While it may be cold today, I’m sure you recall when Naperville and the entire Chicagoland region was pummeled with more than six inches of rain in about a 16-hour period this past April. As a result of the conditions, many streets and houses flooded. With a rising DuPage River and the opening of the county’s Fawell Dam upstream, city staff made the careful decision to temporarily close downtown bridges to ensure public safety.
The situation was a volatile one with variables changing at a moment’s notice. City staff worked feverishly to communicate the changes that were occurring and how the city was responding to the situation. The city created an interactive flood map early in the rain event and updates were given continually on the city’s webpage and through social media. Every few hours when larger, more significant changes occurred, the city distributed press releases and eNewsletters informing the public, local media and our intergovernmental partners as to how the city was responding to the situation and what the public could expect if they had to venture outdoors.
Even after the rain subsided, the city continued to provide a wealth of follow-up information on the cleanup effort including how refuse was being handled and important contact information for those who suffered flood damage in their homes.
Throughout the weather event, we pushed out a lot of information. But like any communication we put out there, we often wonder if it is getting to the intended audience. And I tend to think about it more when I know public safety is a factor — especially when we wanted to ensure people were not heading into areas where high waters were reported and where roads were becoming impassable.
While we may likely never reach everyone in our city, we’re certainly making an effort to continually improve the way we communicate with the public. Just last month, the city introduced Naper Notify, a new notification system designed to bring emergency and quality-of-life information from the city directly to the public.
Naper Notify is being used in two capacities. In the event of an emergency — like when the city was closing downtown bridges for public safety in the April flood — the city is now able to send out a short alert to notify the public of the situation and how the city is responding. Alerts can be sent to a variety of contact paths as established by the user. So if you love email but hate texting, you can set it up so the system contacts you via email and perhaps through a phone call to your cell phone. Since there are multiple ways to be contacted, you can choose what works best for your lifestyle.
In addition to notifying the public of emergency situations, the system is also being used to alert people to “quality-of-life” information such as road and utility work in their neighborhood or when brush and leaf collection is occurring in the city. There are a total of seven community notification categories which users can choose to select if they are interested in receiving alerts on these topics.
Thinking back to last April, I believe the city handled the situation in a professional manner just as we would with any situation of that magnitude. However, I’m excited that technology is being used to enhance the way we do business. We’ll still continue to use the methods of communication we use currently, but now we have one more tool in the toolbox that gives us an opportunity to better serve the city of Naperville. Make sure you sign up for Naper Notify today so when the next emergency rolls around. I can rest assured you will get the message.
For more information and to sign up for Naper Notify, visit www.napernotify.com.
Bill Novack is the TED (Transportation, Engineering & Development) director for the city of Naperville.