Establishing Community Engagement BEFORE an Emergency
Thanksgiving approaches. I sit here at my desk about 60 miles from Plymouth Massachusetts where the first Thanksgiving occurred. My phone rings; it’s the town police department utilizing its Notification System to inform residents about the upcoming Thanksgiving Day football game between our high school and the dreaded enemy football team in the next town. The Police Chief tells us that the game at our high school will start at 10:15 AM on Thanksgiving Day and that anyone going should get there early. New this year is that tailgating parties will be allowed on the high school grounds beginning at 8:00 AM. These must end by 3:00 PM and tailgaters are expected to clean up after themselves. Extra police officers will be in place to direct traffic and to maintain in-stadium crowd control – a not-so-subtle reference to the Great Thanksgiving Game Mascot Raids of last year. He ended his message with a hearty “Go Bulldogs!”
A few minutes later my cell phone rings and I have an incoming voice mail and message from the Police Chief. When I check my e-mail, there’s an e-mail from – guess who? – the Police Chief. Finally there is a tweet directing me to the Police Department’s web site, right to the page with the above information. All the messages are the same.
So utilizing his emergency notification system and this one message, the Police Chief efficiently leveraged social media to provide non-emergency event information. Think about what he told us:
- Event information about the Thanksgiving Day football game
- Advice to get there early
- Information about a new policy now allowing tailgate parties
- Safety information
- A warning that last year’s mascot high jinks will not be tolerated
- Team and town spirit
This message went over the land-line telephone system, cell phone messaging, mobile apps, Twitter, the Internet . . . all via one notification system! The message was also released to the local radio station and area newspapers. When I was in high school 100 years ago, my friends and I might have received a mimeographed sheet of paper which we would have promptly lost.
There’s another lesson to be learned. I recently conducted a webinar for Everbridge: “Managing Incidents and Events through Resident and Community Engagement.” Within the webinar, I point out that public agency trust and credibility must be built before an emergency occurs. And this can be accomplished using public engagement and open communications prior to an emergency. And what better way is there to obtain public engagement and open communications than leveraging all social media means to provide important non-emergency event information?
Our town has a high notification system mobile app opt-in rate and when the phone rings, citizens pick up. We had a “lost person” emergency message a couple of weeks ago and people responded; the person was found within two days.
Using social media, you can get event information out to those who need it. Plus you are preparing citizens on what to expect in an emergency. It’s a win-win situation.
And speaking of winning: Go Bulldogs!