Cleburne County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) has passed another unique milestone. The agency has more than 4,020 friends on Facebook’s social media site. That’s a large online network for a rural county with less than 6,000 households (U.S. Census 2010).
Before, during and after an emergency, Cleburne EMA’s Facebook friends receive information in real-time. Whether it’s severe weather or another hazard threatening the county, EMA can share and receive information quickly.
“From a public safety standpoint, it’s an invaluable tool,” said Patrick Nolen, who serves as the Chief of Turkey Heaven Volunteer Fire Department and an Alternate Director of the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments. “As an example, during the severe winter weather of 2011, EMA posted not only weather warnings but road closings and other information county agencies needed to share with the public. EMA also encouraged residents to act as our ‘eyes’ around the county. Facebook friends were posting reports of hazards like downed trees on roads and power lines. It was information emergency responders needed but we might not have gotten so quickly.”
After the danger has passed, EMA can keep Facebook friends updated on the recovery efforts and what residents need to do to stay safe in their communities. Even when a disaster doesn’t directly affect Cleburne County, EMA shares information about regional recovery efforts.
“After the April 27th tornadoes, many residents, first responders and local agencies wanted to help the victims in Calhoun and other counties. Cleburne EMA passed along information from Calhoun County EMA, the Red Cross and other organizations who were leading the clean-up and recovery efforts. It helped our local volunteers identify the best ways to help the storm victims,” added Nolen.
Jackie Howle said she always checks the EMA page for weather updates and other safety information. Howle is a Ranburne resident and Executive Director of HEARTS, a local nonprofit, community outreach resource center. “It’s also very positive for HEARTS. Whenever we post an event or identify a need, EMA often shares the post on their Facebook page which helps us reach even more people. I appreciate the support of our county officials and EMA’s Facebook page is another great resource they provide for us.”
Even during calmer times, EMA posts almost daily with weather forecasts, county events and links to local news. When asked how he uses the EMA page, Fruithurst resident Ricky Kilgore said he checks the page often not only for the weather but also for news updates on county politics and plans. Other Facebook friends are people who have moved from Cleburne County and who use the EMA page to keep up with county events.
“With so many people receiving their information through social media, we wanted to take full advantage of it as a resource to keep our residents informed. It also gives them an opportunity to post information and ask questions of EMA,” said Steve Swafford, County Administrator. “Using Facebook has provided even better results than we expected. Last week, we had 4,000 friends and the number just keeps growing.”