In Boston we took the availability and quality of our tap water for granted until May 1, 2010, when a major water pipe break interrupted water service to all Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) customer communities in much of Greater Boston. Information spread quickly, and was updated frequently, about the problem and what to do, all the more notable because the water main break occurred on a Saturday. In this age of consumer paranoia about withheld information, the MWRA was in front of cameras and online, communicating what they knew and what they were doing. Tufts University and the Boston Public Health Commission used communication channels ranging from Twitter to megaphones to get the word out. They shared with me their behind-the-scenes emergency planning processes, their response to this incident, and the lessons learned from this short-lived crisis.
The Evolution of the Tufts Emergency Alert System
Because I learned about the broken water main in a text message from Tufts University, I spoke to Geoff Bartlett, Technical Services Manager in the Department of Public and Environmental Safety (DPES) at Tufts about their process for communicating about the broken water main. First he told me how Tufts Emergency Alert System started and evolved.
Following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, DPES, University Relations, and University Information Technology invested in emergency notification system technology and developed policies for when and how it would be used. The Tufts Emergency Alert System was initially intended for life threatening emergencies. In requesting student and employee contact information, Tufts made this clear since they thought people would be reluctant to participate if they anticipated inconsequential messages.Continue reading…