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Digital Outreach: Government Communication Through Winter Storm Jonas

A lone pedestrian walks the snowed in streets of Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown during Snowzilla 2016. Photo Credit: Matt Popovich/Flickr 

For nearly five days, weather forecasters across the country warned of a winter storm of epic proportions headed to the mid-Atlantic region: Winter Storm Jonas. Every model predicted at least 18 inches of snow, with near zero visibility in blizzard conditions. Public safety officials needed to keep people off the streets so that snow removal crews could get to work, and law enforcement didn’t have to worry about rescuing stranded motorists.

As the storm picked up, so did the flow of messages from federal, state, and local government organizations using GovDelivery to mitigate the storm’s impact, and perhaps even save lives, with digital communications.

Here are a few highlights of GovDelivery clients successfully communicating with their audience, throughout the massive and dangerous winter storm:

By the Numbers

  • Over 550 storm-related messages were sent over the weekend to millions of US residents, via email, text message, and social media posting.
  • DC contacted over 12,000 residents who had signed up to be snow shoveling volunteers using email and text messages in English and Spanish. The “DC Resident Snow Team” was then given shoveling assignments — matching volunteers with areas in need.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent 165 messages containing everything from “be careful with portable heaters and carbon monoxide poisoning…” to “find a shelter near you.”
  • Maryland Police sent 15 safety messages all on Friday to an audience of over 11,000 people.
  • Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority sent 351 public transportation snow route updates
  • Maryland Enterprise sent 66 storm-related messages

Attention Grabbing Headlines

  • Arlington, Virginia: “Blizzard Update – stay where you are”
  • Arlington, Virginia Police Department: “I’m out so you don’t have to be!” – K9 Duke.
  • FEMA: “Be safe! Dress warm, check on neighbors, & take it slow shoveling.”
  • FEMA:”Every second counts: keep hydrants clear of snow & ice”
  • DC: “Unless you’re a first responder, you should not be behind the wheel during the storm. So we are urging all residents and visitors to get off the road, find safe shelter, and stay there.”

We want to send special appreciation to the state of Maryland. They managed their proactive communications with grace and poise— sending out regular messages to residents as each phase of the state emergency plan was being implemented, including what each phase consists of — preparation, transportation, what to do if you lose power, stay off the road, get help, recovery, and more.

Email notifications are just one part of GovDelivery’s communications offerings that public sector organizations around the world use every day. Text messaging and polling features allow government organizations to collect vital data from residents like whether or not they have power, requesting photos of shoveled walks or fire hydrants, and more.

As our friends at FEMA will be the first to tell you, don’t wait until the next dire communication need arises to have your communications strategy in place and ready to use. Plan your response now, and you’ll be ready for anything Mother Nature throws at you, and create a better experience for the people in your community.