HTD Quick Tips with Reina Pomeroy
“It’s a matter of keeping the guardrails up and making sure that people continue to be safe.” —Reina Pomeroy
When disaster strikes, there’s no time for mixed messages. Misinformation can fuel panic, hamper recovery efforts, and even endanger lives. Effective disaster response isn’t just about physical aid— it’s also about keeping the facts straight and delivering them to the right community.
The essence of addressing misinformation and communication in a disaster lies in building trust. Only when people trust the source of information will they accept and act accordingly. By combining technology with a strong emphasis on trust and authority, it’s possible to stem the tide of misinformation and ensure accurate, life-saving information is circulated swiftly and efficiently.
Join Jennifer and Reina Pomeroy of Marshall Together as they share how messaging apps like Slack can help maintain the balance between openness and data privacy, truth and misinformation, and organization and fluidity. They also discuss the importance of limiting members, keeping the communication channels organized, some challenges that may occur in moderating the communication, and how to solve them.
- 03:52 Misinformation in a Disaster
- 08:10 What is Slack?
- 12:01 Addressing Misinformation
- 15:34 Pass Along the Info
In a world where disasters are a grim reality, standing together with the truth is our greatest weapon. Join @JenGrayThompson and @reinapomeroy as they share quick tips to address misinformation and communication issues in the midst of a disaster. #Recover #Rebuild #Reimagine #NorthBay #podcast #wildfire #DisasterRecovery #DisasterRecovery #AfterTheFire #Season5 #HowToDisaster #QuickTips #postDisasterCommunication #MarshallTogether #Slack #dataprivacy #communityguidelines #trust #communicationchannels #communitybuilding
04:08 “There’s just so much misinformation at the beginning. We needed to have a consolidated place where we could get as much critical mass of the folks who were directly impacted by the fire together.” —Reina Pomeroy
06:04 “People were added to a Facebook group that’s not our community. We saw a real differentiator and being able to keep the community really tight. And so we try to keep it as safe as possible for the people who do choose to come.” —Reina Pomeroy
11:50 “Misinformation and even disinformation are rampant after a disaster because there’s so much trauma. And in trauma, there’s opportunity for good and also for not good.” —Jennifer Gray Thompson
14:18 “It’s a matter of keeping the guardrails up and making sure that people continue to be safe.” —Reina Pomeroy
Social Worker, Reina Pomeroy later transformed her career into Community Building. Little was she aware of the profound impact that her work would possess when she and her family suffered a great loss— their home in the Marshall, Colorado fire disaster in December of 2021. This adversity prompted Reina to utilize her professional abilities and wisdom, leading her to co-establish a non-profit organization named Marshall Together. This initiative brought together fire survivors like her to create a robust network and sustaining community for each other and other victims, facilitating their journey back home.
- Website: https://marshalltogether.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reina.pomeroy
- X: https:/x.com/reinapomeroy
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/reinaandcompany/
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/reinapomeroy
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Today, we’re doing something a little bit different for the podcast. And this is in response to the very tragic, terrible mega fire that started on October 8 in Maui and Lahaina, especially, there are other fires as well in Maui and in Hawaii. But clearly, the most devastating one is in Lahaina. They have lost so much of their downtown, many homes and so far, I believe were 55 lives. They’re at 53, and they found two more last night. Our hearts are breaking for them. We do not like to see this ever again. I’d love it if I didn’t have a job, that’d be great. But this is where we’re at right now.
The goal of today is I asked Reina Pomeroy from the Marshall Fire out of Boulder, Colorado about 21 months ago to come on to give us a tip about how to communicate immediately. And not only after a disaster, but what tools are out there? In her case, she used Slack, and it was super smart. And it’s one of those things that we really liked because it allows for a certain degree of privacy controlling information because you can have channels, you also have to be invited to Slack. Not inoculated, but really sort of wrapped his arms around in a protective fashion, the community that has been most affected by the mega fires. So they allow people on when they are trusted partners. We definitely appreciate it because it allows us to see what’s going on, what are their concerns? We decided like, hey, we’re going to come out there and bring you people. What are your biggest concerns coming up right now? But I asked Reina to come on and really talk about, how did she set that up? Similar to in some ways the Lahaina, Maui Fire, the Marshal Fires started in a hot day to Grassland Fire, and then the houses became the primary sources of ignition. It was on December 30, so it shouldn’t have happened on that day. But this is sort of the climate reality that we are existing in.
Thank you so much for joining me on this impromptu How To Disaster Podcast, Jennifer Gray Thompson from After The Fire. And we will welcome Reina for this conversation. We’re going to keep today a little bit brief as much as possible because we want you wherever you are, wherever you’re listening to this to be able to access it now. And you can always reach out if you would like to connect directly or anything else we could possibly do. We’re happy to be here to help.
So welcome to a very quick episode of How To Disaster, Reina.
Reina Pomeroy: Hi there. Thank you so much for having me.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your vacation. Tell us where you are right now.
