Disseminating Information

Published: 01/29/04

(I realize this probably reads like a rant, but it isn’t intended to be.)

I’ve been pondering sj’s thoughts on improving the dissemination of information. A good example of poor dissemination happened in Somerville the other night. The mayor declared a snow emergency when forecasters indicated there would be 1-3 inches of snow. For you people who live in areas that don’t regularly have snow, a snow emergency usually happens where there is a lot of snow and it impacts a few things, including where you can legally park. In Somerville, the vast majority of parking is on the street. In a snow emergency, parking is prohibited on some streets and is only allowed on one side of the street on other streets. Around here, it’s odd for a community to declare an emergency with such little snow in the forecast.

The city doesn’t seem to do a good job publicizing how city residents can find out about a snow emergency, let alone publicizing the snow emergency. The city expects residents to go to the city Web site, watch a specific cable television channel, or hear police officers announcing the situation on bullhorns as they drive through the city. Somerville has large immigrant, elderly, and poor populations. Is it reasonable to expect residents to have Internet access, cable TV, or be able to hear a police bullhorn with windows shut tight because of the cold weather (not to mention the fact that many apartment buildings have multiple floors). Does the city do anything to notify the residents who do not speak English? And do the police only make announcements on streets directly effected by the parking bans or on all city streets? People often don’t park on the street where they live because of the lack of parking. Also, how will people driving around the city or visiting the city find out about the parking ban? In other communities, signs mark roads where parking is prohibited during snow emergencies. Some communities have signs or flashing lights indicating a snow emergency.

Now the city has a public relations problem because the city issued 3,000 parking tickets and towed 200 cars the night before any snow fell. It came across as a stunt the new mayor pulled to quickly get the city some revenue in poor fiscal times. It doesn’t matter much that the mayor announced an amnesty program. What’s done is done.

Is there a better way to let people know about snow emergencies and parking regulations? What about distributing flyers to grocery and large retail stores or using those signs that flash road conditions? An RSS feed or mass e-mail could also be beneficial. It seems like one of the big differences between the city’s current system and what people would like is how people get the information. Now, it seems like the city sees it as a resident’s responsibility to find out about parking bans. Many city residents probably think it is the city’s responsibility to distribute the information to them. It seems as if the current channels aren’t working. Is anyone contemplating a change?

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