November 8, 2009 By Kayt Sukel
When the H1N1 "swine" flu epidemic broke loose in late April 2009, Americans clamored for information about the disease and its potential impact in their communities. Many local governments turned to their own Web sites and other means of digital communication to disseminate information.
But simply placing a notice on a Web page or sending an e-mail isn't always sufficient. How can local governments be sure to provide the information citizens want and need in a timely fashion? And more importantly, as there may be overlap among different government departments and agencies, how can local governments be sure their citizenry can find the information they seek without difficulty?
Oakland County, Mich., a community of 1.2 million residents in the state's southeastern corner, confronted these challenges head-on by implementing a new digital communication platform. The county is going even further by letting its municipalities use the service for free.
The county uses a digital subscription service provided by GovDelivery. It plugs directly into an existing Web site and lets citizens sign up to receive notification via e-mail, RSS feed or text message when Web pages in specific categories are updated.
For example, if a citizen were interested in being notified about swine flu, he could go to a general subscription sign-up page on a county's or municipality's Web site. There he can select from more than 40 categories, including a high-level category called Health Division, or underlying categories like Flu Information, Flu Shots or Pandemic Flu Preparedness. Whenever a Web page tagged with that category is updated - no matter what department, agency or level of government is providing that revised information - the citizen is immediately notified by e-mail with a link to the updated page.
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