Friday, December 20, 2013

Disaster website gains steam

County considers liability issues with

Express Staff Writer

    When floods, fires and power outages hit the city of Hailey, community members are often more than willing to provide aid. Knowing where to bring that aid, and to whom, got easier last summer.
    The website went live last summer to connect citizen volunteers with those in need of emergency services. The city of Hailey is now hoping to expand use of the site to other cities in the valley, and to Blaine County.
    The Hailey Firefighters Association paid for the first year’s subscription to the site, which runs out in June. The cost of the website for the entire county would be $1,000 per year, said Hailey volunteer coordinator and librarian LeAnn Gelskey.
    Gelskey said went live only two weeks before the Beaver Creek Fire threatened Hailey last August, just in time for volunteers listed on the site to help out animals stranded by the fire.
    “We didn’t have much time between training and going live,” Gelskey said. “But people came forward to move animals, share homes, provide transportation and donate garden food, anything they could think of that they wanted to share.”
    Today, the website has 150 volunteers offering a wide range of services, vehicles and tools. Categories for goods and services on the website include everything from food, hygiene products and money, to medical, transportation and language translation services. These goods and services are matched on the website using easy-to-use computer programs, with a list of community members’ needs during an emergency.
    “The most recent needs we have seen posted are for medical transportation. People have medical needs outside the valley, appointments they need to get to but cannot,” Gelskey said.
    Former Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman brought online last summer with help from the Hailey Firefighters Association, Hailey Public Library and the Wood River Amateur Radio Club as a resource for disaster preparedness, community awareness and community aid. is a franchise website of, a website founded in 2011 by Harvard University graduate Caitria O’Neill, following a tornado disaster in her hometown of Monson, Mass.
    A small group of administrators ran the site around the clock for several days during the Beaver Creek Fire.
    Gelskey recently presented the website to the Blaine County Commission, along with a request for funding.
    County Commission Chair Larry Schoen said the commission is concerned about liability issues associated with people providing goods and services in association with the site, but that the door is open to further discussion.
    “We do not have anything like this,” Schoen said. “I think we are interested in seeing if this makes sense as a regional effort.”

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