Navigating hurricane season and COVID-19 through communication
As many are painfully aware, hurricane season is in full swing. This also comes as the nation is trying to manage a pandemic – something that has become extra challenging as many regions have experienced surges in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, state and local governments are under more pressure than ever to communicate clearly and frequently with the public about what is going on and how to protect themselves.
Managing these simultaneous crises is a daunting task, but state and local agencies can navigate the two and manage vulnerable populations in their communities through technology, collaboration, effective communication and preparing their most vulnerable citizens. Here’s how:
Be a reliable, continued source of information
Especially in the age of social media, misinformation spreads rampantly, consequently skewing the public perception and leaving many ill-prepared to face the challenges at hand. Therefore, it is important for city, state and local officials to proactively and articulately state the facts about the coronavirus with the public as well as how citizens should prepare for storm threats.
First, public safety officials need to give consistent and continued updates on both the virus and any inclement weather. Local governments should plan to keep the public informed about the number of cases within their communities on an ongoing basis given the rapidly evolving nature of the virus. They should also be clear in communicating current risk levels, especially as many debate going to storm shelters ahead of a potentially dangerous hurricane. Likewise, public safety also must make sure the public is aware of protocols and the resources available to them ahead of an oncoming storm. For example, officials should share prevalent information such as where storm shelters are located, the COVID-19 safety guidelines shelters have put in place, what areas of the community will be hit the worst, any evacuation instructions and, of course, updates on the storm’s trajectory.
As with any emergency, fear can often get the best of us, so it’s not only important to send residents this information proactively, but also direct them to reliable sources of information. To do this, community officials can employ mass notification tools to direct residents to reliable health authorities and ensure they have the most accurate and up-to-date information about coronavirus and the storms. For example, the CDC website features general tips for staying healthy and decreasing the risk of catching colds, the flu and other viruses, which pose more prominent threats to people’s health. Additionally, officials can direct users to local departments of health to learn about measures their communities are taking to fight the spread of disease from familiar, trusted voices. Likewise, FEMA has multiple resources available on its website – including how to build a storm safety kit – that citizens can easily access to ensure they’re prepared when a hurricane hits.
Understand who is vulnerable in your community
When it comes to COVID-19, the public is well aware that some populations are more at risk to be more severely affected by the disease than others. Many of these populations – especially the elderly and those on oxygen or respirators –tend to be vulnerable when storms hit.
To be able to best help these at-risk populations, public safety needs to take steps to proactively identify and prepare residents, especially ahead of hurricanes. When 9-1-1 and the appropriate personnel have access to additional information from the public, they can take steps to proactively reach out, communicate and prepare the most vulnerable members of the community for whatever emergencies lie ahead. For example, it’s fairly common that many coastal towns have to evacuate during dangerous storms, but some residents are not always able to leave on a moment’s notice. When emergency management and public safety officials have a view into their vulnerable populations, they can take proactive steps to better ensure their safety and reduce the loss of life in severe weather. With coronavirus also being a factor, public safety can also help these at-risk community members determine the best course of action to keep them safe and healthy – for example, if they should ride out the storm at home or in a shelter, and if it’s the latter, what supplies and precautions do they have to take to ensure they are not exposing themselves to the virus.
The value of having this and other information led Louisiana to deploy Rave Mobile Safety solutions, not only as a mass notification system, but as a way of understanding who in their community is at risk. The state deployed the tool as a means to gain insight who in the state may have had the virus, who was quarantining and who may be especially at risk. With the state now facing hurricane season, officials can also use this insight to help vulnerable residents in the face of storms, as well as help communicate the risk of community transmission with the public.
Segment your audience
While consistent updates are certainly important, officials need to realize that not all citizens need to receive the same message simultaneously. For example, if a hurricane is expected to flood one part of the state, but not another community miles away, public safety officials should only share storm shelter information with those at the highest risk of needing to leave their homes. This is where being able to geo-target and segment residents can help deliver your message more effectively.
Segmentation allows agencies to split their recipients into groups of individuals depending on their role, location or other attributes such as age or risk category. By segmenting a population into groups, organizations can reduce the number of messages sent and reduce alert fatigue, while also ensuring that the message is relevant to those receiving it. If messages are relevant to residents, it increases the likelihood that the message will be read, and the information will be acted upon.
As hurricane season picks up and we continue to battle COVID-19 cases across the country, being able to identify target populations becomes even more critical. For example, being able to identify and message at-risk communities (elderly, respiratory illness, history of diabetes, etc.) can play a substantial role. Using these attributes allows officials to speak directly to these at-risk communities, which can help stop the spread of coronavirus and potentially save lives during a storm.
Navigating hurricane season during a pandemic is certainly not something many foresaw coming. However, through continued communication, public safety officials and local governments can take steps to ease the impact of both COVID-19 and hurricane season on their communities, while also building a foundation of trust and reliability.
Todd Miller is the COO of Rave Mobile Safety.