Saturday, September 10, 2011

Slow boil

Some village residents may not have known about the boil-water order until today, two days after it was enacted.  The notice which came in the mail was postmarked yesterday, at New Paltz, so that's probably the day that it actually got to the post office.

The order is precautionary only - as of yesterday, no tests by the Board of Health have turned up any problems - but I think we need a new way to get the word out than gossip, Facebook, and the mail.

The time it takes to print out the mailing labels and put them on notices probably took up all day Thursday, which is why it took so long to get them into the mail.  I've been knocking on doors anyway, so I have been speaking to a lot of people about this issue.  Some of the people I spoke to yesterday evening had only found out a few hours earlier, so Facebook and the like weren't serving some segments of the community well.

The notice was also on local access cable, the village web site, and probably posted in a number of other places that don't reach everybody, but represent a good-faith attempt to get the word out about this issue.

There's been talk about a better way.  SUNY uses mass emails and texts to alert its community, and there's also the option of robocalls to reach all village residents (or water users in this case) in time of crisis.

But, these systems are not free, and our village (like every other level of government) has to balance the need for a solid emergency response with the resources to pay for them.  I have some suggestions that are, or could be, low-cost or free.

  1. Phone chain.  It's an old-fashioned idea that could be very effective in this case.  Concerned residents sign up, and village employees call the top person on each list (the number of which would be governed by the number of people participating) to give them the message.  With a phone chain, you leave a message if you don't get the person, but you keep calling down the list until you do reach someone.  The people who get the word this way will tell their friends, post online, and so forth because that's what people do anyway.
  2. Leverage SUNY by asking them to expand their alert system to include New Paltz residents.  It's a successful system that is presumably already paid for, so if the college decided to charge anyway it should be a nominal cost that is much less than inventing our own wheel, so to speak.
  3. Police signs.  The New Paltz Police has one or more electronic signs (complete with radar detectors!) that can be rolled into high-visibility locations and programmed with custom messages. Put them in strategic spots with the boil order notice to inform drivers and others.
These infrastructure issues seem to be cropping up more and more, so let's find innovative ways to keep the public informed for a minimal cost.


Robin said...

I like the idea of the phone chain, but I'd like to take it a step further. Since we have such a large residency turn-over, it would be wise to _require_ all landlords to be part of such a phone chain, and they would in turn notify their current residents of any emergency alerts.

Toni H said...

The Town Residents received a notice delivered to their doors

Terence said...


Do you have a ballpark idea of how many hours the hand delivery took, and how many people?

jrs said...

Toni-- when you say "town," how far does that extend? I live in Town and Country on Huguenot / N. Front, and we never got anything. (We were aware of the order through the SUNY NP alert system though, so no harm, no foul).


Terence said...

Toni used "town residents" as shorthand for "town residents who are not also village residents." All village residents are town residents, and it's a continuing source of confusion in a community that has two overlapping layers of government. The imprecise shorthand certainly doesn't help clarify things, but the precise description is cumbersome to write and speak.

jrs said...

Ah, thanks for the clarification.