Secure servers, 24/7 website experts provide information safety net to keep citizens informed
MANHATTAN, Kan., Aug. 23, 2011 – Communities struck by disaster of any kind now can count on the CivicPlus Cyber Recovery Team, along with the company’s suite of instant communication and emergency notification products, to help their local government officials and citizens respond to the crisis and move into recovery mode.
"Creating the Cyber Recovery Team formalizes the disaster support our website development group has provided many clients whose communities were blindsided by a hurricane, tornado, tsunami or other type of local emergency situation," said CivicPlus CEO Ward Morgan.
CivicPlus, a leading developer of open government technology, has a 10-year history of watching over large and small communities across the country whose government websites the company designs and hosts at its secure facility.
In the hours of uncertainty that preceded tsunami waves hitting the shores of Maui County, Hawaii in March of this year, county officials reached out to CivicPlus to help them keep the latest emergency preparedness information flowing on their official government website. While Maui County officials scrambled to prepare for the worst, thousands of miles away in land-locked Kansas, CivicPlus employees were available 24/7 to monitor the systems that kept island residents informed of evacuation instructions, road closings and school cancellations.
Another CivicPlus client, League City, Texas, has weathered its share of disasters with Hurricane Ike in 2008 and a rare ice storm this past February as Texas was preparing to host the Super Bowl. "We had rolling brown outs and some serious issues with ice," said Kristi Wyatt, League City‘s director of communications and media relations. "It was extremely helpful to be able to use the website to give people information about what roads were closed and keep them posted on electrical outages. Our city finds our website is an invaluable tool. It’s something we utilize first in emergency situations. It’s a way to get information out quickly and reliably."
In Alabama, CivicPlus again came to the rescue this year when tornadoes cut a 6.5-mile path through the City of Tuscaloosa causing catastrophic damage. In all, 6,000 homes and businesses within the city limits were either damaged or destroyed. As the tragedy unfolded, the CivicPlus team that developed the City of Tuscaloosa‘s website was following weather reports and called Tuscaloosa officials to see if they could lend a hand.
"CivicPlus was an absolute godsend to us," said Jeff Motz, Tuscaloosa‘s GIS manager and Incident Command Team member. "During the crisis hours when things had to go out immediately, it was important to post information not just to keep people informed, but also for legal reasons. We had to post things online for 24 hours before a bid could be awarded for debris removal and other contracted work. I knew I could count on everyone at CivicPlus to cover that for us, regardless of what time or day it was."
Not all emergencies that require planning and communication are caused by nature, however. A few weeks ago a gas line ruptured in League City, prompting a "shelter in place" warning. "We had to let people in the neighborhood know to stay inside until the gas line was fixed and the air was safe to breathe," Wyatt explained. "The News Flash feature CivicPlus designed into our website coupled with their Notify Me and Citizen Request Tracker apps for iPhone and Facebook are invaluable tools to keep people informed. Even reporters sign up for it. When I put a News Flash on the website about the gas leak, I had reporters from all over Houston calling me to get more information because they had received that notification. This type of instant communication enables the media to help us get the word out as well."
Like other CivicPlus clients, League City’s website is hosted on the company’s servers housed at a secure facility in Kansas City, Missouri. "Our hosting site is designed with state-of-the-art network redundancy," said Morgan. "It also houses servers for large telecommunications companies and government agencies. Our Manhattan office provides backup to those servers, which ensures our clients’ websites are always protected and available to their communities. We have heard horror stories of cities which hosted their own sites and lost everything."
The CivicPlus Cyber Recovery Team is as focused on helping cities plan for disaster as it is on recovery. For example, after Hurricane Ike, League City worked with CivicPlus to develop an alternate homepage that’s just for emergencies. "So when a serious situation does arise, we’re able to quickly and easily switch over to our emergency homepage that already has some very specific information on it so we don’t lose time," Wyatt said.
For city and town officials who have been through an emergency, the experience solidifies their belief in the value of disaster planning. "It’s hard to put a value on being able to communicate with people in a disaster situation," Motz said. "Having a website where people can get all the information they need is priceless. And you have to plan to meet that challenge in advance, because once disaster strikes … it’s too late."
For more information about the CivicPlus Cyber Recovery Team visit http://www.civicplus.com/recovery or call CivicPlus at 888-228-2233.
CivicPlus develops, designs and manages award-winning community engagement systems that use advanced technology to connect people with government in new, more efficient ways. Founded in 2001 in Manhattan, KS, CivicPlus serves more than 900 cities and counties throughout North America with cost-effective website solutions for communities of all sizes.