Technology has mutually improved and damaged the way information travels through the modern world. While some online sources are trusted and worth listening to, others leave you with more questions than answers. But when disaster strikes, the exchange of accurate and timely information is essential for public safety.
This inarguable premise that people will continue to seek information — however credible — online is the logic behind a recently announced partnership between the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the neighborhood-based social network Nextdoor.
Through the free Nextdoor for Public Agency platform, agencies are offered a direct connection to the user neighborhoods within their respective jurisdictions.
As MEMA Digital Engagement Coordinator Emily Allen explained to Government Technology, the cooperative agreement will allow the emergency management team the flexibility to target specific jurisdictions or the entire state with vital information.
For example, in areas prone to flooding or mudslides, the information distributed might be tailored to preparing for the worst-case scenario or how to better protect homes from damage. During an emergency event, the agency could push targeted information to residents detailing evacuation plans.
“MEMA's partnership with Nextdoor will allow us to target messages into specific regions of the state, such as individual neighborhoods, cities, or counties, or into specific geographies such as flood zones or hazard zones,” Allen said via email.
What’s more, the new capabilities allow direct interaction with Nextdoor users, who can then serve as ad hoc first responders during crisis situations.
“Neighbors often serve as each others' first responders during an emergency, so the more neighbors who know and are able to communicate with each other, the better," she said. "Nextdoor provides us with direct access to residents at a hyper-local level, making it a powerful tool to increase resiliency across Maryland."
But the channel into the Nextdoor environment isn’t a replacement for the more traditional communication methods; Allen describes it as another “great tool” in the emergency management tool box.
Nextdoor Senior City Strategist Joseph Porcelli said he hopes to see more state emergency service agencies adopting the free service. Though MEMA is the first agency of its kind to sign on, Porcelli said he doesn’t believe it will be the last.
“Other platforms don’t allow folks to post messages into specific geographies,” he said. “Not only can they get the information out and target it to the people that really need that information, because Nextdoor is a community building platform, they can also invite neighbors to take action that will increase the preparedness and resilience of their fellow neighbors.”
According to the senior city strategist, there are approximately 2,700 Nextdoor networks in the state of Maryland. “Nextdoor is a local program, where neighbors expect to see things about their neighborhood …”
The benefits extend beyond just getting valuable information out to the right people in a timely manner. Porcelli said it also promotes more resilient and connected communities. “There is a ton of research out there that basically states those areas and communities that had stronger ties, as in more connections with their neighbors, were more resilient and were more able to quickly recover from disasters.”