New Canaan "Facebooks" Irene
Published 2:45 pm, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Nick Howard graduated from New Canaan High School a little more than two months ago. He is set to study mechanical engineering at Drexel University in mid September. Yet in his last few weeks here in town, he has become somewhat of a communications pioneer in the state of Connecticut.
When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, it is doubtful that he imagined his social media site would be used during natural disasters, but that is exactly what happened thanks to Howard and several others this past week. For those with power or Internet access on their phones, they found minute-by-minute real time updates on the Office of Emergency Management's Facebook page. The OEM posted all pertinent information about the restoration process and residents were able to post information about down trees and power lines and even ask questions.
"It's been absolutely phenomenal," Selectman Rob Mallozzi said about the initiative. "It has gone way beyond our expectations. It's been an incredibly effective tool."
More InformationFact box
As of noon on Tuesday, the Facebook page had more than 150,000 page views and 1,300 followers, a number that is sure to rise.
"It's amazing that something so simple could be utilized in such a great fashion," Howard said. "It's pretty awesome."
When Howard was recruited to help the OEM, he was unsure of the details. In fact, he was not even in the state at the time.
"I got a call to come down to the police department last Friday," Howard said. "I was still on a train from Grand Central heading back home. I thought I was honestly going to end up there to fix a printer or something. Fast forward five days later and I'm still here."
"I had the idea of doing something with social media and I ran it by Mike Handler (director of the OEM)," Williams said.
"Being the bright guy that he is, he told me to run with it."
Williams knew he wanted some young blood to help with the implementation, so he gave Howard a call.
"I managed to get his cellphone number and get a hold of him while he was still at Grand Central Station on his way home," Williams said.
"So I asked him if he could do us a big favor and he came over and never left. He's a great kid who did not have to do this, but he did and we are better off for it."
Thanks to this recruitment by Williams, Howard made New Canaan the only town in Connecticut to use Facebook for real time updates during this storm -- something the OEM found so useful members asked Howard to put together a document outlining how to implement the whole project to send to neighboring towns.
"It's definitely pretty cool, I have to say," Howard said. "But it really is a simple process. If I didn't help to implement it here then someone else would have surely done it."
His modesty is understating the fact that New Canaan is now a pioneer in emergency response social media in the state. The fact is not lost of Williams or First Selectman Jeb Walker.
"As far as I know, nobody in the state has done this and we always love leading the pack on these types of things," Walker said.
"The Facebook page is a neat innovation and use of social media. We have had thousands upon thousands of hits. It is fantastic that is working so successfully."
Williams said the Facebook page is actually decreasing the amount of calls since people are getting quicker responses online.
"We have had far fewer phone calls as more and more people have come online," Williams said.
"It's kind of like a phone bank but in real time. Nick has made himself invaluable, particularly on the technical aspects. He has been so critical to the whole Emergency Operations Center."
Critical might be an understatement if that is possible. After his first 18-hour shift from Friday to Saturday, Howard was told he could go home to rest.
"They told me to come back whenever I woke up," Howard said. "But they sent a police cruiser at 3 a.m. Saturday night to pick me up cause they really needed me."
Ever since then, Howard has been a fixture in the command center handling the Facebook page as well as the Google Maps and Docs account for the town.
The maps show all the road closures and issues around town.
"We have more than 17,000 views alone on Google," he said. "It has turned out to be really useful."
When asked if he thought his weekend was going to turn into this Howard laughed.
"I don't think a lot of people took it seriously in the beginning but this was quite a storm," he said.
"It's been crazy, but I am just glad I could help everyone out."
To access the Facebook page, visit www.newcanaanoem.com.