Reina Pomeroy: Yeah, I’m vacationing in Oahu with my family, and the winds have been so high. I’ve been really worried just before the news of the fire in Maui, and we’ve been thinking about our neighbors down the island.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yes. So one of the reasons why I asked you to do this end to end. Thank you for interrupting your family vacation because you are a Marshall Fire survivor, which happened about 20 months ago in Boulder, also high winds grassland driven. And then of course, the homes were the source of ignition, a lot of damage in a short period of time. So I was hoping, but you did this super, super cool thing that helped with communication. I just want to make sure that we get it out to the community, see if they can use it now. Can you tell us your story? What did you do?
Reina Pomeroy: Yeah. So early in the process, probably about not even a week in, somebody had actually started a Slack community. Actually, several slack communities. There’s text ads that are happening in Facebook groups that are popping up and neighbors that are just trying to gather information. And there’s just so much misinformation at the beginning like, oh, I heard this, and I heard that. And what we noticed really early on was that we needed to have a consolidated place where we can get as much critical mass of the folks who are directly impacted by the fire together. And because everyone was dispersed, our physical locales was not together and so we wanted to gather virtually and find ways of sharing information quickly and accurately as much as possible in the early days. And so we set up a Slack channel. One of my first tasks on the board of Marshall Together was to plead with Slack, which I learned has a branch of their organization called Slack for Good, which basically comped us membership for our community. Slack is relatively expensive. It’s an enterprise work type of environment, and we got super lucky and shared that wealth with us. And we’ve been able to do a lot of really incredible things with it.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And Marshall Together is a group that was formed by emergent leaders, which I love, always the secret sauce in any disaster which are people who were fire survivors, or people who wanted to help them, who kind of stood up to help walk their community through this really terrible event. You guys lost over 1,100 homes just to fire and then more to smoke damage. And there were just a variety of issues to actually navigate. One of the things that was so smart today, and I was really happy because I had not seen this in all of my wildfire experiences, is that it gave you an element of privacy too. So can you talk about the two parts of how hard it is to get good information? But also, people don’t pop into Facebook who should not actually be there.
Reina Pomeroy: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of value in Facebook groups that are open to a broader community. There is a community for Marshall Fire survivors that end supporters of there were so many volunteers at the beginning. And those people were added to a Facebook group that’s not our community. We saw a real differentiator and being able to keep the community really tight. And this was something that I actually bought our board for because people were like, a lot of people want to help, why don’t we add them in. But you know what the reality was that we knew early on that this sort of early phase of volunteering from our community wasn’t going to last. And those people weren’t going to be sort of just not beneficial or helpful in our community space. And so we made a pretty deliberate decision early on in the process that if they were not directly a survivor themselves from a different fire because they were helping us, they were our mentors, or they were personally filing an insurance claim for the Marshall Fire that was sort of our delineator. And so lawmakers wanted to come in, news folks, journalists wanted to come in, other folks wanted to join our Slack, but we had said NO from the very beginning. And that standard has really set a precedent for privacy for information to be able to talk about things in a really safe and open way. No contractors as we rebuild are in that space. We’ve had to have some tough conversations about that, moderating all of us on the board, our total loss survivors, and we’re trying to navigate this on our own. So just day to day, it’s a little bit tricky sometimes, but we do our best to keep it a safe space. Because if people don’t come into space, and it’s not a critical mass, it’s not actually beneficial for our community. And so we try to keep it as safe as possible for the people who do choose to come.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I really love that. I was really honored when you allowed us on, so thank you for that. Because it’s easy, it’s better for us just to look to see where you’re at because it helps me figure out how to bring people, or services, or connectors. But I also know that you’ll ask for what it is that you need, and you’re going to learn so much as one of the leaders in your community by having all of this Slack channel. So for people who are not familiar with Slack, can you explain how the channels work? Because I love that. And I think as you get me, just so smart. Why was it so successful having these channels?
Reina Pomeroy: I think of channels as rooms. So if you’re in a department store and you know that you need to go to, I don’t know, the shoe section, you’re not going to just wander around. Hopefully, wander around like the kids section. The signage is there so that you know exactly where to go. It’s sort of like a similar type of space is Facebook, Facebook groups, right? It’s a closed group, you’d have to ask to be let in most of the time. And the challenge with Facebook, in the former Facebook group I was telling you about is that everything is on one feed. And it kind of also gets mixed in with the rest of your Facebook feed. And it gets a little bit messy, and you don’t go there for a particular thing. And it’s hard to search. And so with Slack, what I think about as different channels, different rooms in any particular topic that was pressing for our community or membership now. And so at the very beginning, cleaning up was a big issue, or getting free stuff was a big issue. And being able to locate, how do I get my passports, those types of questions were located in different spaces and allowed us to not overwhelm the feed, so to speak. You go to a specific place for them, you go to the shoe section and get help in the shoe section rather than searching the whole catalog of things. And I think what’s really helpful about that is it allows you to find what you need now. And also, it indexes things so that when you, like six months from now, the problem that you had six months from now, those things are there.
