Getting Your Message Heard: When Communication is a Matter of Life or Death

Imagine for a moment that you are in an area that is about to be hit by a hurricane. What would you want to know to prepare? Do you know where the safest place will be? How will you contact other family members if separated? These getting your message heardquestions are extremely important when faced with a disaster. And if you work in the public sector, another important question is: What good is your message if your audience isn’t getting it?

As a government employee, you may have critical information that could potentially save lives before or during an urgent situation, but if your message doesn’t actually get to your intended recipients, the message is useless.

The town of Ocean City, Maryland, quickly realized the importance of this question during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Overall, the storm caused 47 deaths and over $15 billion worth of damage. Despite the myriad of communications being sent out by town staff, Ocean City residents felt they hadn’t received adequate or timely information about the storm.

Ocean City officials listened to their citizens and stakeholders and took action. They began by discussing their current communications system. The town already had a system in place that pushed out email alerts; however, administrators felt that a more flexible system was necessary. They wanted the ability to send messages, especially emergency alerts, via multiple channels, including text messages or SMS. They knew there was a phone alertsmuch more efficient and effective way to communicate emergency and other high priority information to residents.

In July 2012, Ocean City selected and implemented a multichannel, integrated digital communication platform: GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM). Residents are now able to sign up for a wide variety of topics such as Jobs, Council updates and City Wide Alerts.

The system not only allows Ocean City to send out email and text messages, but it has also helped the town dramatically increase its reach.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Ocean City was significantly more prepared, using the system to get the word out about preparation, storm updates and recovery efforts.

“In times of emergencies, it’s critical for the town to have a system in place that allows us to quickly reach out to our residents and stakeholders with information that they need to keep themselves and their properties safe or secure. With Hurricane Sandy, I was glad to know that we were using the same system that FEMA was using to get the word out about the storm,” said Joe Theobald, Emergency Services Director, Ocean City, MD.

Despite Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, Ocean City residents reported being “extremely satisfied” with officials’ communication throughout the storm. To read the full success story, click here.

If you’d like to know more on how to guide the public in preparing for emergency situations, click here to get the FREE E-BOOK, Leveraging Digital Communications in Emergencies.

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