The 16 Messages You May Want To Send As The COVID-19 Crisis Develops
Although we call them “emergency alerts” the reality is that many communities use their alert services to provide useful information to the public. We encourage that, because the more useful information you send citizens, the more they will value the service and the more likely they are to either sign-up or keep their contact information up to date.
As more and more states open up or loosen restrictions, there’s a lot of potential for confusion, and misinformation and a lot of opportunity to inform, clarify, remind and reinforce important information and updates to your residents.
Here are 16 different types of messages you may want to send, although each one is a category with lots of potential actual messages you might use. Don’t forget that with Hyper-Reach template capability, you can pre-format some of these alerts to make it easy to create clear, concise messages when you need them:
- Service interruptions and resumption: Garbage, licenses, deeds, taxes, etc. are all being affected by the pandemic and will continue to be affected. In addition to reopening offices, it’s also possible that an outbreak in one of your departments could also interrupt services.
- Closings and reopenings: recreation areas, public buildings, etc. Parks, senior centers, office buildings and more may open and close as conditions change. The same goes for private buildings used by the public, such as churches, YMCA and Boys/Girls Club, etc.
- Tax and billing extensions and reminders. Many communities have followed the lead of the Federal Government in postponing tax filings and payments. And with the economy so damaged, there’s also an urgent need to collect as much as and as fast as possible when taxes are due. Reminding folks is always a good idea.
- Planning updates, status updates and expectation setting. Agencies and officials in your community may want to explain what impacts they see coming from the pandemic and to update that information from time to time. One letter we saw from a mayor wanted to make it clear to citizens that most of the rules in their area were controlled by the state and Federal Government, so would not take up time expecting the city government to change those.
- Meeting announcements. A lot of communities are having extra meetings for planning purposes and many of these are open to the public. Announcing the schedule and location are useful for this effort.
- Soliciting input. Beyond just telling folks what’s going on, many communities are trying to solicit ideas and get buy-in from their residents.
- Recommendations for being prepared. You may already have a list of emergency preparations for citizens to use in case of power outages, floods, fires, etc. Have you suggested ways they can prepare for COVID-19? What should they know if someone gets sick, for example, or if others in their area get sick? Putting together a list can be helpful and sending an alert can point them to that resource.
- Scam warnings. Any disaster creates opportunities for scammers who are trying to defraud people of their money, identities, etc. Already, there have been news alerts about fraudsters trying to intercept the $1200 stimulus checks. More potential frauds are also expected. Alerting your citizens and giving them resources to sort out the good from the bad can be helpful.
- Recruiting volunteers for community help. As the pandemic spreads and the economy continues to suffer, volunteer help can be incredibly helpful. People are going to be needed to help at food banks, provide transportation, make PPE and much more. Alerts can help you remind and encourage people to pitch in.
- Announcing testing locations. Knowing where and when testing is available will continue to be of high interest for many months. Most estimates are that less than 6% of the US population has been infected, and some areas have been barely touched. As the disease spreads, people are going to want to know how they can get tested.
- Telling people where they can get help – medical, economic, etc. As conditions change, many of your citizens may need help, whether that’s medical help or trying to get a job or filing for assistance. Telling your residents where they can find that help – especially if locations, hours etc. are changing – will be appreciated.
- Reminders and clarifications about what restrictions have been lifted, where they haven’t, and where they’ve been re-imposed. There is so much opportunity for forgetting, confusion and misinformation around this area. If neighboring jurisdictions are opening up, for example, and your city, county or state is not. Or if restrictions are reimposed after being lifted. Sending alerts on these topics can help keep your citizens current.
- Announcing/clarifying/reminding about any protective requirements (e.g. masks.) Some communities are requiring cloth face masks while others aren’t. That may change over time, with additional, fewer or even more specific requirements. While most communities are likely to rely on voluntary compliance, alert messages can help folks keep track to the rules and remind them to comply.
- Encouraging people to download software or otherwise enable contact tracing. Most experts say that contact tracing is going to be a key part of keeping the disease in check. You may want to encourage citizens to download or enable contact tracing software, once it becomes available. And because many citizens will be concerned about their privacy, you may want to help allay their concerns (once you’re convinced yourself, of course, that the software is safe.) Software won’t be the only tool used for contact tracing and you may want to encourage residents to cooperate when they get an inquiry from a contact tracer, or tell them how they can distinguish authorized tracers from potential fraudsters.
- Providing updated voting information: polling places, mail-in ballots, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly be with us during the next election season. Giving people the resources they need to vote – how and when to get a mail-in ballot for example, or how to vote safely in person, will be very important this fall.
- Encouraging people to get out – helping them feel safe. Last and certainly not least, once we’re through this disaster, it will be important to make your residents feel safe again and help them get back to something like normal life. That’s likely to be in phases and to require repeated messages in every channel you can think of. Using alert messages to point people to the resources they need to regain their lives can be one part of an overall strategy for helping your community get back on its feet.