Post–Hurricane Sandy, Governments Firm Up Mobile Communications Plans

Governments are launching mobile apps to communicate with citizens during disasters.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, local governments took a moment to rethink how to best deliver important information to their citizens.

Many websites crashed during the storm, forcing governments, police departments, colleges and other organizations to use other platforms to communicate. Notable websites, such as BuzzFeed and Gawker, turned to Tumblr to post updates, while Fordham University leveraged Facebook to reach out to concerned parents. Local governments, under pressure to deliver potentially lifesaving information, have been upgrading their communications plans over the past year to ensure that there are no interruptions during the next storm.

With many displaced and disconnected citizens relying on mobile devices for information, Monmouth County, N.J.’s Sheriff’s Department decided it was time to build a mobile app. According to Government Technology, the office was responsible for evacuating 75,000 residents during the storm:

“A lot of people were using their phones and staying in touch with their phones,” [Sheriff Shaun Golden] said. That was when the department decided it needed to design an app for its residents.

Golden's office communicated with residents via Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms in the aftermath, with great results. It’s a lesson the sheriff applied to the development of the new application.

“The app allowed us to bring our social media … all in one place so they are readily available,” he said. “This will be a one-stop shop for us.”

Emergency mobile apps have grown in popularity since Hurricane Sandy. The Red Cross offers a number of free apps for citizens affected by earthquakes, tornadoes, wild fires and other disasters. FEMA’s mobile app has a new feature that allows users to take and upload photos, along with GPS coordinates, to a public map during disasters. In September 2013, Twitter launched a feature called Twitter Alerts that leverages its own mobile app to highlight important messages. There are already 16 states participating, many with multiple agencies. (State and local governments can learn more about enrollment here.)

How is your state, county or city government preparing to communicate with citizens? Let us know in the Comments.

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Nov 26 2013