Alert and Aware Via Social Media

It is commendable when local officials embrace those formats to reach the community

These days we’ve come to expect a 24-hour news cycle. When there’s an accident on Route 27, when a major snowstorm is headed our way or a northeaster is bearing down on us, when we hear sirens or a fire whistle, we (journalists included) tend to want up-to-the-minute details. Should we reschedule that trip to Riverhead? Stay off the roads? Get our boat out of the water? 

For many of us, the first wave of information comes from social media or other online sources, so it is commendable when local officials embrace those formats to reach the community.

We’ve been lucky this winter to have had only a few major weather events, but during virtually every one, East Hampton Town’s highway superintendent, Stephen Lynch, has served as our eyes on the road, letting people know via frequent Facebook posts where the hazards were, what shape the roads were in, and how the Highway Department was tackling its task. 

During our last major snowstorm, on Feb. 8, not only were he and his crew on the roads before dawn, he was also checking in on Facebook from before sunup until well after sundown. He pointed out at 6:42 a.m. that Town Hall would be closed, noted at 7:57 a.m. that bay waters had breached Gerard Drive in Springs at the second causeway, and later that Napeague Meadow Road was also flooded. He posted information on low visibility and falling temperatures as the roads began to ice over around noon, and at close to 5, he let people know that the crews were still out cleaning and treating the roads with a 50-50 mix of salt and sand. He finally signed off just before 9 to let people know that the department would be at it again at 5 the next morning. Well done! 

Also notable for direct communication with the public via social media are the East Hampton Town and Village Police Departments. Both used Facebook and Twitter to alert residents about an ongoing Internal Revenue Service phone scam, for example. The town department spread the word about a separate Craigslist scam involving fraudulent home rental listings, and the department has also been particularly good about posting information on community meetings and police accomplishments.

Among other local officials, East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has taken to Facebook to request opinions from the community and take its pulse on a number of important issues over the last year. Southampton Town has done a good job of communicating emergency messages, including storm and accident-related road closures and delays, via text or email alerts, which it also posts on the town’s website and its Twitter feeds. East Hampton Town could use some improvement in that area. Let’s hope that is on the horizon as the town begins the process of redesigning its website and prepares to launch a new and improved one later this year.