person would choose to go through the trouble of packing up and then living for days out of suitcases unnecessarily?

Information on how to make the stay-or-go decision became critical. And those rugged individualists who live on the edge of the Sespe Wilderness found their choices limited.

A 20-second TV or radio broadcast or even a newspaper or online story might not give them enough substance to make this life-and-death call. They also discovered the site that was supposed to feed them official information on the blaze was so overloaded it could not be accessed.

So about the time Clark Kent would have gone into the phone booth to save the day, another quiet hero emerged from the crisis — Tyler Suchman.

The Internet entrepreneur turned into a vital information portal for residents hanging on every flareup of the fire." - Ventura County Star, October 1, 2006

"Ojai resident Tyler Suchman served as an exhaustive resource to the Ojai community during the peak of the Day Fire. became the primary source of information for many residents worried about the approaching fire." - Ventura County Reporter, October 12, 2006

Misc. Testimonials:

I wanted to say thank you as well for a job well done in providing information. My husband is the Assistant Chief for Santa Paula.. and unreachable by phone most of the time...your post kept me up to date. - Patti Fildes

The Ojai Post has become the most comprehensive resource on the web for the Day Fire, complementing and enhancing official sites including, the Ventura County Fire and Sheriff’s departments with local, regional and national coverage and links to all. - Condor Club, Journal of the Los Padres Chapter Sierra Club

As an Ojai resident and VCEDA Chair, I have found The Ojai Post to be an essential addition to the flow of news and update reports during what were some very scary days (and the worst may not be over if the Day fire breaks west). Tyler's innovative use of the web has received nearly universal acclaim from people in town and the City Council as it has filled a news gap that has long been missing during various disasters. - Howard Smith, Chairman, VCEDA

Thank you Tyler for keeping us updated! I slept better last night knowing that anything new would be posted here swiftly. - Lisa

Thanks for your awesome work. You truly filled a gaping hole in local communications. - Sally Carless, Global Village School

Just wanted to thank you for your up to the minute postings on the fire. You were informative and timely. Saved a lot of people calling in to find out what was happening. Great service!!!!! - Mary Neville

Thank you so much for creating an easy place for us to get updates on the fire and other Ojai news. The other forestry sites are slow due to heavy traffic and their updates are not as current. Thanks again for creating this wonderful community resource. The positive side of this fire may be that we finally have a way to be updated frequently and accurately on safety and other important issues here in the Valley. - Judy Gabriel

I am the Upper Ojai journalist (Time, Knight Ridder etc.) who called you during the fire to tell you what a great job you had done. I do agree with you that the mainstream media could have done way way better on their websites and in print. I've been with largescale news organizations and I know how it is done. It's great you were able to do something similar as a one-man show -- due to modern technology and your own natural instincts as a reporter. - Nomi Morris