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Social Media Allows Instant Connection Between Residents and Public Safety In Emergencies

Police and fire officials said the use of Facebook and Twitter pages were essential in providing timely information to the public before, during and after Hurricane Irene.

When Hurricane Irene touched down in Southington Sunday, calls began to flood the Emergency Operations Center at the Southington Police Department.

Town Manager Garry Brumback, Southington Police Chief Jack Daly and Southington Fire Chief Harold Clark quickly compiled the information regarding downed wires, fallen trees and closed roads. Two minutes later, Southington Police Sgt. Lowell DePalma had the information online.

For the past several years, the has used Facebook and Twitter as a primary means of communication between the department, media and members of the public. Over the weekend, the decision to keep an open line of communications through social media outlets paid dividends for the department and town residents.

“It’s very unique and extremely helpful because the use of social media helps reduce any delay that could come with sending press releases to media outlets,” DePalma said. “When you send the information to a newspaper, it takes time for them to receive it and won’t be printed until the next day. Using this, the release of information is almost instant.”

The department first began using Facebook and Twitter in November 2009 and have used it for all press releases, arrest logs and release of public information important to town residents and business owners. There were 2,817 “likes” on Facebook and 451 followers on Twitter.

Southington was one of the first departments in Connecticut to implement the technology and others have followed suit, including the Hartford Police Department, which opened their own Facebook page last year.

Although the system has been in place for a few years and has been used to provide information regarding road closures and public hazards during snowstorms and other events, DePalma said this was the first time the department was able to use it during a declared state of emergency.

The department utilized the social media to post 28 separate releases Saturday through Monday, giving updates on everything from the latest conditions to the number of power outages, recovery and safety tips and more.

The response was well received by the local community, many who posted response to say thank you for the efforts.

“I hope to see great communication like this during future hazardous situations,” said local resident Jason Goralnik. “SPD should be commended for exemplarily public safety updates.”

Others including Lorraine Hungerford and Patrick Tassos also joined in the praise, saying the updates were more efficient and effective than television media reports.

“The SPD updates were extremely helpful, especially because our area was affected very little,” Hungerford said through Facebook. “The updates were great reminders that not everyone or every street was so lucky. They really kept us in our place. Thank you.”

Page moderators for the department deleted comments at the end of the day Monday. Department policy is not to allow any comments to prevent inappropriate posts on the page.

It wasn’t necessarily easy to keep up with everything going on in town, especially with 58 calls for service to the and another 111 calls for service to the police department Sunday, but DePalma said the page made it easy to communicate with everyone.

“It’s effective because anyone can check in as long as they have power and Internet. Even if they have just a cell phone signal, it gave them a chance to know exactly what was going on around town, what we knew about and what we didn’t so they could report it,” DePalma said.

Mark Edwards August 30, 2011 at 01:52 PM
A nice touch if you're one of those who's a slave to their wireless device and owns a smart phone, but for the other residents, when you lose power that's pretty much it, save a portable radio and landbased phone. So for the duration of the storm we did what we knew was the thing to do, not venture outside so as to keep from endangering our lives or those responders who have to save us. Like I said, social media announcement are a nice touch but it seems like a lot of effort for a relatively small fractional portion of the town populace.
Send in the Clowns August 30, 2011 at 02:57 PM
How incredibly innovative and completely useless to residents without power, cell service or the internet. Oy, Southington...not everyone has a smart phone or belongs to a social networking site! What a pathetic bunch of self serving rubes!
Jason Vallee (Editor) August 30, 2011 at 07:47 PM
It's important to note that while these announcements are a means of informing the public directly, they are also followed intensely by local media during storms. That includes Internet, newspapers, television and radio, which are each able to receive and distribute information to the public in quicker, more efficient manner. When radio stations don't have to call town-to-town to find out the information, they can relay the information quicker as well to those who may only have a portable radio to stay informed. While the article looked at posts over a 72-hour period, the department did begin using the sites to post preparation and storm tracking information as early as last Wednesday.

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