Fort Macleod, Alberta, needed a more effective way to increase public participation among its citizens and respond to local activities and events that affected their everyday well-being during the height of Covid-19 restrictions.
At-home work orders, remote learning, and social distancing posed major challenges to usual town operations.
While their regional district adopted a provincial-wide emergency alerting system, Fort Macleod realized they lacked the day-to-day communication tools to engage the public on relevant town matters.
Under the Director of Communications of Fort Macleod, the town implemented Voyent Alert!, a mass notification system to alleviate its communication challenges.
Town administrators can now capture a read on its citizens’ opinions through surveys and swiftly initiate notifications to address everyday events and questions about the pandemic, such as affected facilities and the current rules in place.
Integrating this technology has helped grow Fort Macleod’s user base to create a more informed and engaged community.
According to Meranda Day Chief, the town’s Executive Assistant, citizens wouldn’t follow their social channels if they weren’t sending any messages out. This stark realization reminded administrators of the importance of producing consistent informational content.
Once the town implemented Voyent Alert!, it experienced a spike in engagement from the start of the pandemic to the present day. “We’ve grown to over 400 users, which we think is pretty good considering we’re a small town of 3,000. And we are continuing to grow steadily, notes Meranda”
Fort Macleod continues to experience steady growth as they consistently leverage our mass notification system for daily activities, from traffic advisories and Covid information updates to tax payment deadlines and wildfire advisories.
“We use it for everything,” says Meranda. “Community events, cardboard bins relocating…we even had an aggressive dog at one point and issued a notification regarding residents’ safety, including when the issue was resolved.”
Navigating change without being face-to-face
A lot of uncertainty brewed at the start of the pandemic, so Fort Macleod focused its initial messaging on what changes were being made to businesses, schools, and facilities to help citizens understand the ever-evolving nature of the hazard.
“We took the lead from AHS and explained how our town was moving forward at each stage,” adds Meranda. “At the start, we didn’t know if we could have council meetings in person, and it turned out that we couldn’t, so we needed to tell residents what to expect instead.”
Now that facilities are open again, Meranda expresses the need to get ahead of their messaging to reflect real-time changes. “People have to wear a mask, schedule an appointment and know that it’s going to be different.”
Meranda admits that they weren’t used to using electronic means to communicate with their citizens, but the sudden push for digital adoption has been favourable and will continue to inform their future practices.
“Voyent Alert! has made it easier to schedule notices in advance and send reminders when our staff is away,” she says. “Getting things uploaded so quickly is also handy. I like that we can send updates on social media and our website from one place instead of having to make several alerts on separate platforms.”
Boosting public participation through technology
Fort Macleod has issued three surveys using our system, and each time has increased community engagement. “In past surveys, we normally get between 40 and 80 participants,” explains Meranda.
“But in our outdoor recreation services survey, we had well over 200 people fill in the survey within a week. With Covid restrictions, public participation and communication opportunities have been challenging for our municipality. Still, we feel that the great success of our public participation is due to the efficiency of Voyent Alert! in getting communications out.”
Not only do these surveys promote more participation, but it helps the council with their planning and decision-making. Town administrators have issued surveys from constructing a new off-leash park to renovations for outdoor recreational services, including an indoor pool, expanded tennis court and skate park, all of which required public input.
“Are residents interested? Is it worth our time to put new rec services somewhere else? How can we use our funding better?” asks Meranda when considering what questions to include in their survey.
Feedback and future emergency preparedness
According to Meranda, community feedback has been overwhelmingly positive since they implemented Voyent Alert! into their communications plan. While they, fortunately, have not yet utilized the tool for an emergency, they feel prepared for when a crisis does arise.
“We’re ready,” she says. “We always have templates set up, and we can customize them when there is an emergency, so we’re not wasting our time.”