In October 2021, the Town of Abington, MA, was hit with an unseasonably timed Nor’easter, which knocked out power for the town’s residents for four days. During this time, various departments communicated with residents – sharing information and addressing safety concerns. The fire department, police department, and selectman were all sharing different, albeit equally important, information across their channels. To get a full understanding of the town’s response to the storm and get all the necessary information, residents would have needed to be following all three accounts. Staff in the town quickly realized that this disjointed response was causing distress among residents, as residents feared missing out on critical information.
The Zencity Solution
The Town of Abington turned to Zencity Organic to determine where people were getting their information – was it mainly from official or unofficial channels, and which channels were proving most popular?
Nor’easters are relatively common, so the Town knew they needed to act fast to establish an emergency response plan and be better prepared next time. Once the storm had passed, they analyzed what was done well and what could be improved upon. Zencity’s aggregated sentiment analysis capabilities allowed the Town to see residents’ concerns in one dashboard, which helped them draw actionable insights. Three clear areas for improvement emerged from the data:
- Residents were getting their information from several of the Town’s social media accounts, creating a need to establish a single, unified emergency communications plan across the Town’s departments;
- Identify areas where driving safety is a concern due to knocked-out traffic lights and send a police officer to direct traffic;
- Provide alternative solutions and reassurance during power outages.
The data provided by Zencity Organic provided a solid foundation for the plan to establish an emergency communications plan and platform and justify the resources needed for the next storm.
The Town learned that it needs to provide concrete solutions to immediate issues emerging during a storm. Learning that traffic lights malfunctions due to power outages were a key concern, specifically in three of the Town’s major roads, the Town Manager and Police Chief now send an officer to staff these busy intersections: “We wouldn’t have known this if it wasn’t for the Zencity sentiment analysis tool, which told us this is a primary concern and allowed to take steps on issues the Town can actually affect.”
More importantly, upon identifying these areas for improvement, the Town moved forward in contracting a digital alert system, CodeRed. The platform established a unified voice during emergency scenarios by disseminating information via telephone calls, text messages, emails, and posts to social media.
Ensuring that the information is consistent, yet disseminated via multiple channels, was a key takeaway and a major improvement. No matter how residents got their information – social media, landlines, or text messages – the Town ensured residents felt informed and, therefore, safer during an emergency.
It did not take long for the impact of these decisions to become apparent. In January 2022, discourse about the Nor’easter storm emerged again. This time, when consulting the Zencity Organic dashboard, the Town saw that its communications were more favorably received: positive sentiment increased by 5x, whereas negative sentiment, which in October reflected criticism about disjointed messaging and road safety concerns, disappeared entirely.
“I had the data to say this is what the residents are worried and angry about. It’s difficult to argue with that data, and leaders respond well because it gives them the backup to say – we hear you, and we are responding. It made a big difference, reacting to what residents needed in a time of crisis.”
Principal, Abington, MA | In-House Alternatives