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Published February 27 2011

Von Pinnon: We’ve also been preparing for flood – of information

Kind of like election season, flood preparations in the Red River Valley seem to start earlier every year.

It’s not even March and Fargo’s already stockpiled more than 1 million sandbags, with Moorhead and area counties starting to sandbag this week.

Neighborhood flood meetings have come and gone, hardware stores are marketing drain plugs, and Dennis Walaker, like Punxsutawney Phil, has already emerged from his mayor’s hole at Fargo City Hall with a flood prognostication after seeing his shadow while driving through the southern Valley.

All while we’re knee-deep in snow with temps still dipping below zero here and there.

We’ve learned that we can never be too prepared when Mother Nature is in charge.

And so it is in our newsroom. We’ve been meeting and planning for this year’s flood since January.

We’ve met with key officials from a dozen local governments and agencies that are central to the flood fight. We’ve asked them to help us improve communication to the people, and we think we’ve come up with some really great solutions.

For instance, this year we’re hosting a tool on our website that allows agency information to feed directly to readers in real time.

Before this was available, news releases were filtered by an editor before being posted on the site, which in some cases delayed timely information from reaching readers as soon as possible.

This new tool will also allow readers to isolate just the information they want, like a newspaper designed especially for them. And readers can interact and ask questions of the agencies that all other readers can see and learn from.

We hope to “reverse publish” a lot of this material in the printed newspaper as well and are working on a mobile application for the flood tool so smart-phone users can tap this direct feed on the go.

We’re really going to step up our use of social media during this flood, too, using Area Voices, Facebook and Twitter to disseminate news in newer ways.

As before, we again have an online flood information center that provides the latest information about volunteering, regional river levels, maps, videos, photos and community contributors who are documenting their own flood-fight experiences.

We will also have several flood cameras capturing the Red River’s rise and protection steps in real time.

All this in addition to a well-thought-out beat plan that dispatches more

than 20 reporters and photojournalists to all corners of our coverage area. We’ll also be working with our partners at WDAY-TV and 970 AM-WDAY radio to deliver the latest news across multiple media platforms.

Like the community itself, each year that we flood, the more we as a news organization learn and can better prepare for the next test.

We know that the most important tool in any flood fight – or any challenge, for that matter – is good communication. We’re well prepared to deliver.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.