August 21, 2014

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North Ridgeville officials seek way to quickly spread information

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — In the age of Facebook, Twitter and texting, city officials think there has to be a better way of getting information out to residents to keep them apprised in emergency situations such as last week’s brutal cold spell.

“People look to us for answers, and we need to do a better job of communicating to them,” City Council President Kevin Corcoran said. “Even if we’re not responsible for the problem, the city needs to become more of a leader in getting information out there.”

Council’s Safety Committee will discuss prospects for implementing a faster means of getting information to the community when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday before the Council meeting.

“I’d like to see a means of providing more real-time updates to keep everyone informed of what’s going on,” said Ron Arndt, R-3rd Ward, and chairman of the Safety Committee. “Most people can accept situations better if they know what’s going on. If they know they may have to wait another six hours to get their power or gas back on, they understand.”

Calls for a speedier means of getting information to residents came in the wake of the record-breaking cold that wreaked havoc on communities last week.

Parts of North Ridgeville were without gas service and experienced low water pressure along with the sub-zero temperatures.

“If the guy across the street has his gas on and I don’t, I’m a pretty unhappy camper,” Arndt said. “I don’t blame anyone for feeling that way.”

The chief means of spreading information to residents is via the website, or over public service Channel 12 provided by Time Warner Cable. However, neither are able to provide speedy updates on changing situations, officials contend.

Some of the newer emergency communication systems send out text messages and/or emails while others get the word out via automated phone calls to landline or cell phones, said Fire Chief John Reese, who plans to attend the meeting,

“There’s several different means of doing this,’’ Reese said. “We have to figure out what is the best way for us to get the job done.”

One of the best features of newer emergency notification systems is that they can target messages to specific areas of a community experiencing a power outage or other emergency instead of being blanketed to the entire city, Reese said.

Reese added he’d like to see such a system used to get information out about city functions and making daily checks on older residents’ welfare.

“I’d like to see it used for more than emergencies,” he said.

“People are looking for a single source of information and that’s a role the city should play,” Corcoran said. “Our goal is to reach as many people as possible.”

An example was the incorrect rumor of water service being shut down by the city, Corcoran said.

“A lot of information was being passed on by Facebook, and we shouldn’t have to find out from Facebook,” Corcoran said.

And while that information is often accurate, there are times when it’s partially correct or in worst-case scenarios, totally incorrect thanks to being based on unfounded rumors not filtered through reliable or authoritative sources.

“We received several communications from residents that led people to believe the city was not doing their job,” Arndt said. “That wasn’t the case. Everyone was doing everything they could. Things got handled as rapidly as they could.”

Some 450 residents of the city’s Del Webb Pioneer Ridge community were without gas service and heat Jan. 6 and most of Jan. 7, according to Pioneer Ridge spokeswoman Laurie Kortowich.

The retirement development can dispatch communications via an informal “phone tree” and emails, although Kortowich noted a power outage would prevent emails from going out.

“It’s not an official means of communication.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.