City’s New Online Home Dedicated to Being More Service-Centric for Citizens
MANHATTAN, Kan. – (April 11, 2013) It’s rare that beauty and purpose results from the stain of a major disaster.
But in the spring and summer of 2010, when people across the globe watched in shock, frustration and often anger as millions of gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, at least one community on the Gulf Coast was determined to create a fresh, clean start for itself once the tragedy passed.
For the city of Gulf Shores, Ala., community leaders saw an opportunity arise amid the tar balls washing up on the city’s previously pristine beaches – an opportunity that included using technology to introduce the real Gulf Shores to a world of concerned eyes.
“The silver lining of that whole disaster was the fact that we had a captive audience,” said Blake Phelps, Marketing and Communication Coordinator for the city of Gulf Shores. “As they watched this disaster unfold, a lot of people found out that one, we have beaches here in Alabama, and two, under all of that oil were some of the most beautiful, white, sandy beaches you’ve ever seen.
“Our mayor and city council looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got a chance to do something special here.’”
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill – which pumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped in July 2010 – is viewed as the largest marine oil disaster ever. In the weeks and months after the leak was capped, communities all along the coast that were affected began the process of figuring out how to recover from the firestorm of media coverage and environmental ruin of the spill.
In Gulf Shores – where the population of 10,000 residents soars to more than 150,000 during the weekends of the peak tourism season – what started out as a project to update wayfinding and gateway signage within the city turned into a rebranding effort. In June 2012, the city released its new logo, a new tagline – “Small Town, Big Beach” – and its new brand.
Attention then shifted to the city’s online home, www.gulfshoresal.gov.
“Our existing site at the time was antiquated,” Phelps said. “It was out-of-date. It didn’t do us any favors. Our website didn’t reinforce our brand and make anyone want to come here, and it was stale and stagnant with little functionality. We needed to do something about it.”
So Phelps began researching other municipal and government websites, not just for their designs, but also for the types of services and functionality they provided. Because, as Phelps said, “at the end of the day, anything that we did with the website needed to function and serve our residents and enhance what we do. If the website is not offering services and not acting as an extension of the work that we do as a government, then it’s not of any value.”
Phelps eventually landed on the website of the city of Destin, Fla. (www.cityofdestin.com), which had just launched its new site in partnership with CivicPlus, the nation’s leading provider of government websites and digital community engagement software.
The two cities, from an economic standpoint, are in a healthy competition for the region’s tourism dollars. But when Phelps saw Destin’s website, he was intrigued enough to call community officials in Destin to find out more. After an hour-and-a-half-long phone call to discuss the site’s functionality and modules, Phelps was convinced.
“I got off the phone and said, ‘I found the company I want to go with,’” Phelps said.
After several months of development in partnership with CivicPlus, Gulf Shores unveiled its new digital home to the public in early April 2013, incorporating its new branding with a site developed using CivicPlus’ Government Content Management System (GCMS™).
The site features an intuitive navigational structure with mega menus designed to present information to the user in service-based clusters rather than rely on site visitors needing to know the city’s departmental structure. Residents can sign up to receive Notify Me® email and text message alerts as changes are made to specific area of interests on the website, with information on available bids, job opportunities and current beach conditions featured as well.
Phelps said the city plans to phase in greater usage of the modules offered with the CivicPlus GCMS™. For instance, eventually, more departmental specific service forms will be added to the Citizen Request Tracker (CRT) module to allow citizens to report specific concerns. Phelps also is excited to implement CivicPlus’ new Facilities and Reservations module once it rolls out this summer.
“Being a vacation destination, we get a lot of weddings and conventions and events that need the space to hold their gatherings, and we’ve got those facilities,” Phelps said. “Our challenge here in the near future is education and letting the public know what all is available to them. Our mayor recently made the comment that people here are not used to having so many new tools and resources at their fingertips, and so we want to educate them on what is available to make sure they’re utilizing the site the best way that they can.”
Phelps added that early feedback from the public has been positive, and he attributes that to working with a provider like CivicPlus to help carry out the finishing touches of Gulf Shores’ branding overhaul following the oil spill.
“I think CivicPlus was the perfect partner for us, from the vision of the company, to what the company’s true focus is – to help municipal governments that, let’s be honest, have a perception of being stale and not being as efficient as they should,” Phelps said. “We needed a website, that when you saw it, the reaction was ‘Wow, I want to visit there. I want to go there.’ Or even, ‘I want to live there.’ But at the same time, if it doesn’t provide any services, it has no purpose.
“That’s what CivicPlus provided, a one-stop shop for all the tools that we needed to serve our citizens, both now and in the future. With CivicPlus, the site that you see today is not going to be the one you’ll see in a year. The design and the aesthetics might look the same, but with CivicPlus, new stuff will be added from a functionality and service standpoint that will continue to upgrade the quality of service we can offer online.”
Based in Manhattan, Kan., CivicPlus has designed more than 1,300 local government websites serving over 50 million citizens throughout North America. A recipient of the Center for Digital Government’s Best Fit Integrator Award for delivering extraordinary digital solutions to public IT projects, CivicPlus transforms municipal websites into powerful two-way communication platforms that let citizens talk to and participate in local government. Find out where your community falls on the digital community engagement scale developed by CivicPlus eGov experts. In 2013, CivicPlus will invest nearly $2.5 million in products, research and development. The innovative CivicPlus Government Content Management System (GCMS™) now offers more than 60 applications including Citizen Request Tracker, MuniMobile, Facebook and economic development tools. Founded in 2001, CivicPlus was selected by Inc. Magazine as “One of the Fastest-Growing Privately Held Companies in the U.S.” in 2011 and 2012. For more information visit www.civicplus.com.