The pros and cons of Meridian Township's emergency communication policies

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By Erica Marra
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

Key players such as , , , meet at the station to discuss protocols for weather emergencies. Photo by Erica Marra

The Meridian Township Central Fire Station stands proudly on a sunny March day. Key players such as the Meridian Township Police Chief, Assistant Township Manager and Communications Director meet at the station to discuss protocols for potential weather emergencies. Photo by Erica Marra

With winter weather scares already in the books for the new year, Meridian Township public officials are relying on the township’s emergency operations plan to keep residents safe and informed during Michigan’s temperamental transition from winter to spring.

Meridian Township Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Fred Cowper said the plan values transparency between city officials and Meridian residents.

“The plan is updated nearly every year and is shared online and at board meetings,” Cowper said. “Our communications director is always a part of our emergency meetings. She makes sure everything is up to date with contacting media sources and putting information on Facebook and Twitter.”

After reviewing Meridian’s communication outlets and social platforms, Juan Mundel, doctoral student within Michigan State University’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations, noted some strengths and weaknesses within the township’s policies.

“What’s good is that Meridian Township is using different social media platforms to connect with the public,” he said. “For example, the Meridian Police and Fire Departments have separate Facebook and Twitter accounts so they can share updates.”

Mundel also said that the Meridian Township’s Nixle account is beneficial to improving real-time communication. Nixle is a service that allows alerts, advisories, and community updates to be sent in the form of a text message to willing Meridian Township citizens who sign up online.

Meridian Township's Twitter account keeps residents up-to-date with what is happening in the community. However, Screenshot by Erica Marra

Meridian Township’s Twitter account keeps residents up-to-date with what is happening in the community. However, improvements regarding engagement with users can be made to strengthen communication between the township and its citizens. Screenshot by Erica Marra

However, Mundel said that there are some key improvements he would make to Meridian Township’s policies in order to better communicate with residents.

“One of the flaws that I saw with their [social media] accounts is that they don’t really answer to the Facebook comments or the tweets that are directed towards them,” Mundel said. “So they do post information, but they don’t seem to complete the dialogue with people on social media and that’s something they could definitely improve.”

Meridian Township residents have also sensed some weak spots in the communication policy. Okemos resident Cassidy Manetta said that while she’s sure that Meridian Township’s emergency communication policies get the job done, it’s harder for her to receive real-time information because of her constant commute between her apartment in Okemos and MSU’s campus in East Lansing.

“I think it might be hard for Meridian to know exactly who lives in the area and where they’re going,” she said. “For people like me who travel back and forth, it’s more difficult to go right to the township to see what’s going on.”

Mundel offered a fix to this issue, as well.

“I definitely feel that there is some miscommunication between the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, and Okemos. Even holding conference calls between the cities during emergencies would be an easy thing to do,” he said. “There are a lot of people that commute between Meridian and East Lansing, so setting up warning systems and news systems coordinated between the cities can help residents to plan ahead.”

However, minor issues aside, Cowper said that his overall focus is keeping his citizens safe, which is impossible to do without an emergency operations plan.

“If you fail to plan, plan to fail. It’s simplistic, but we live it in our everyday life,” Cowper said. “Imagine when it becomes billions of dollars of township property, 42,000 lives. It becomes bigger than that. You have to have a plan, and that’s everything.”