Sewickley Township, Pa., has turned to social media – Facebook and the web-based mass-notification service called Nixle – to alert local residents to road closures, flooding and other emergencies.

The Sewickley Township Emergency Management Agency used Nixle last Saturday night as one means of contacting township residents when it issued a voluntary traffic advisory asking motorists in the township to limit their driving to essential purposes advise until Monday afternoon because of the snowstorm.

The township issued the advisory because Sewickley has been forced to conserve road salt due to a diminished supply. Sewickley Township has been mixing its road salt with anti-skid material and received about 66 tons of road salt prior to the storm, said Wanda Layman, Sewickley's office coordinator and a township supervisor.

Sewickley's emergency management agency decided late last year to use Nixle, a free service, to alert residents to emergencies, said Paul Rupnik Jr., director of the EMA. Those who register for Nixle receive a text message, email, smart phone app or voice notification that allows public safety agencies to provide relevant information quickly and effectively, the Westfield, N.J.-based company said on its website.

Gone are the days of the township's four fire departments using their sirens to alert residents to weather events or other important information from the municipality or the emergency management officials, Rupnik said. Unlike the 1950s or 1960s, it's likely that many residents would be gone during the day and miss hearing the sirens, Rupnik said.

“There's no really good way for us to get in touch with everybody,” other than through Facebook, a social-networking service, or Nixle, Rupnik said.

“This is a way to inform people of large-scale events,” Rupnik said.

Sewickley Township Emergency Management Agency is one of 17 public safety agencies using Nixle in Westmoreland County, including police departments in Greensburg, Latrobe, Murrysville and North Huntingdon. Three public service agencies in Fayette County and 46 public agencies in Allegheny County are sending alerts through Nixle, said James Gatta, a spokesman for Nixle.

Nixle is used by about 250 police and fire departments, municipalities, emergency management agencies and school districts throughout Pennsylvania, Gatta said. The company says on its website that more than 6,000 public safety agencies and school districts nationwide use the service to communicate with the people they serve. About 80 of the 250 agencies in Pennsylvania that are connected to Nixle are active users in communication with the public they serve, while others use the service just for emergencies, Gatta said.

Rupnik said it is difficult to determine how many Sewickley Township residents have registered for the service because users list their postal service ZIP code and Sewickley is covered by at least four ZIP codes. Layman told Rupnik during a recent meeting that she receives Nixle alerts from North Huntingdon and Murrysville, but not Sewickley Township.

For those residents who are not connected to social media or have access to a computer, Rupnik urged people to be good neighbors and “keep tabs on those who are not on social media.”

©2014 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)