Reducing Our Risk

Organization: 
Norton County Emergency Management

Entry Overview

Norton County, Kansas is an agriculture-based community with all the Midwest comforts such as grain elevators, water towers, and storm warning sirens. Within the county, you will find the City of Norton, and the towns of Almena, Clayton, Lenora, and Edmond. Also included are Norton Dam & Reservoir, Prairie Dog State Park, and Norton Correctional Facility.

During the summer, we experience windstorms, hailstorms, thunderstorms, and the possibility of tornadoes. In the winter, we are subject to severe winter weather such as heavy snow, blizzards, or ice storms. For a community that still relies on storm spotters, we were looking for another way to reduce risk, but also communicate with our citizens during extreme weather hazards.

We developed a social media strategy based on four goals: Build, Engage, Watch, and Learn. Using measurable steps, we posted content to Facebook, Twitter, and our blog. We were able to build relationships and create buy-in, in the event that we do need to reach out and meet the needs of our citizens when extreme weather hits.

General Info
Kathleen
Conrad
Email : 
nortoncountyem@gmail.com
Organization Address: 
105 S. Kansas Avenue
Norton, Kansas 67654
United States
Problem
Population Impacted: 
5,800
Hazard: 
Wind
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Due to our geographic location with the Gulf of Mexico to the south, the Rocky Mountains to the west, and being in the core of Tornado Alley, our likelihood of having extreme summer weather events is high. We are more inclined to experience Thunderstorms Resulting in Flooding, Thunderstorm Wind (58 mph or higher), Hail (1" diameter or larger), and Tornadoes. Using NWS-Goodland data from last eight years, Norton County, KS averages 21 events each summer.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
Our small towns are interwoven with residential homes, businesses, churches and schools. Our agricultural community of farms and ranches is spread throughout the county. Both would be extremely vulnerable to high winds, hail, and tornadoes. Note: please see the second hazard analysis we submitted by email, referencing our extreme winter storms. Due to technical difficulties, it could not be attached to this entry.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Excess winds would cause damage to rooftops and crops; also structures such as barns and outbuildings. Crops also suffer the consequences of hail. In the event of a tornado, life, property, and livestock are at risk. Critical business functions would cease, and our farmers and ranchers would experience a great loss financially, as most are beef, pork and grain suppliers for the U.S.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Since half of our county’s population lies within the City of Norton (county seat), and includes our business district (roughly 60 businesses), any downbursts or straight-line winds associated with a thunderstorm would cause extensive damage. A tornado would be devastating. On the outskirts, our farmers and ranchers, some without neighbors close by, would be extremely sensitive to an emergency or severe weather event.
Action
Preparedness Goal: 
Leveraging social media strategy for community buy-in, therefore, reducing Norton County’s risk to extreme weather hazards.
Implementing Actions: 

Social media makes our world highly connected. It encourages info sharing, collaboration, and interactivity. The public is increasingly turning to social media to obtain information during major storms or natural disasters. Any severe weather event, or disaster, is heard first through social media. It has the power to move faster than traditional news outlets. When a message is let go, it has the potential to reach more people, solicit feedback, and alter outcomes.

Social media accounts created by government agencies can become a leading hub for sharing critical information. They also create buy-in, relationships are formed and transparency is created. In emergency management, relationships are key. Social sites allow an emergency manager to connect freely with people. Shared interests are the common denominator, not age, gender or income. State and Federal offices of emergency management are using social media to promote preparedness, exercises, and classes. So why are so many emergency management agencies in the U.S. not using social media tools to their advantage? If we train and exercise for disasters, why not exercise our use of social media and harness community buy-in?

In the state of Kansas, severe thunderstorms bring on high winds, rain, lightning, hail, and tornadoes. Downbursts or straight-line winds associated with thunderstorms can produce winds exceeding 110 mph. The resulting damage is equal to that of a strong tornado. Having the ability to post or tweet to an entire area, before and after the weather hits, is extremely valuable to life safety and our emergency personnel’s response. This empowers the public to participate with the chain of information. By putting the strategy into play, and leveraging social media, we have an ongoing conversation with the community, and if the need arises, we can keep them safe and prepared.

Solution
Describe Your Solution: 

Our solution is a social media strategy focusing on four goals: Building social capital, Engaging the audience, Watching the conversation, and Learning from it. After setting up social media accounts and a blog, we began posting content to engage our citizens. Using measurable steps, making it actionable, and tweaking the strategy along the way, we now have a larger audience that we communicate with on a daily basis. https://www.facebook.com/nortoncountyem

By posting weather updates, preparedness tips, and news from the emergency management office, we are able to keep our community engaged. Sharing or re-tweeting content from KDOT, Kansas Highway Patrol, or NWS-Goodland brings in more shares. If news is critical, whether it is extreme weather, a highway accident, or news on the Ebola front, the shares or re-tweets are even higher. https://twitter.com/NTCOEmergMgmt

Having the relationships in place, allows us to communicate quickly and effectively after a severe storm in the form of a 2-way conversation. Those affected by the disaster and those active in the response can share information. In the midst of the rubble, a smart phone can send vital information to the EOC in the form of texts, posts, photos, and video from the affected area. This can be relayed to first responders for situational awareness. Updates and recovery tips can be posted, and rumors and misinformation can be snuffed out.

