BYU students have set up an online information hub, organizing the flood of information on two major wildfires that have chased more than 6,000 Utah residents from their homes in recent days. Less than 24 hours after its creation, the Utah County Fire Relief Website had received more than 15,000 visitors. That’s about one new visitor every second.
Y Digital Agency Manager Adam Durfee teamed up with BYU students and local volunteers to build a central hub for real-time updates on the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires burning just outside Spanish Fork, Utah.
Elder Blake M. Roney, Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, approached Durfee on Sept. 17 with an invitation to visit the temporary fire headquarters in Salem, Utah, where he met with their communications team.
While there, Durfee noted misinformation between emergency agencies and the press was a central problem. Additionally, multiple resources were needed to find out critical information on evacuations and the fires.
“It became very clear that we needed a central hub of information,” Durfee said. “Myself and two other community volunteers worked together with two of our BYU Students, Spencer Christensen and K.C. Miller, to put together a website hub, Facebook page and a chatbot to answer frequently-asked questions.”
The Utah County Fire Relief website offers agency updates, evacuee resources, city information and information on how to volunteer or donate to relief efforts. A media page also lists all contact information for public information officers working on the fire.
Residents are also invited to report new information on the website.
The site’s chatbot feature has already engaged in over 100 conversations, helping visitors on the website find direction to the resources they need, according to Durfee.
Jacey Carpenter, a Salem resident and BYU Outreach Coordinator for the School of Communications, said the information hub has been greatly appreciated by those affected by the fire.
“I truly am grateful as are so many others in my community,” Carpenter wrote in a text message to Durfee. “There has been so much information, and we badly needed this.”
Durfee said the site isn’t meant to represent any one agency or department, but is meant to be a central repository of information from all relevant sources.
“The site was produced to collect all the information from official sources so that people could find it all in one place,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox also shared a link to the website on Facebook and encouraged his followers to use the website to learn more about the fires.
Miller said he was honored to work on a project for such an important cause and was grateful to serve the community.
“I feel awful for the people affected by the fires. I personally know people who have been affected,” Miller said. “I’m very grateful to assist Utah County in the communications efforts to help these people get the information they need.”
Christensen, who grew up in Woodland Hills, said the website’s goal is to ease the minds of the citizens within Utah County by preventing the spread of miscommunication.
“This project will create a consolidated line of official communication, essentially preventing people from skewing information that comes from updates and leaders,” Christensen said. “It will create a space where people can find all the most important, accurate information.”