I led a discussion at the August 13 work session of how we can better communicate with Ossining residents. I requested this topic be added to our work session agenda following the water-main break and subsequent boil-water-advisory that was issued. Thankfully, the public’s health and safety was never in jeopardy during that incident, which makes this an ideal opportunity to address the gaps this event highlighted in our village government’s ability to communicate swiftly and effectively with residents.
You can view the meeting at the Village of Ossining website or on our new Village of Ossining YouTube channel, which now has all recent Village Board meetings ready for viewing. The discussion about communication begins at 1hr 48 min. It was a long meeting with several interesting topics discussed.
Finding smart solutions through collaboration is critical to the village’s ability to reduce expenses while remaining effective in service to the public. Prior to the meeting, I asked community members for their ideas of how village government could do a better job sharing information with residents. You responded via this website, social media and emails with many terrific ideas which I expressed to my colleagues. This discussion also led me to come up with an idea for a new IMA (Inter-Municipal Agreement) that the village may be able to establish with the school district.
Listed below are my recommendations of actions steps for improving future communication from village government to residents.
Robo-calls Having the ability to place a call to any resident with a phone was the number one suggestion. Preliminary research by the village manager’s office and the OPD indicated that a service of this kind could cost upwards of $6,000. As a parent in the school district, I receive robo-calls from my child’s principal that are specific to his school, as well as calls from Ray Sanchez to all parents. The question our village manager is going to ask the school superintendent is, “Can we establish an IMA that would permit Ossining residents to sign up to be on a call list for information directly from village government.”
List of Community Connections Creating an exhaustive list to have on-hand of organizations that can disseminate information to their members, website visitors, and email recipients, will increase our chance of reaching people through multiple points of contact. The only cost for this effort is the time required to establish and maintain an up-to-date list of organizational leaders. There were connections made with some organizations on the following list during the boil-water advisory, but there can be much greater outreach on this front. This list includes, but is not be limited to, the library, the school district, the Town of Ossining, neighboring villages, daycare centers, recreation department, day camps, senior programs, Boy and Girl Scout troops, service organizations and clubs (Lions, Rotary, Moose, Elks, Columbus Lodge, Corinthian Lodge…), local business owners, Chamber of Commerce, Ossining Arts Council, BOMA (Briarcliff Ossining Ministerial Association) and individual churches. What would you add to this list?
Alert the Media You saw the result of this effort on News 12, newspapers and online media. A press release was distributed before dawn on August 1, and the story was picked up by many local news outlets. That said, we are somewhat at the mercy of news editors as to how and when information is presented, and how quickly it is updated.
Welcome to Ossining Signs As drivers enter and exit the Village of Ossining, they read information typically about upcoming events on these community boards maintained by our recreation department. These can also be updated with notifications of urgent health and safety alerts.
Collaborate with other Government Agencies The village worked hand-in-hand with the County Health Department in preparing the press release about the boil-water advisory. The Town of Ossining was also in regular contact with the County Health Department and the village manager’s office, and shared updates on their website and via email and social media. Unfortunately, one commitment the county did not fulfill was the important step of making reverse 911 calls to alert affected residents. Because the County Health Department was the agency that actually put the boil-water advisory in place, this would have been an effective way to communicate information in this instance. While we must continue to make every effort to collaborate with all government entities, this experience reminds us of the importance of having multiple points of contact to ensure that all residents are well-informed.
Adopt a Senior & Tell a Neighbor There are programs in other communities where senior citizens partner with neighbors who will check on them. While any time there is a storm, we encourage residents to check on their neighbors, here’s a link to a nonprofit group in Minneapolis that has an organized Adopt a Senior program we may want to implement here. I spoke with thoughtful Ossining residents who took it upon themselves to reach out to neighbors, particularly those least likely to receive emails, texts or social media updates, to let them know about the boil-water advisory. Using a simple tagline like “Tell a neighbor” or “Please share” in written communications can be a helpful reminder as well.
Careful Messaging In this case, there was initial confusion among some residents living in the unincorporated part of the Town of Ossining who believed that this was only a Village of Ossining concern. Beyond the critical step of getting information to everyone who is directly impacted, we also want to be clear about who is not. One way to support our local businesses is to make sure our messaging doesn’t inadvertently discourage the public from patronizing them due to a lack of clear information. A little Monday morning quarterbacking may help us to be more thoughtful in this regard next time. Perhaps we could have included a quote to the press from a local restaurant owner who says, “We are thankful to be in one of the neighborhoods that is not at all affected by the water-main break. We are open for business as usual. Please come on down.”
Sign-up One of the best things each of us can do as a community member is sign-up for notifications in any form we have access to. If you can receive a text on your cell-phone or tablet, please sign up for free Nixle alerts by texting 10562 to 888777. To learn more about receiving emergency information visit NIXLE.com and click the “sign up free!” button. Also, click through to this page to sign-up for a variety of email subscriptions from the Village of Ossining, including the weekly WebBlast, information on affordable housing, and board meetings.
Thankfully, Ossining residents were never in any danger following the water-main break. The Village of Ossining water and public works department did an outstanding job of locating and repairing the break quickly. Testing by the County Health Department confirmed the boil-water advisory was made in an abundance of caution, and residents’ water quality was never compromised. The village manager’s office and OPD made a significant effort to notify community members via press release, email, social media, and Nixle, and most residents knew about the boil-water advisory. This list of recommended action steps will help us to do an even better job in the future.
Many thanks to all for contributing to this process. I encourage everyone reading this post to take two simple steps—if you do not already receive WebBlast emails and Nixle texts please sign-up right now through the above links!