On December 26, 2010, North Easterners received an unexpected — and unwanted —belated holiday gift from a rare meteorological event. A thundersnow storm pummeled the area for two days, dousing the region with heavy snow, rain, thunder, and lightning. The storm grounded more than 7,000 flights, left New York City commuters stranded on subway cars for up to nine hours, and trapped busses on unplowed streets. One area of New Jersey recorded 32 inches of snow at its deepest, creating snow accumulations about half as tall as a standard side-by-side refrigerator.
The Northeast, mid-west plains, and much of Alaska are not strangers to the threat of debilitating snowstorms. However, even in the Southeast, snow can shut down a city and leave community members scared, afraid to drive, without easy public transportation or power, and fearful that they can’t easily access emergency services or resources if needed.
The December 2010 thundersnow was undoubtedly not the first or last of its kind. The worst recorded blizzard in U.S. history was the Great Blizzard of 1888. It hit the Atlantic Coast, dropping up to 50 inches of snow in some areas. It left 400 people dead and caused $20 million in damage. Looking back on the Great Blizzard, today’s public safety experts recognize that our nation’s infrastructure at the time was woefully unprepared for such devastation—but so were our communication methods. We have many advantages today over our public safety predecessors. Not the least is our ability to rapidly capture storm data and crowdsource community issues ranging from downed power lines to unplowed roads to snow-covered stop signs and use it to triage responses and warn citizens of storm-related dangers.
Today, 311 CRM solutions are invaluable in mitigating lost lives during blizzards and winter storms, particularly those that integrate with the most common mass communication platforms such as email, text messaging systems, and social media. Just as critically, they help residents feel safe and informed during a crisis and enable civic leaders to respond to public service needs during and immediately after a devastating storm.
If your community is in a region vulnerable to winter storms, you’re likely to evaluate your cross-department winter storm response and management strategies continually. If you don’t already have an automated way to exchange two-way communications with residents during a storm, here are four reasons why a 311 CRM solution can become the foundation of your winter storm response strategy.
Create Custom Request Types for All the Ways a Winter Storm Impacts Your Community
No one knows better than public safety leaders how a winter storm can wreak havoc on a community and require urgent responses. Snow plowing and road salting are only the beginning. A devastating winter storm can freeze or burst pipes, down trees and power lines, create power outages, block sewer drains, and even cave in roofs.
A 311 CRM will provide the digital infrastructure needed to manage the ways a winter storm can devastate your community and allow you to create custom workflows to coordinate response efforts across departments. Ideally, your system should enable you to accept and triage crowdsourced issues and request people’s submissions. This approach 10-Xs your ability to document, triage, and respond to storm damage across your community.
Enable Two-Way Dialog
A severe snowstorm can lock down a community for days, leaving residents feeling scared and isolated inside their homes. With an effective 311 CRM solution that allows digital requests from government leaders — such as a request to remove snow drifts blocking intersections — residents can trust that responders have heard their request and will communicate their status. Unfortunately, manually responding to every individual request via email, phone, or social media requires staff resources and manual interventions unavailable during a crisis, especially when people may be working remotely or from a central crisis command center. A 311 CRM solution will allow you to create a set of standard messages to reassure citizens that your administration has received their request and that someone will assist them soon.
Collaborate with Contractors and Partners
During a winter storm, one of the most crucial but complex administrative tasks is coordinating with contractors who handle emergency services such as plowing, snow removal, and utility repairs. A 311 CRM system allows you to coordinate work orders with external contractors. When staff members and public service managers can collaborate with external partners from a single system, it reduces the risk of a lost request and enables service responders to provide accurate updates on individual requests to concerned residents.
Share Proactive Notices and Safety Instructions
Municipalities of every size face challenges scaling their communications during a winter storm. The challenge they face is reaching all community members of every demographic, using as many communication channels as possible, from media statements to the local news to social media alerts. A 311 CRM can provide a viable communication channel to amplify the reach of your emergency alerts and provide one omnichannel inbox to collect resident messages from any common communication channel (e.g., mobile, website, call taker interface). You can use it to proactively provide instructions and reminders about resources such as warning centers and emergency evacuation routes. Also, crucially, use it to remind residents that if they are experiencing or witnessing an emergency, to call 911.