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Southold group eyes social media crisis plan

Pete Downing of Babylon works from home and

Pete Downing of Babylon works from home and didn't have to travel in the snow, but is clearing his neighbor's driveways so the snow won't build up during the snowstorm on Jan. 26, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

When Cutchogue resident Joanna Lane heard about the floods surging through Australia last month, she plugged into Facebook and Twitter for up-to-the-minute news about the area and to connect with her family there.

When the December blizzard hit Long Island around the same time, Lane said she found it much harder to gather news about her own East End neighborhood.

The glaring difference in gathering and disseminating information, Lane said, pushed her to do more research into social media emergency management, or SMEM, and she plans to eventually make her case to the Town of Southold.

“I saw how it really helped people and I’m sure it saved lives,” she said. “Obviously, that was on a huge scale compared to our little town of Southold, but if we did even 1 percent of that, it really wouldn’t be that hard.”

Lane, who is on the board of directors of Southold Voice, a group of waterfront property owners who have taken up the cause, said the group would like to see the town create a Facebook page and Twitter accounts where emergency notices, like road closings, storm warnings, and the town’s emergency management plans, would be posted in real time. She said these pages could also be avenues for residents to share information and ask questions.

Lane put together a presentation on SMEM that was posted on the Southold Voice website on Tuesday, and the group is gauging public support before it approaches town officials.

Ultimately, Lane said, the group would like to see the town create social media pages and also include an official SMEM strategy in the disaster management section of its Comprehensive Plan, for which public hearings are just beginning.

“This is the perfect use for social media,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than the name implies.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town is planning a revamp of its website this year, which should make it more functional and also add a social media component, including a town Facebook page.

The website will also be used to help register residents with special needs, including the elderly, so they can be located quickly in the event of an emergency.

He said the town is also installing a high band radio system this year, which will enable communication between the town and its emergency responders when other forms of communication are down.

Russell said he sees Facebook as a way to communicate with residents on a day-to-day basis, but it will not be his emergency management team’s priority.

“Emergency management at its core is about saving life and limb,” he said, adding that during the December blizzard, the team’s first response was to check homes in the coastal erosion zone for occupancy and see those people to safety.

He said the town’s emergency response procedure is a “complex plan” that begins with Russell communicating with the state, county and his town’s first responders, like police and the volunteer fire departments. He said he wasn’t sure how calling a press conference, as Lane has mentioned as one idea for improvement, would fit into that plan, but he welcomes a meeting between Southold Voice and the emergency management team.

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