Recap: Why Emergency Communication Matters

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Kim Truong


Communications are never more important than when a crisis hits. Superstorm Sandy, the tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma , the Boston Marathon bombings, and others have shown us how essential it is for our government and community leaders to quickly communicate with the public during an emergency.

At the same time, communication channels have changed. Technologies such as mobile were not as prevalent a decade ago. Like never before, organizations must strategically create comprehensive communications strategies that integrate channels during a crisis. Agencies must be able to quickly get their messages out across all communication channels – text, email, social media, television, and radio – in order to keep citizens safe.

Today, GovLoop hosted an online chat with GovDelivery, a leader in government-to-citizen communications with the mission of bringing meaningful information to the public. They serve over 1,000 government clients, facilitate 55 million subscribers worldwide and deliver over 10,000 messages every hour. We heard from Joe Bloom, Product Manager, and Jennifer Kaplan, Product Marketing Manager at GovDelivery.

Jennifer outlined 3 key strategies in conducting government communications shown below.

The speakers then delved into the example of Ocean City, Maryland’s emergency notifications during Superstorm Sandy. By responding to feedback from citizens and implementing a communications platform, the city was able to build an audience of 97,000 subscribers across 19 topics. City officials took lessons learned and citizen feedback from the August 2011 Hurricane Irene.

The Ocean City case study demonstrated the value of building an audience.

Communications between government and the public are certainly not limited to emergencies. Agencies must grow their audiences through regular engagement and continual effort, so that when a crisis does hit, they have the broadest outlets to disseminate life-saving information.

Ocean City grew their audience base by planning initiatives in concert with National Preparedness Month, established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). By October of 2012, the city began proactively pushing out information advising citizens on how to prepare, and prior to Sandy hitting land, issued press releases to update residents on regarding the storm. Through these varied and timely approaches, the city obtained 6,000 new subscribers to its push notifications system.

Joe and Jennifer also answered questions from the virtual audience, such as:

  • What are the primary challenges in sending emergency alerts?
  • Are there different approaches to types of emergencies?
  • How does Twitter’s message limit (140 characters) affect emergency communications? Any best practices with Twitter (and social media) messaging?
  • What are some best practices in cross-government collaboration?

I encourage you to check out the 30-minute archived chat to hear their valuable insights.

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And take a look at these valuable resources:

Inforgraphic – Trends in Emergency Notification Systems

White Paper – The Most Important Message You’ll Send: Emergency Notification Trends

Analyst Brief – Improving Emergency Communications in Government

Communications Resources Hub

FEMA’s website

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Thanks to the folks at GovDelivery for sharing their insights with us!

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Carol A. Spencer

This is exactly why the National Association of Government Web Professionals is dedicating the entire last day of its national conference to the topic of Emergency Online Communications. And, we’re pleased to have GovDelivery as one of our sponsors.

Check out NAGW.org for information on our September conference (which was rated by GovLoop as one of the top go-to conferences). For information about the day on Friday, for which people can separately register, visit http://beta.nagw.org/conference/2013/schedule/09/27.

Anyone who is or may be involved in government communications during an emergency should be there. As one person told us during Hurricane Sandy via our Morris County NJ OEM Facebook page, “you were my lifeline”.

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