In the age of social media it is easy to communicate with your constituency. In times of emergency there are some cities and states that do it well, whether it is due to war or the weather.
However, one city failed to look at the severity of the weather and plan for an emergency. Instead of focusing on the city's infrastructure, the city council focused on passing a local ordinance to prevent the removal of trees on private property. Less than a week later (tonight), it rains, and according to the city's website,
The City believes that all areas of HW have been impacted by flooding and the DPW is making sure that roads are passable for emergency vehicles. The initial assessment is the steady and severe rainfall overwhelmed the sewer system in HW and surrounding communities. If catch basins are clogged, please only clean one side of the street at a time to keep the system from being overwhelmed again.
Forbes Magazine listed Huntington Woods, Mich. (The Woods or HW) as one of America's Friendliest Towns, Coldwell Banker listed "The Woods" as of the Best Places to Live for Suburbanites, as part of its "Best Places to Live" series, and yet this city that was recently plagued by flash flooding does not have a twitter page or handle for emergencies and has not updated its' official Facebook page since May 7. Yet, friends and followers within The Woods were all over Facebook and Next Door and yet no one from the city, not even the Mayor, its new City Manager or any members of the City Commission, DPW or Public Safety has responded. Although someone did post that there was an update on the city's website and Public Safety did drive the streets, even the impassable ones to ensure people were safe. And knowing the city DPW will most likely be out all night trying to unclog drains. Yet the city has failed to communicate with its constituency in regards to:
- What is happening and why.
- What is coming into my basement? Sewage? Human waste? Rain water?
- What to do.
- What the city is doing.
- The timetable for action.
- A hotline, twitter hashtag or other way to communicate with the city officials.
To the city's credit, they did post, as a response on Next Door, that there may be flooding, that we should unclog drains, we won't be ticketed for leaving our belongings on the curb and we should call our insurance company, But if they were to read the posts on line and otherwise monitor social media, they would know that lots of questions remain:
- Can we drink the water?
- Can we flush the toilets (the sewers did overflow into our basements)
- Should we turn off our electricity?
- What is the time-table for clean up, etc.
While many are comforted by the fact that there are no injuries (yet reported) and that everyone's basement (almost everyone in the city) is flooded, the city should learn from its mistakes.
As the former Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to the Mayor of Detroit, I am sensitive to how our elected officials interact with those that rely on them for their health and safety, particularly in times of crisis. While most of the damage was caused to things and not people it is still important for elected officials and government's to communicate effectively.
In regards to social media the City of Huntington Woods (and other cities) can and should leverage social media to communicate with its residents about crime alerts, weather related events, road closures, city-wide events and city commission meetings, to just name a few.
Instead the City of Huntington Woods, just tells its residents how to deal with a flood, such as providing some helpful hints on cleaning up after a flood:
Towel dry any furniture that may have gotten wet from the flood and make sure to spray it with a disinfecting spray that kills mold and mildew. If any cloth furniture came in contact with the water and absorbed it, unfortunately you may have to toss them out unless you find someone to wash and re-upholster them.
When cities fail, Its' people suffers. In this case, the people of Huntington Woods suffered. We are all adults and have leveraged social media on our own to communicate with our neighbors, but unfortunately, the government failed to communicate with us on this one.