The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

OMG!!City hall is on Facebook and Twitter

IPhone users can get texts from police and emergency services


City Hall is jumping onto the social media bandwagon in a big way.

In a report to the Valdez City Council a week ago Monday, the city's assistant city clerk, Holly Wolgamot said that social media was proving to be an effective public communications method during civil emergencies and, almost as important, quashing bad information that is often posted – and reposted hundreds or even thousands of times.

"Not only can we quickly provide information, but we are also able to correct rumors and false information," Wolgamott said.

In an interview last week, Wolgamott used an example of bad information that could have had negative consequences during the Damalanche.

Someone in Valdez "heard" that the local grocery store was running out of basic groceries. That person posted the bad information on social media which could have spread very quickly, causing a run on the town's main outlet for fresh food. The clerk's office contacted local media outlets such as the Valdez Star which posted the correct information on Facebook. The result? People in Valdez got to have fresh milk on their morning bowl cereal all through the emergency because while many stocked up on essentials, few households hoarded food and few scarcities occurred.

The City of Valdez has actually been on social media since 2012, but has ramped up its presence since January.

"Though there have been some growing pains, we have made great strides in using social media platforms to the advantage of the City of Valdez," the report said.

Publicizing social functions and community events are also an important part of the city's ramped up efforts at using social media and Wolgamott said the clerk's office is training personnel from other city departments to use Facebook and Twitter on the city's behalf.

Valdez police and emergency responders are also jumping on the bandwagon.

"The Valdez Police Department recently subscribed to the communication platform NIXLE," the report said. "NIXLE is being used nationally by law enforcement and public safety agencies to provide secure information to citizens. Through NIXLE, users may sign up for alerts for any participating community and may specify which type of alerts they would like to receive."

Staff at the Valdez Star signed up for NIXLE Monday.

While signing up for the service was easy, the full array of services is not available to all cell phone platforms. An IPhone with AT&T service was fully enabled to receive text messages through the service.

Phones using the Android operating system through Copper Valley Telecom are not currently supported on NIXLE.

NIXLE does allow users to choose to receive emails or texts to supported cell phone systems, and the types of alerts they'd like to receive. You can get all messages or just certain levels of emergency information. Low level alerts might include information on firefighting classes or reminders to drive safely. Midlevel alerts are geared towards temporary emergency situations such as road closures due to accidents. High level emergencies would include real-time updates on situations such as last winter's damalanche, actual tsunami situations and floods.

Last week, Valdez police issued this low-level alert: VPD to enforce garbage laws to mitigate bear issues. Keep trash in covered cans & put out for pick up the morning of pick up day only.

According to its website "Nixle's mission is to enable government agencies, small to medium size businesses and enterprise-level organizations to communicate in a secure way and exchange multimedia content over a trusted mobile platform. Our product line supports secure enterprise grade communications for both public and private messaging."

Wolgamott said in addition to subscribing to NIXLE for messages in Valdez, but also for Anchorage and her hometown.

So what about people who do not use Facebook due to privacy concerns or those who don't know a Tweet from a Selfie, or that you can Tweet a selfie on Facebook?

Valdez Star photo

NIXLE, the online communication platform now used by Valdez police to notify subscribers of important public information, works well for texting for users with IPhones and AT&T service.

Wolgamott said the city will continue to use traditional methods of communications such as posting public notices at city hall, posting information on its website and newspaper advertising.

"We do realize there are people who will never-ever do Facebook and Twitter," Wolgomott said.

But if you do, just type in City of Valdez on Facebook.

"The Twitter page is City of Valdez AK," she said.

That includes holidays and weekends, LOL.


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