Ocean City Storm Communications Team Credited

Ocean City Storm Communications Team Credited
Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — Second only perhaps to the power of Mother Nature on display in the resort during last weekend’s Nor’easter was the power of disseminating critical information for residents and visitors by official Ocean City communications through Emergency Services and the various departments.

While it certainly wasn’t the “big one” by any stretch of the imagination, last weekend’s Nor’easter and the potential threat of Hurricane Joaquin caused serious flooding in the downtown area, forced road closures, a planned power outage and ultimately shut down the beach and Boardwalk. Through a variety of sources, the town was highly successful in distributing critical information from the moment the first drops of rain fell and the gusts picked up through the cleanup efforts on Monday.

In the past, distributing current information to residents and visitors was a challenge, but with easily accessible technology town communications were able to keep the public updated on the ever-changing storm. Thousands received City Wide Emergency Alerts via text or email and tens of thousands more got their storm updates through the city’s website and Facebook pages.

“There was a plethora of information available throughout the storm,” said Councilmember Mary Knight on Monday. “From the town’s website, which went to all storm-related information on the home page, to Facebook and other social media, the team did a great job of getting the word out. I think Ocean City put out 11 email alerts during the storm. By comparison, it was very difficult to find any information out in Worcester County.”

Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan, who spent much of the weekend in the Public Safety Building, said credited the dissemination of vital information for a rather smooth weekend despite the challenges.

“I think we need to consider ourselves very fortunate,” he said. “We need to thank [Communications Director] Jessica [Waters], [OCPD spokesperson] Lindsay [Richard] and Bill Funkhouser [Town of Ocean City webmaster] for getting timely and important information out,” he said. “What we learned during Irene and Sandy is the importance of getting good information out and quelling rumors. Jessica had that first release out on Wednesday and there were 10 more.”

Meehan said the town partnered with private-sector organizations, such as the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the OCDC, along with others, to get the information out to its vast memberships. He also thanked Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald for his leadership, along with the Public Works Department and the City Engineer’s Department. Meehan said he was in contact with the Governor’s Office, which pledged any support the resort needed, along with Delmarva Power’s Jim Smith.

For her part, Waters worked long hours in the Public Safety Building with the Emergency Services, OCPD and Fire Department and disseminated timely and accurate information about road closures, beach and Boardwalk closures and high tide flooding concerns

“I love my job and take very seriously the responsibility of keeping our citizens informed, especially during an emergency,” she said this week. “Of course, I couldn’t have done it alone and have to give credit to my crisis communication team for their help in sharing our messages and dispelling rumors. We have an amazing group that is dedicated to giving our residents, business owners and visitors accurate and timely information and that is wonderful.”

Waters and her crew sent out City Wide Emergency Alerts via text and email throughout the storm and the numbers soared all weekend. For example, on Thursday morning at the onset of the storm, there were 7,970 subscribers to the City Wide Emergency Alerts and by Monday the number had grown to 11,147.

In addition, the city’s website saw a remarkable increase in hits throughout the weekend. As a base indicator, on Sunday, Sept. 27, the town’s website had 1,664 hits. That number climbed to 2,350 last Monday, followed by 5,627 on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the number had climbed to 12,589 and last Thursday spiked to 28,312.

At the height of the storm last Friday, the town’s website saw 37,451 hits and the numbers held steady on Saturday with 22,771 hits. A similar scenario played out on the town’s Facebook page. For example, last Monday, posts on the town’s website page reached 3,702 viewers. On Tuesday, the number spiked to 31,204, followed by 60,141 on Wednesday and 67,441 on Thursday. Oddly, on Friday, the number dropped back down to 46,127 and jumped back up to 59,308 last Saturday. By last Sunday, the number of Facebook page hits had climbed back up to 60,482.

“It really is a group effort to keep everyone informed, especially during an emergency,” said Waters. “I am so fortunate to work in a community that values communication and is committed to working together to keep people informed. It is truly special.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.