Volunteers take emergency information to social media

SCV Emergency Now administrator Ray Smith mans the community social media pages in her home for the camera. Samie Gebers/The Signal.
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Geared up with her cell phone, radio scanner and police code cheat sheets, Ray Smith is keeping the Santa Clarita community in the loop.

With her trusty team of volunteers, Smith and the troop run several Facebook pages community members turn to when they hear the frequent helicopter flying over their homes, when they see smoke on the horizon and a car wreck on the side of the road.

“Seeing a post can put their mind at ease,” Smith said. “Even if it wasn’t great news, they at least knew what was happening.”

Smith started the Facebook group SCV Emergency Now about two years ago when she saw photos of a car wreck posted to a local social media group. She watched as a flurry of comments began to fill the computer screen, each one a Santa Clarita Valley resident who heard or saw the crash just behind their homes.

“They were all really scared,” she said of the commenters. “I watched how this thread unfolded with other community members who had driven by or were on the street. They were able to relay information very quickly.”

The thread inspired her to create the SCV Emergency Now Facebook page, which now boasts more than 19,000 members.

Posting about major incidents in the community, Smith’s team strides toward a goal of supplying the SCV with information as quickly as possible and as accurately as possible.

The admins of SCV Emergency Now pose for a picture during the Big Hugs Donation Drive at Valencia Meadows Park on April 8. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

“It’s a group effort,” said Shawn Benhart, a Facebook administrator. “We pride ourselves on having accurate, up-to-date information.”

Soon after SCV Emergency Now came to life, SCV:Helicopters, Lights & Sirens was born out of the need to handle an abundance of public questions about car smaller scaled incidents in Santa Clarita.

“We were getting a tremendous amount of posts for minor incidents that didn’t necessarily fit what we were doing,” Smith said.

With radio scanners in hand, the team now works together to update threads, monitor posts and coordinate efforts to make sure that members are up to date.

But there’s certainly a downside. Running groups with thousands of members can take a toll, specifically when balancing full-time jobs and families.

Smith works as a sale representative at a beverage company and has learned overtime how to balance her personal life and Facebook pages.

“I’ve gotten ‘the look’ once or twice while running a thread over dinner, but overall my husband has been very supportive,” Smith said. “Sometimes he tells me to put down my gadgets for a bit.”

After working together for so many months, leaders of the group have now found schedules that work well for them, but it wasn’t always that way.

During the Sand Fire last year, Smith and her team had to find a way to organize all the information that was coming in, coordinate donations and connect members who had lost homes to others who wanted to help.

“I don’t think anyone really slept,” Smith laughed. “That was the fire that really taught us  how to be prepared, how to run threads, how to find information using Twitter.

“It was overwhelming, it really was.”

Admins do not receive any money from the pages and everyone involved in running the groups are volunteers who have dedicated countless hours.

“Doing good for others makes you feel really good inside,” Smith said. “We don’t mind doing it. We thrive off of it. It makes you feel good like any other community service you would do.”

“SCVEN reaches farther than just sitting at a computer or cellphone and reporting,” said admin Lorie Lawson.

“We provide emergency and safety information to the members, hold blood donation drives for our first responders, reach out to members in need.”

SCV Emergency Now can also be followed on Twitter at @SCVEmergencyNow.

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