How Can We Communicate Better?

Boiling Water PicAre you among the thousands of Ossining residents impacted by the water main break that took place earlier this month?  How did you learn about the boil water advisory?

At tonight’s Village Board work session, one of the topics on the agenda will be, “Communication with Residents”.  In the wake of the water main break, I asked to have this added to the agenda.  Please join us for our meeting tonight, Wednesday, August 13 at 7:30pm at 16 Croton Avenue.  We have a very robust agenda of topics to discuss.  The meeting can also be viewed live streaming on the village website where you can also access videos of past meetings, and meetings are now uploaded to our own YouTube channel for easier viewing on the go.

This incident highlighted gaps in our ability to communicate health and safety issues quickly and effectively with the public.  Fortunately, in this instance the water department was able to identify and address the break quickly.  It is also reassuring that the village, town and county communicated well with each other throughout the three day ordeal.

So, what can we learn from this experience?  The boil water advisory was issued by the County Health Department during the night.  The notice was posted to the village website and sent to our email WebBlast list.  The County distributed the notice to the press.   I posted the advisory on several Ossining Facebook pages before dawn.  A Nixle text went out just after 7am.  I heard from community members who called friends and knocked on the doors of neighbors who were unlikely to read an email or social media post.  Still, there are people who didn’t know about the boil water advisory until after they had consumed water.  Thankfully, to my knowledge, there were no adverse health impacts on community members.

How can we do better next time?  How did you learn of the boil water advisory?  Did you know that most Ossining downtown and waterfront restaurants and businesses were not affected by the water main break?  Unfortunately, according to some local restaurant owners I spoke with, much of the public believed that all Ossining restaurants were under the boil water advisory.  While our first priority must be to notify the public of a health and safety concern, could we also have communicated more clearly the business districts that were unaffected by the break?

Would a robo-call have helped?  If you are a parent in the Ossining School District, do you cringe at the idea of receiving more calls with recorded messages?  Do you find those calls helpful?  The school district did make a call to provide notice of the boil water advisory later in the day.  Of course, their call list is comprised mostly of school district families, and would not reach the wider Ossining community.  Should the village look into the cost to implement an automated calling system like this?  If we do, should it be used only during health and safety emergencies or would you also like to be notified of upcoming meetings and events?  Would you sign up for phone call notifications from the Village of Ossining?

What other ideas do you have for how the village can swiftly and effectively communicate health and safety information to the public?

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