Social media best way to notify public in emergencies, East Tennessee officials say

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PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE)- Tourists in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were rerouted for a few hours Thursday after several weather-related incidents blocked a main thoroughfare.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park rangers closed the Spur around 3:30 p.m. because of downed trees, rock slides and a fatal crash.

RELATED: GSMNP: One person dead after crash on the Spur

Many tourists in the area didn’t know until they drove up to law enforcement blocking the road.

Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Tourism department, said that there are only 6,000 residents in the city, but 50,000 tourists could be visiting on any given day.

WATCH: How the Gatlinburg Spur storm happened

He said notifying tourists of emergencies has gotten easier since the creation of social media.

“The best way I think is through social media and the web. And we’ve all learned because of the wildfires,” Downey said.

After the wildfires in 2016, government agencies in Sevier County needed a way to keep visitors and locals safe and informed.

Marci Claude, public relations manager for the city of Gatlinburg, said the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency started using Red Alerts to notify the public in emergencies.

She said an alert was sent on Thursday warning of the closures and risks near the Spur.

Downey said the city of Pigeon Forge has 612,000 Facebook followers and 32,000 Twitter followers.

He said in addition to the Pigeon Forge accounts, social media accounts for Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Sevier County and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park reaches hundreds of thousands of followers.

Downey also said the three cities and the parks service work closely together and share news to make sure more people are informed.

He said the city page will share any information that is posted by the police departments.

While some tourists didn’t know about the Spur closure, nor why it was closed, some tourists said that their lodging staff notified them.

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