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Questions and Answers from October’s Emergency Communications Webinar

In October’s webinar “Communicating in an Emergency: Expert Guidance to Getting it Right”, speakers Shelly Klein and Kara McKinney of Hurst, Texas, Britney Smith of Leon County, Florida, and Kelly Holton of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared their best practices for effectively planning for and communicating during an emergency in the public sector.

In addition to the on-demand webinar, Granicus would like to provide a number of additional resources for agencies looking to update or create an emergency communications plan, including:

The audience submitted a number of great questions during the webinar, and without enough time to respond during the webinar, we’ve posted their responses here.

Questions for Hurst, Texas Speakers Shelly Klein and Kara McKinney:

  • What experience do you all have in coordinating an emergency response across multiple government agencies or organizations? Any best practices for how to decide which agency is taking the lead on communication to the public/press? I am especially interested in best practices for coordination when the emergency is unforeseen (example: a shooting or abduction, not a hurricane). During emergencies, how do you get info from the “boots on the ground”, without spending too much time tying up public safety personnel.

Shelly: Our specific area has a unique ‘team’ approach to disasters that could potentially occur here, such as a major fire, tornado, etc. Our local Fire Departments created an organization called NEFDA, Northeast Fire Department Association, that 13 area cities participate in. This allows each of these cities to share the resources, such as swift water rescue boats, Hazmat teams, Medic units, etc. They created a website that houses all information in the event of an emergency. This information includes where the equipment is housed, how to dispatch it, and more. Even down to how to talk on the radio during the event. You can visit the website at www.nefda.us to see how this information is organized. Each agency is aware and contributes to this site.

  • We have not found a way to back up Nextdoor for public records. How are other government agencies handling this?

Shelly: Nextdoor is only in our city and we can’t see or discuss anything with Nextdoor subscribers other than if it’s related to something we post. So our policy is to not remove, change or delete anything. I don’t think there would be a requirement like there is for Facebook, but don’t hold me to that.

  • Kara, can you review how you updated for original Facebook posts during your event?

Kara: Here is a screenshot of my edit history on a another example that I posted updates on. During an emergency or crisis situation that is continually updating, we have found that it’s important to edit our original Facebook post with updates since the original post usually gets shared so many times. We don’t want several separate posts going into people’s newsfeeds, especially with how Facebook’s algorithm is set up. So I always click the three dots at the top right of my Facebook post, then go to ‘edit post’, and then include the date and time of the update and the new information. It’s worked really well for us.

  • How does changing the initial post effect maintaining public disclosure standards?

Kara: Anybody can view our edit history, so they can quickly see the information that has been changed. We also archive all of our social media posts, visitor posts and comments through Archive Social, so we always have a record of what’s been on our platforms whether they have been edited or deleted. I hope that answers your question!

Questions for Leon County, Florida Speaker Britney Smith:

  • Britney, I see you have 88.9 FM listed in your survival guide – is this a dedicated radio station just for the county? How does this work?

Britney: WFSU 88.9 FM is a local public radio station (WFSU Media is both an NPR and PBS member station). We met with the general manager and staff to discuss how we could have a reporter present whenever we activated our Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Our EOC has a media room that allows the  radio station plug in and report live from the EOC.

  • For Britney, please tell us more about your use of digital ads.  Thanks.

Britney: We purchase digital ads from our local tv station WCTV (CBS-affiliated station) and local newspaper Tallahassee Democrat (Gannett, USA Today Network). Both allow the opportunity to purchase ads that will show up on weather.com, The Weather Channel app, and other weather related sites. We also utilize digital billboard space that are in high traffic areas.

  • Are there specific metrics that are tracked and monitored that demonstrates the effectiveness of the outreach efforts?

Britney: We reached out to all of the platforms that we shared the messaging with (mobile ads, billboards, tv stations) to find out the reach/number of impressions after the campaign. With social media, we looked at the analysis from Facebook and Twitter. We also use TV Eyes, a tv/radio monitoring system to capture when Leon County is mentioned on television. We were able to find out the cash value of our publicity from their reports. But most important was the number of downloads we received for the app. Our Citizens Connect app was downloaded 12,000 times during the week of preparing for Hurricane Irma. All of messaging encouraged citizens to stay informed and connected with our app.

  • Do you have example workflows or process charts that you use?

Britney: Our team uses Smartsheet. It is an online platform that allows you to schedule tasks and assign them to members of your team. We rely on Smartsheet for all of our projects so that everyone knows what to do and the deadline. We also use Dropbox to store all of our collateral in one place.

  • Does Leon County or cities within the county, have its own radio station? If so, was the same message you sent out on other radio stations also broadcast on the county or city station(s)?

Britney: Leon County does not have its own radio station. However, We worked with WFSU (local public radio) and Cumulus Broadcasting and Red Hills Radio to provide the same messaging about preparedness.

  • Can you provide more detail on the mobile apps you are using? Are they ones you developed yourselves, or “off the shelf” systems/vendors you purchase?

Britney: Leon County developed the app ourselves. When we added Emergency Information to the app this summer, the same information provided on our Emergency Information Portal (EIP) is mirrored in the app. Whenever we updated the EIP (www.LeonCountyFL.gov/EI), the app is updated. And we added the option of provide push notifications for critical updates.

To watch or share the on-demand version of the webinar, visit this link Communicating in an Emergency: Expert Guidance to Getting it Right