Above: Ophelia batters Tragumna Beach, Skibbereen. Pic. Emma Jervis Photography
While Hurricane Ophelia wrecked havoc on the south west coast of Ireland, organisations such as Cork Safety Alerts kept the public informed and safe. Co-founder of Cork Safety Alerts, Patrick O’Leary, talks to Mary O’Brien about why and how this voluntary operation works.
A completely voluntary organisation, the aim of Cork Safety Alerts is simple – to keep the public safe by publishing alerts related to traffic, travel, or safety in Cork.
With over 83,000 followers on Facebook and 6,000 on Twitter, Cork Safety Alerts has gained a massive following, particularly during Hurricane Ophelia, with praise pouring in from the public on the huge part the organisation played in keeping the people of Cork County out of harm’s way.
Now in order to reach a wider audience, the group is trying to raise funds to create a Cork Safety Alerts mobile app.
“The app will allow users who may not necessarily use social media to keep up to date with us,” explains Patrick. “I know for one, my parents don’t use social media, so they will appreciate a mobile app.
“We’re hoping to have a facility to localise updates to the location of users of the app. If you’re in Midleton, there’s no real reason for you to see updates in Bantry (unless you want to, and there will be an option for that too).”
Cork Safety Alerts is currently fundraising via GoFundMe to raise the necessary €5000 to create the app (you can donate at: gofundme.com/csalert).
Founded originally in early 2013 by Patrick O’Leary as ‘Cork Potholes’ with an aim to highlight the damage on local roads in Cork, the organisation gained a large following in a short period of time.
Later that year, ‘Cork Potholes’ was changed to ‘Cork Road Safety’ and Mick Mulcahy came on board, taking over the running of the group.
The next venture was ‘Cork Flood Alerts’, which was a great success following the winter storms of 2013/2014.
In January 2016, ‘Cork Flood Alerts’ and ‘Cork Road Safety’ merged and ‘Cork Safety Alerts’ was born.
Alongside Patrick and Mick, the team includes four other administrators, who dedicate their free time to Cork Safety Alerts.
“Ophelia was definitely my biggest challenge, as I am the newest member to the group, having only joined in February,” says administrator Amanda. “I was not expecting the volume of messages that hit the page in such a very short space of time. People were sending photographs, videos, informing us of fallen trees and roofs blowing off; it was quite busy for a number of hours but eventually you just get into the swing of things. We made sure to answer as many messages as we possibly could, whether it was on Twitter or our Facebook page, it was all hands on deck.”
“During Ophelia, over the course of 48 hours, we received over 1,900 messages and ensured that every single one of them was read and responded to,” says Patrick.
Prior to Ophelia, Storm Desmond is the extreme weather event that stands out in the mind of administrator Veronica.
“The damage caused by flooding was something horrific,” she says. “People depended on the page for updates, as many roads and towns were impassable from the floods, for example Bandon, Midleton and the N25, which was so damaged it remained closed for a number of weeks.”
“We frequently receive requests from members of the public to join the team as voluntary administrators, so we review all applications and contact good candidates who have social media experience, or a journalism background,” explains Patrick.
Cork Safety Alert’s information is almost wholly crowdsourced. “We receive hundreds of messages every day from the public informing us of different issues, whether its traffic, travel, public safety, school closures etc. We read and acknowledge every message we receive. We also have members of different organisations (both government and non governmental) contacting us…we receive lots of press releases from the likes of Met Eireann, the HSE, Bus Eireann and so on,” says Patrick.
“We also regularly receive updates from different members of the Emergency Services, from the Gardai to the NAS, Army, Civil Defence and Fire Service. We like to think that our service helps them too, as generally we’ll receive a report of, for example, a collision before they will. We generally receive reports of collisions or other incidents from followers who are at the scene at the time.
“We also try to help charities, so whenever information on a fundraiser is sent to us, we’ll always do our best to share.”
For an organisation such as Cork Safety Alerts to function, there has to be a certain amount of trust that the information received is correct, however some updates do require an official source, for example school closures.
“We do have a disclaimer on our facebook page and website informing our followers that while we endeavour to have 100 per cent factual information, lots of the information we supply is crowdsourced, therefore some information, sometimes, may be wrong or not 100 per cent.”
However, as Patrick explains, the most challenging part of running this service is not trust but the time involved.
“We’re all volunteers, and we all have full time jobs, children and families. Our admin team are amazing though, and through tough times everyone pulls together; an ‘unofficial’ schedule is created to keep coverage on the page 24/7. Through Ophelia, we had pretty much 24/7 coverage on the page ensuring messages were answered all day and night.
“We want to extend our thanks to the people of Cork and beyond. Without the public, Cork Safety Alerts would cease to exist! We want everyone to know what a pleasure it’s been over the past four to five years running Cork Safety Alerts. Onwards and upwards as they say, and hopefully a new chapter opens with our upcoming mobile app!”