And the gift of Slack has given us the unpaid account, deletes or archives anything that passes 10,000 messages in our community. 20 months in we’re about 70,000 messages in so we would have lost that archive. And it’s actually really helpful to be able to look back and see, oh, we were here five months ago or whatever. And to be able to glean from other people’s knowledge, because some people are building back faster than others and have shared information in the past. So that type of environment is really helpful. As the time goes on, we’re 20 months into the fire recovery, and we’re at a different phase like PPD are public, what is it? Probably debris removal is no longer really a thing. And we are past that phase. But that channel is in a dormant stage. And if we need to recover it, we can. But now, insurance is something that we’re looking for. We are looking at extending our ally, because we are also declared a disaster. And so all of those things are incredibly important for us to be able to pick back up and have those conversations in the right spaces.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I also like it, because I see it as trauma informed to you when we all know that not everybody is ready to pick up certain parts at this one time. And everybody kind of has to do debris removal on a schedule. So that’s one of the things that we cannot do anything about. But if somebody may not be ready to start, rebuilding or pulling their permits for a couple of years is very normal. So I like it, because you’re actually allowing people, you’re meeting them where they’re at, as opposed to sending them to it. And Facebook is great for so many things. I always watch Facebook, the channels on all of the channels, but the pages of all the people who immediately after a disaster. But this is different, because this actually allows you to also gather information for where people are hitting pain points. And then you are able to relay that information back up to your elected officials, or your building department, or your community foundation, and then they can give you information. Then you can relay it back in a way that is dependable. Because as you said, misinformation, and even disinformation are just rampant after a disaster because there’s so much trauma. And in trauma, there’s opportunity for good and also for not good.
Reina Pomeroy: Absolutely. I think you’ve got a couple of things that were really important there. So in terms of misinformation, what we did immediately after the fire was go to the source. So some of us who had the most bandwidth at the time, or were immediately housed or whatever, were able to pick up the phone and say, hey, I have a group of X number of people who are having some trouble with this thing. And everyone’s saying the same thing. And so we’re able to surface those things relatively quickly. We also were able to see some of those emerging leaders relatively quickly in the process. Some of the most active people on Slack in the early days are part of our board now and continue to be part of our board. Another thing I’ll say is sometimes, you need to add more people to the mix. And those people who are most active on Slack, who are most active in the process are the folks that we talk to support when we need to.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I also thought it was cool because it didn’t negate the need for, we like to just show systems that have worked for other communities. We’ve been non-prescriptive but always adaptive. And I felt like you guys didn’t really need the block captain system in the same way. You had a version of it, but you also use Slack. And so you adapted what other people have done and then made a new system. That is why I’m talking to you now, because maybe that will work really well for the people of Maui. And that at least, this is a really good option for them. And now they know about Slack For Good. I am trying to keep this short, though I do want to talk to you forever. What do you think the biggest challenge was? Is it moderation and that communication? How do you share moderation duties? That’s a hard thing to do. I know you’re a pro at this, but it’s hard.
Reina Pomeroy: Yeah. I think we just have pretty strong community guidelines. If we see bad actors, I’m not scared to have that direct conversation with them and say, hey, we know we’re here together for a reason. I know what you said wasn’t meant the way that you said it. Or if it was, then we’ll just have to kick you out. Like, hey, here’s our guidelines. Take a look at it. It’s not really bad actors most of the time. It’s like, hey, I’m promoting my business. Some people might have a secondary business that they were running and that’s impacted by the fires. So a lot of things are happening. I don’t think people mean any ill intent, it’s just a matter of keeping the guardrails up and making sure that people continue to be safe.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So do you have a couple of moderators? Are you the primary moderator?
Reina Pomeroy: I think every single person has a role. Every member has a role. And so people will send DMs to the board, and that’s another beautiful thing about the community. You can send voice notes, you can DM people directly. It’s pretty awesome to be able to communicate in that way when you don’t have people’s phone numbers. In the early days, there’s so many random text threads that I was part of, like I couldn’t keep up. The trauma is real. And so the firebrand is real. So just making sure that you’re able to take care of yourself and know where you can find that information was was–
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And firebrand is real and it lasts at least a year, and to be patient with yourself. And lastly, I want to say I like it because I think it takes care of leaders, it gives you a place that you can go and it’s orderly. And it doesn’t feel like I often see leaders after a disaster who were like, I gotta try to do it all. It’s so hard on their emotional, mental well being. So it’s really good. Thank you, Reina, for this really quick episode. Is there anything that I should have asked you that you’d like them to know in Lahaina that I haven’t mentioned?
Reina Pomeroy: Marshall Fire folks have been talking about you all on Slack. We are so devastated for what is going on in your community, and we’re here to help. We are here to lend an ear, and here to help. I hope that anything that we learn, we can pass along to you if it’s helpful.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think that we will have that opportunity, and I am designing that in my head now. So with Marshall Fire people in mind actually. All right, thank you so much for your time and for taking time out of your family vacation. I really appreciate you.
Reina Pomeroy: Thanks for having me.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Okay, bye.