We are recovering from what was basically a dress rehearsal for disaster.
Two hours ago, while I sat in the living room working on an enterprised story about a nonprofit in trouble, two tremendous loud booms shook the house. Seconds later, a repeat.
President Obama was here at the time. Not hard to imagine that I immediately thought the worst.
But the more immediate thought was PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW WHAT THAT WAS. I posted one line, literally, to our site - "Yes, we heard it too" - and then to Twitter and Facebook.
That was the last I could post to our site for at least 15 minutes, which seemed like an eternity. We have staked ourselves as a 24/7/365 news source. We have fulfilled that mission and lived up to the promise in circumstances such as a two-week series of snowstorms, widespread power outages, and more.
We have changed to a robust private server with an excellent server management company. We thought that would handle anything.
Clearly not the pressure of thousands of people at once trying to hit our site.
While I continued looking for information on the booms, and posting to Twitter and FB and even to the smaller site we keep for a nearby neighborhood in case people were looking there, my husband and co-publisher got on the phone to our server company, WiredTree, with me screaming TELL THEM TO UPGRADE US, BOOST US, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES, WHATEVER IT COSTS, TO HANDLE THIS.
Bless them, they did something to fix it within minutes.
But I wanted to share with anyone who reads this and is in the business of being a community news source and trying to deserve the trust that people put in you:
Make SURE you are ready to handle anything. We had already invested in power backups, ISP backups, etc., and now we know we need a permanent expansion of potential server capacity, even though it will be overkill on a daily basis.
Be sure that you let people know you are checking on something, even if you have no idea what it is. We learned this long ago - when the occasional law enforcement helicopter comes over this way, we post "Thanks for the tip about the helicopter, we're checking." Then usually the comments start coming in and more often than not, someone knows where the police search is focused.
Be sure you use social-media channels frequently enough that, if you need to deploy them as a primary channel in something like this, you have a following built up and you therefore are not just shouting into a small room. We have 7,400+ Twitter followers and 5,000 on Facebook and at least that means that we can get the word out even if that is the only way. We previously had a "backup blog" on a wordpress.com account - but if you only have to use that once or twice a year, it's hard for people to know to look for it.
Just a few thoughts. And if you think that is all too much - then be sure you do NOT raise expectations that you will be there, no matter what. Which is OK - you need to run your operation the way you think works best for what you can do and how you can appropriately serve your community. But in our case, we got into this precisely because there was an ongoing semi-emergency situation (multi-day power outage) with neighborhood-specific information NOT available elsewhere. So for us, there is no choice, and I am thankful to have a "big scare but it was all over fast" situation to reveal the remaining weak spot, which shall be fixed ASAP.
Added thoughts about "being ready for anything" welcome. I was lucky to have been a TV manager/producer for so long - even being accountable for emergency plans - that this is not something new and foreign to me. And yet, I'm sure there's STILL something we haven't thought of ... yet.
*ISP BACKUPS: We have home cable internet and three wireless services (Verizon aircard, Sprint mobile hot spot, iPhone with AT&T). Going for as much redundancy as possible. We also work with local emergency-prep volunteers - if all Internet went down, we'd be helping via radio, or even running around with post-it notes if that's what it took.*
*ADDED THURSDAY NIGHT* I didn't hyperlink here, so you may have looked at this and wondered, "Yeah? So, what WERE the booms?" Two fighter jets were scrambled from Oregon when a private seaplane entered the local airspace while it was a no-fly zone during the president's short visit. They came up supersonic - and came out of supersonic right over our peninsula, apparently. (At least, 911 said most of the calls were from West Seattle, though it was heard further south, too - crashing not only our server but also some 911 phone systems south of the city!) So we had two double sonic booms.