If there are ways to pass information quickly and more efficiently for community-powered recovery, they should be utilized. Social media sites allow valuable information to be distributed in a time when chaos prevails. We are not selling a manufactured product, or a recovery system that is brought in after the fact. We are offering a sound idea for building a stronger, more resilient community in the face of extreme weather, and applicable in any jurisdiction.

Results
Economic?: 

Our solution is cost effective. The social media landscape is already in place. When we post preparedness content each day, we are reaching the public in the least expensive way. By tweeting or posting before, during, or in the aftermath of an extreme weather hazard, we can inform people quicker and on a larger scale. The sharing of information can result in life safety, the protection of property, and better preparation for stabilizing an incident.

Environmental?: 

There is a pre-existing environmental issue as social media users generally keep an open connection with the server in order to get a constant stream of updates. This requires Facebook or Twitter to use additional servers to keep up with the increased demand. Because of the additional servers and constant stream of updates, we can promote a faster, more widespread, communication system that has already proven itself as a primary means of communication during the worst disasters of recent times.

Social?: 

By using the blog and social sites to engage our citizens, we have invited them into the preparedness process, and made our agency visible. Social networks can also be used to enlist, direct, inspire, and thank volunteers. Our emergency management office will soon be rolling out a citizen corps program in Norton County. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as our blog, will provide a home base for our volunteers to interact with each other. Meeting reminders and information the volunteers need to safely and efficiently train, and also respond to incidents, will be posted there.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

One expected impact was the percentage of our community that do not subscribe to Facebook and/or Twitter, but we have worked around that. For those with a computer, they can subscribe to the emergency management blog to receive timely emergency information, preparedness tips, or seasonal articles. http://nortoncountyem.wix.com/updates For those with a cell phone or landline, they can sign up for Norton County’s Civic Ready program, to receive alerts, including Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, by text, email, or voice message. http://ks-nortoncounty.civicready.com/

The unintended impact, a positive one, turned out to be the sharing of Facebook posts that showed transparency in our office. As we stayed on top of the Ebola Crisis, posting updates on key players attending statewide health calls, or participating in the Northwest Healthcare Coalition Ebola Tabletop Exercise, the Facebook ‘shares’ rose to numbers we had not seen. Upon finding misinformation or social media rumors started in neighboring counties about an Ebola patient being admitted to the hospital, we were able to dispel that rumor before it circulated in our community and the ‘shares’ skyrocketed. We could see that the public appreciated timely, forthcoming information showing that we support our citizens, but also hold ourselves accountable.

Replication/Scale
Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

Once the initial set up was complete on our social accounts, time was, and is, the only cost. Several times a day, feeds are checked, looking for timely, seasonal content to share, tweak, or re-tweet. Once a post is uploaded, the text and photo can quickly be copied to the blog. We also use newspaper, radio, and speaking engagements, to share our social media platforms.

When a disaster hits, larger counties have an established EOC with computers, laptops, white boards, and phones. Emergency managers are dependent on those items to communicate with the State, incident command, rescue crews, and the citizens who depend on us. We are a small rural county looking to expand our communication systems, in order to have a stronger impact on our community in times of crisis.

This is an ongoing process and the results are measurable every day. New subscribers we attain through shares, re-tweets, and word of mouth are increasing. The investment we have in social media is an investment in our county’s future. Posting content each day, keeps us familiar, like a neighbor. It brings them into the fold, so if a disaster hits, the relationships are there.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

One main factor is an audience, and they already exist. Sixty-seven percent of Americans use social media, and the average internet user has two or more social accounts. Eighty percent of internet users own a smartphone and an estimated 75 million check their social networks up to 14 times a day. In 2014, Facebook had 1.35 billion monthly active users, Instagram 300 million, Twitter 232 million, and Pinterest had 2.5 billion monthly pageviews. http://www.pinterest.com/nortoncountyem/ Nextdoor, which was launched in 2010, had over 45,000 neighborhoods signed up, along with 350 agencies in 250 cities.

Emergency management personnel have the other tools necessary, such as a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smart phone. Building a social media strategy is key to the success. Once the goals and objectives are established, the next step is choosing which social media outlets will fit the audience. Basic social media knowledge is helpful, such as learning the ins and outs of the sites used. Larger organizations can share in the postings and tweetings of messages, photos, and videos by delegating the job to several employees. Smaller organizations, even a one-person office, can easily keep the social conversation going. It is just a matter of time.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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