AUSTIN, Texas — Localities should use digital platforms to communicate with their citizens in times of disaster — and stay connected to them once the threat has passed, said an official from Harris County in southeast Texas.
The county, which encompasses Houston, has started to “sell hurricanes” as a way to get citizens interested in communication from the public safety department, Public Information Officer Francisco Sanchez said. Harris County stages outreach efforts online, encouraging people to sign up for public safety alerts in the lead up to hurricane season — which in Texas runs from June to November.
By signing up, citizens will receive other public safety information the rest of the year. Sanchez said the potential for outreach is limitless.
“If we can get them prepared for a hurricane, we can get them prepared for just about everything else,” Sanchez said, speaking on a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive conference last week.
He added, “When I say we sell hurricanes, I mean we capitalize on that momentum between May and June to get people to sign up for our alerts. It’s the cool thing to do between May and June. It’s just a marketing ploy to do that.”
In addition to bolstering the way the department delivers alerts to citizens, the department has also upgraded its website to make it more responsive and is preparing to launch a mobile app. But the work is not over, Sanchez said.
“We need to be better at making our content where people want to go,” Sanchez said.
He encouraged other localities to look to the private sector for ideas on how to better engage with the public.
“I’m getting calls from big cities asking ‘how did you do that? You’re doing great stuff!’ We’re not. We’re just the healthiest looking horse in the glue factory,” Sanchez said.
He added, “Companies that are making millions off of marketing on social media — those are the kinds of strategies we need to adopt to get that content out there.”