A US newspaper has added a new element to the coverage of local weather emergencies by developing a interactive map to assist affected readers.

The Spokesman-Review
, in Washington State, developed the Help Your Neighbors scheme to match readers' offers of help with those needing assistance by plotting their locations on an interactive map.

The project was conceived as a quick response to sudden snow fall and effectively turned the paper into an extra emergency service, editor Steve Smith told Journalism.co.uk.

"We have been astonished by the results - if we had thought of the project and executed it sooner, the response would have been unmanageable," said Smith.

"The regular municipal and non-profit resources that would ordinarily assist the elderly and the handicapped just were not available. We were brainstorming on ways the newspaper could help get services to people. This was a newsroom project, not part of our online business strategy."

Readers were able to submit requests or volunteer online. A helpline number was also put in the print edition, which was used to promote the service to those without internet access.

Responses to the map have also fed into the paper's editorial content with readers invited to submit their own experiences of the snow storms to the site and a video of one of the map's success stories created by the paper's multimedia team.

The idea, Smith added, could offer new ways for traditional classified ads and newspaper notices to be taken online.

"This little experiment really does suggest a way for the news operation to develop features that replicate the public service aspects of the old classified ads and the new social-networking/classified sites such as Craig's List," he said.

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