PUNA (HawaiiNewsNow) - As lava spat out of the earth during the 2018 Kilauea eruption, evacuees didn’t just scramble for shelter or supplies ― residents say the sometimes delayed or absent updates actually added to their anxiety.
As parts of their community burned around them, an online coalition known as the Hawaii Trackers came sprung into action. It’s a Facebook group dedicated to providing timely and accurate updates that’s now 50,000 members strong.
“I think that was just my way of coping, staying hooked into what was happening and researching things,” said group member Sara Wilkinson.
The Trackers’ goal was to provide verified information as promptly as possible, and they accomplished it by mixing equal parts determination and ingenuity.
Team members participated in daily media briefings, alongside journalists from around the world. Because many of them have diverse technical skills and backgrounds, they found ways to provide updates in ways that the county of civil defense officials were often unable to.
Hawaii Tracker team member Dane Dupont has a background in computer science and created GIS maps that showed the number and location of homes destroyed by lava.
Such information was either not available or not being made public by county officials. Instead, he used lava flow maps provided by USGS scientists and overlaid them on property tax maps he was able to find online.
“(We) immediately started to figure out that the county was not going to keep up and account for homes,” Dupont said.
He says his parent’s home was the second home lost during the eruption.
“There were two homes on the property, and civil defense told my parents they are both gone," Dupont said. "And I said, ‘No they’re not, only one is gone.’ So I got thrown into right away in terms of, okay, we’re going to have to fact check a lot of this ourselves.”
Hawaii Tracker was originally created by Ryan Finlay in 2014 to keep Puna residents informed and connected during the Pahoa lava threat.
During the historic 2018 eruption, Hawaii Tracker became an essential resource for both Big Island residents and family and friends around the globe.
The “Trackers” inspired the inaugural award from the Big Island Press Club, because of their innovative and consistent outreach during the 2018 Kilauea eruption.