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Make a play date for community playgrounds
Spring is here (yeah!) and summer is just around the corner (double yeah!) but with warmer weather, there often comes the increased risk of floods, landslides, tornadoes and other potential emergencies and natural disasters. How is your city or town preparing?Whether your city or town created its own emergency preparedness plan, or one was adopted through collaboration at the regional, provincial or federal level, you likely have one in place. Somewhere, in a file cabinet, on a server, online, in a desk drawer—there is a plan of action for what your community members should do in the event of an emergency and a communications strategy for announcing an evacuation.

Now is the perfect time to pull it out, dust it off and share it with your constituents just in case. As they say: Hope for the best but plan for the worst … and communicate both. We’ve compiled some old and new school tips for communicating with your community in the event of an emergency evacuation. Consider implementing these in your city or town’s plan today:

Old school:

  • News releases, press conferences and radio broadcasts
    In times of impending crisis, remember that the media can be your friend—they want to help you communicate emergencies to the public. Have a plan in place that alerts them through news releases, press conferences and phone calls and ask for their help in spreading the word. Return the favour by granting them access to information, sites and interviews with city officials.
  • Phone trees
    While media outreach is great in the days leading up to a foreseen evacuation, sometimes there isn’t always the luxury of time. Include in your community’s plan a way for officials and citizens to utilize the phone to spread the news.
  • Checkpoints and door-to-door sweeps
    Similarly, setting up checkpoints along well-travelled streets to alert citizens, and having police officers and volunteers on the ground in reflective vests going door-to-door to alert people, is just as key.

New school:

  • E-mail and text messages
    Many communities are now enlisting the help of third-party systems, such as EverbridgeSM, that work with you to develop an opt-in emergency alert system. These systems are hosted off-site at multiple redundant locations, which will help guarantee notification capabilities being maintained even if problems develop with information systems locally. They work by reaching out to community members via landlines and cell phones using voice and text messaging as well as to computers and PDA units via email and instant messaging. Some systems also have the capability of connecting with pagers and faxes.  Going this route requires advance planning and promotion—your constituents will need to opt-in to these services ahead of time. Get going today to distribute marketing materials, fun and useful takeaways like flashlights and first aid kits featuring the directions to opt-in and your city’s branding.
  • Social media
    Tools like Twitter® and Facebook®; are becoming increasingly popular among many communities as a means for communicating emergency information. Because of these sites’ social nature, it enables communities to alert a large number of people in a short amount of time and enables them to share the news with others, too. Like the text message method, this does require a bit of an advanced recruitment. While word will still spread in the event of an evacuation or other emergency, increase that number by engaging constituents long before a crisis rears its head.

In addition to utilizing these tools in the event of an evacuation, be sure to make evacuation plans and maps readily available and updated year round. Place them on your website and make hardcopies available for review at the local library, city hall and other public locations.

Host an annual community awareness day to familiarize community members with a plan of action for when disaster strikes and evacuation becomes necessary. Promote this event with colorful banners and provide entertainment and refreshments.

Offer to enter those attendees who opt-in to text message and social media communications into a raffle for great themed prizes like a roadside safety kit or emergency travel blanket.

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