Chilliwack taps social media for storm info

City of Chilliwack’s effective use of the Internet and social media during the storm kept the public informed about emergency response.

There were many memorable moments coming from last week’s wild weather. But one that might get overlooked is the City of Chilliwack’s effective use of the Internet and social media to keep the public informed about road conditions and emergency response.

The use of services like Twitter and Facebook are certainly not new, and other communities have employed them to keep people better informed about the world around them.

But last week’s winter storm demonstrated City Hall’s most effective use of the tool to date.

Conditions changed rapidly as the storm developed, particularly on Wednesday when strong winds brought down trees, and blowing snow reduced visibility at times to nothing.

Using Twitter, the City was able to communicate road closures (and there were many) in almost real time. That meant anyone with a smartphone, or Internet access was kept apprised of what areas to avoid.

But the City’s response wasn’t just reactive. Its use of its own website kept residents informed about garbage pickup, transit information and public service closures. The updates were posted chronologically, with input from a variety of departments as the storm unfolded. Those not monitoring the website were kept informed through regular tweets.

The messaging went from the mundane (closure of a landfill), to the more urgent (freezing rain and advice to stay off the roads).

As that information went out, it was further disseminated by traditional media outlets (like the Chilliwack Progress), or retweeted by members of the public to their individual followers.

The effect was a cascade of alerts that kept residents informed about what was happening now, and what might happen next.

Certainly Chilliwack’s emergency response planners will find lessons in last week’s winter storm. They might want to make the public better aware that this information is being made available, or they might want to create a specific Twitter hashtag for these kinds of events.

But they should be pleased with the effectiveness of their efforts, and the potential to keep residents informed during critical times.