Faster Fact Checking, Part 3: Crisis and Public Safety Reporting

Broadcastify, Google Media Tools: Two resources that help journalists report during an emergency or crisis

Three resources helping journalists report during a crisis

This is the third in a series about online resources for faster fact checking. Catch up on our posts about verifying data and social media tools, and best practices.

On one side of the breaking news spectrum lies major company announcements, the unveiling of the latest gadget, and births and deaths of public figures. On the other side, unfortunately, you have breaking news involving emergencies and catastrophes.

In the latter case, it’s essential for public safety to stay informed about what’s going on. Because of this, there’s a specific set of online tools to help journalists understand and report what’s happening from minute to minute.


During a breaking incident, many journalists turn to police and emergency scanners as a way to monitor the first response.

Broadcastify, launched in 2012, makes it easier for the public and press to access feeds across nearly 20 countries by offering widespread live-audio of public safety, aircraft, rail, and marine-related communications.

Within the U.S., users can search by state, city, and zipcode for free live feeds or filter by feed type. You also can visit the site to see which feeds have the most listeners or are under alert.

Although most of the features are free, a premium subscription offers other tools like direct data downloads and access to all of the live audio feed archives.

After the Asiana Airlines crash in 2013, Al Tompkins wrote on about the helpfulness of Broadcastify and other public safety monitoring tools to figure out what was happening.

However, it’s important to keep in mind basic common sense and ethics when monitoring first responders – regardless of whether it’s online or using an actual scanner.

Numerous inaccuracies and public safety issues arose when the media and public turned to Boston PD scanners to report aspects of last year’s marathon bombing. However, as Tompkins pointed out after the Asiana Airlines crash, Broadcastify can be helpful, as long as it’s part of a much larger toolbox.

Google Media Tools for Crisis Response

Last year, Google collected its media tools into one hub. Some of these were for publishing and engagement, others for gathering information through Google Trends and Analytics.

On the site’s Additional Resources section, Google has compiled a section of Crisis Response resources.

The site explains: “Google Crisis Response seeks to make critical information more accessible around natural disasters and humanitarian crises. We can provide updated satellite imagery of the disaster area, charitable donations to organizations on-the-ground, outreach through Google web properties, and engineering tools—such as Google Person Finder and landing pages—designed to organize and coordinate critical response resources and information.”

For instance, Crisis Maps can be built, modified, or embedded by media to share emergency and disaster-related information with readers. During Superstorm Sandy, Google’s Crisis Response team created a map that had the current location and projected path of the storm, along with wind information and evacuation routes.

“In a mobile age when people demand near-instant information (and then judge us harshly if we get things wrong), a lean and digitally acute plan for how to cover breaking news is crucial,” writes R.B. Brenner, deputy director of Stanford University’s journalism program, on his media blog.

It’s an excellent reminder that the best tool in an emergency is to plan ahead.

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Amanda Hicken is a former media relations manager at PR Newswire.  Follow her @ADHicken.

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