COLUMBIA, Mo. -- When a destructive tornado bore down on the town of Sedalia, Mo. only days after a devastating twister struck Joplin, Pettis County residents were fortunate to have a forward thinking emergency manager who sent out warning messages by way of non-traditional communication methods such as email, Facebook and Twitter.
Sedalia is the county seat of Pettis County and home to just over 20,000 people.
With Joplin fresh on his mind, Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Manager Dave Clippert tracked storms for days issuing warnings. He kept the community updated via outlets such as email, Facebook and Twitter; posting multiple weather alerts throughout the week leading up to the tornado and posting the link for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance registration days afterward.
On the day of the tornado, Principal of Horace-Mann Elementary School Bill Betteridge received an email from Clippert warning of severe weather. The email played a large part in the decision to bring back a group of 1st through 4th grade students from a field trip at the popular local skating rink. Only hours later, the rink was leveled by the tornado.
JoAnn Martin, Pettis County Health Center administrator is one of many supporters of Clippert’s use of social media. “The event at the skating rink is such a great example of its effectiveness. The school administrators were able to get the message immediately. If they had not received the word so quickly, who knows what could have happened.”
The health center frequently relies on Clippert’s email and Facebook alerts to further notify the community via their own social media. “Non-traditional media is critical to the well being and preparedness of the community,” Martin said. “Not only is the message able to travel faster, it is also able to reach the younger generations who may not use traditional media, such as radio or television for their news.”
Clippert’s practice of using nontraditional media is not only an example of forward thinking, but has proved to be extremely effective in Pettis County. With over 1,292 “likes” on the Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Management Agency Facebook Page and 322 Twitter followers, the pages are loaded with comments singing praises of the agency or personally thanking him for his service to the community, such as, “A huge thank you for keeping us so informed! I appreciate you!” Another Facebook user writes, “this is my only means of knowing what’s going on”.
“We get our weather out of Kansas City or Columbia,” Clippert said. “While they report on what’s going on, they don’t exactly report on what’s going to affect us directly. So updating folks through social media brings it down to a more local level.”
He got the idea when he received a large amount of positive feedback after posting a severe thunderstorm warning on his personal page. He then followed the example of other agencies with social media pages. “People have said many times how much they appreciate seeing a picture of what’s coming and an explanation of what that picture means.” Clippert said.
Along with posting comments stating their appreciation, community members are able to share minute by minute reports of the weather in their area, such as hail size and rain intensity. Clippert also uploads pictures of the events to the pages as a follow up and posts preparedness ideas in an attempt to help reduce the negative effects of future disasters.
For more on Pettis County’s use of social media visit ...