Hawaii Tracker to receive Big Island Press Club’s first ever Excellence in Media Innovation award

The Big Island Press Club will award its inaugural Excellence in Media Innovation award to the Hawaii Tracker Facebook group during a community talk from 5:30-7:30 p.m. April 18 at the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences in Pahoa.

The event is free and open to the public.

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“The Hawaii Tracker team brings together a diverse set of backgrounds in computer science, geology, photography and online community emergency response,” says BIPC board member Denise Laitinen. “I’ve watched the group grow from just a few hundred members back in 2014 to more than 50,000 members today, and the work they do is truly a community asset and blessing.”

An online information community, 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 Big Island residents and family and friends around the globe.

Hawaii Tracker inspired the inaugural award from the press club because of its innovative and consistent outreach during the 2018 Kilauea eruption. The community online resource participated in daily media briefings alongside journalists from around the world.

Because the team has members with diverse skills and backgrounds they could provide updates in a variety of fields throughout the day. Through Facebook Live videos, daily written updates, video interviews with experts, GIS mapping, weather mapping and other multimedia tools, Hawaii Tracker was able to keep members informed around the clock.

In fact, Hawaii Tracker team member Dane Dupont, who has a background in computer science, created GIS maps showing the amount and location of homes destroyed by lava. Such information was not available nor being made public by county officials. It was Hawaii Tracker’s maps, not those of Hawaii County Civil Defense, which were used by Gov. David Ige during press conferences and by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and FEMA.

Throughout it all, Hawaii Tracker provided verified information in a timely manner at a time when community members needed it most. It did all this even as some of the Hawaii Tracker team members who lived in Leilani were being personally impacted by the eruption.

Facebook was so impressed with the growth and outreach of Hawaii Tracker that it flew a film documentary crew to the Big Island to interview the Hawaii Tracker team and showcase its efforts. Hawaii Tracker also was invited by Facebook to its annual Facebook Summit to showcase its work as an example for other groups to follow.

The Excellence in Media Innovation award comes on the heels of the Big Island Press Club announcing its annual Lava Tube and Torch of Light winners.

This year’s Lava Tube dishonor was awarded to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency for its handling of communications with the public and the media during the 2018 eruption. Information often wasn’t forthcoming; when media releases were issued they sometimes contained errors.

In addition, Civil Defense didn’t participate in daily Hawaiian Volcano Observatory telephone media briefings.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy won BIPC’s Torch of Light award this year for sponsoring a charter amendment to bring more transparency to the process of awarding pay raises for county government’s top officials.

The April 18 community event will feature a talk by the Hawaii Tracker team, including Finlay.

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For more information, contact Big Island Press Club President John Burnett at 464-9691 or email info@bigislandpressclub.org.

Founded in 1967, the Big Island Press Club is the state’s oldest media organization. For more information, visit BigIslandPressClub.org.

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