In late January 2011, the Groundhog Day storm began moving across the country from New Mexico to New England. When the National Weather Service extended a winter storm warning for its area, League City in southeast Texas quickly began updating its website with preparedness instructions for record low, frigid temperatures and prolonged hard freezes. Accustomed to fairly mild winter weather, League City, located about 20 miles from Houston on the Gulf Coast, was about to face one of the coldest, most extreme winter storms in years.

Officials also turned to the city's mass notification service from Washington-based Blackboard Connect, which it has used since March 2009. The emergency notification platform is a Software as a Service that officials can use to record, send and track personalized voice messages to thousands of residents, businesses, and local agencies within minutes, through one phone call. Officials also can send text messages to cell phones, PDAs, e-mail accounts, and TTY/TDD receiving devices, and post to social media accounts.

Beginning Feb. 3, League City used the service to send voice, text, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter messages to residents on how to prepare for the storm and to instruct them to try to conserve energy to help prevent power outages. During the storm, area bridges iced over, frozen pipes and water lines burst, icy road conditions caused car crashes, and over two days, more than 7,500 League City residents lost power. As the storm worsened, League City kept residents and local media abreast of safety measures and provided status updates using its website and the mass notification service. The city issued notices of road conditions, business and park closures, cancelled events and service updates, and urged residents to stay home.

The city sent targeted messages to areas that were affected by rolling blackouts by using a map on the mass notification system to select neighborhoods for specific status updates. Storm-related communication continued for three days, and the city reached more than 24,000 households, while reducing the number of non-emergency calls to police.

“Through our everyday communications needs, and now with the experience of a severe winter storm, we cannot underline how important it is to provide accurate information to the community,” said Kristi Wyatt, public information officer for League City. “In this instance, we were able to prepare residents for the storm and give them essential updates when the weather was at its worst.”

Project: Mass notification during storm
Jurisdiction: League City, Texas
Agency: Public Information Office
Vendor: Washington-based Blackboard Connect
Date: February 2011
Cost: Flat, per-household rate