Great Plains Fire Information Brings Text Alerts To Black Hills Area Residents

Nov 16, 2016

Last summer’s Crow Peak wildfire near Spearfish resulted in a hub of information being released to the public about the fire’s status.

Subscribers receive text alerts like the one on the left when prescribed burns or wildfires affect the Black Hills area.
Credit Charles Michael Ray / SDPB

Fire officials used various strategies to get the word out to the public, but they say one particular approach worked especially well.  

Text message alerts sent to subscribers through the 211 Helpline ensured people received the latest news on the wildfire.

Now, Great Plains Fire Information has again partnered with the Helpline organization to continue notifying the public of fire activity within the Black Hills and the surrounding area.

Scott Jacobson is with the Black Hills National Forest Service. He says last summer’s Crow Peak Wildfire resulted in over five hundred people opting in to receive text message alerts.

“We didn’t want to send out a text every time there’s smoke in the air because sometimes you get like a tenth of an acre fire or something that’s small and it’s probably nothing that anybody needs to be concerned with especially when you get 3 or 4 or 500 people that are wanting to know about wildfires or prescribed burns that are significant in size so the effort is now we want to put out a message whenever there’s going to be a significant column in the air where people can see it from a long ways away,” says Jacobson.

Jacobson says instead of sending subscribers tons of updates; the text messages give people the fire’s size, status and even area closures.

In cases of prescribed burns like the one near Silver Mountain earlier this week, Jacobson says subscribers get a text of the location and expected completion.

“Using the 211 text alert Helpline system was just another way of reaching out to people that are wanting to be informed and most people have a smart phone, most people have a cell phone these days and so that’s just another feature and another way of people gathering information because people change there’s so many different ways of gathering information, from TV, from newspapers, from radio, from your phone, from computers,” says Jacobson.

But he says text messaging is just one way to reach people affected.

“We want to take advantage of technology as much as possible, we are in the process right now of developing a mobile app for the Black Hills National Forest and in that mobile app there’s a button you can push for fire and you can find information on all fire activity within the Black Hills area,” says Jacobson.

Jacobson says these technologies could help keep people safe during fire activity.

To subscribe to the alerts, text GPFire to 898211.